Name: Frank Peter Joseph Crosetti
Born: October 4, 1910 (San Francisco, CA)
Died: February 11, 2002 (Stockton, CA)
Yankee Years: 1932-48
Primary number: 1 (player), 2 (coach)
Yankee statistics: 1,683 G, .245/.341/.354, 260 2B, 65 3B, 98 HR, 88 wRC+, 23.9 rWAR, 27.4 fWAR
In the annals of baseball history, one man stands alone in terms of team success. He's not a Hall of Fame player, not a renowned skipper, and he's not even a true franchise icon. However, Frankie Crosetti turned himself into the Yankees' version of Forrest Gump, being on the right team at the right time while being an admired contributor. He was there for Babe Ruth's "Called Shot," he was there for Lou Gehrig's "Luckiest Man" speech, and he was there for the ascent and decline of both Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.
When Crosetti first joined the Yankees in the spring of 1932, they had three World Series titles and seven AL pennants. When Crosetti finally departed the team's coaching staff after the 1968 campaign, the Yankees had 20 World Series titles and 30 AL pennants. They transformed from one of baseball's best teams to the greatest sports franchise in the country. All along the way, there was the man they called "Crow," who was absolutely devoted to the team that gave him so much.
Pacific Coast star
Frankie Crosetti was born in San Francisco on October 4, 1910, the son of two different Italian immigrant families. His parents were apathetic about baseball (his father could barely keep track of his sons due to all the unusual trade jobs he had to take to get by), but he learned the game from his older brother John. They spent hours playing together on farms in Los Gatos, where the family had moved for awhile shortly after Frankie's birth. Their mother was strict, but she allowed them to stay out and learn the game.
The younger Crosetti wasn't nearly as dedicated to his schoolwork, and he dropped out of Lowell High School in San Francisco at age 16. He had garnered enough attention to be invited to play semipro ball in Butte, Montana. Shortly thereafter, a more local team targeted Crosetti, one that was very close to his heart: the San Francisco Seals.
It can be difficult to explain how important minor league teams were to baseball fans in the early twentieth century. Major league teams were so far away and disconnected, with only newspapers and scant radio broadcasts bringing MLB to the average American. People flocked to their local minor league clubs, where they could see pretty good baseball live. Sure enough, Crosetti was a big fan of the Seals growing up and often played hooky from school just to watch them.
This popularity was especially true of the Pacific Coast League, the crown jewel of baseball west of St. Louis before the Dodgers and Giants moved out west. Tremendously talented minor league clubs played there and produced several future Hall of Famers, though for most of the early twentieth century, the PCL stars often simply felt comfortable staying in the league. It wasn't as though MLB teams were offering exorbitant raises for the players at that time, either.
So when a Seals scout saw the teenage Crosetti playing winter ball in 1927 and expressed an interest in signing him, he was stoked. After he put on some more weight and muscle, the Seals signed him in the spring and he debuted at the mere age of 17. He played third base and only hit .248 with a .347 slugging percentage in 96 games, but once he won the shortstop job in '28, he took off. Over the next three years, the up-and-comer hit .330 with a .483 slugging percentage, averaging 56 doubles and 185 games per year in the extended seasons.
The Yankees' Bill Essick was among several MLB scouts who noticed. Just a few years prior, Essick had been key in bringing one of the first of many PCL stars to the majors, as slugger Tony Lazzeri became a rookie sensation in 1926. The year before, he had hit an eye-popping 60 homers in the thin Salt Lake City air, and while Crosetti did not have Lazzeri's pop, he did mash 66 doubles in 1930. Furthermore, Essick was taken by Crosetti's stellar defense at shortstop; Essick felt he was an even more talented player on defense.
So on August 23, 1930, Essick convinced owner Jacob Ruppert to send $75,000 and a few minor players to the Seals in exchange for the rights to Crosetti. He played one more year with the Seals before heading east. Herbert Hoover was still president; Richard Nixon was elected when Crosetti returned west for good. It would be a long, long time before his employer changed.
The good McCarthyism
It was a whirlwind beginning in pinstripes for Crosetti, who immediately joined an offseason barnstorming tour with a certain legendary slugger who was now his teammate: Babe Ruth. Crosetti was more invested with the Seals as a youngster, but like almost every boy in America, he idolized the Bambino. So it was all the overwhelmed kid could do to approach him on the tour. Ruth's teammates loved him for a reason though, and he was gregarious as always with Crosetti. He did issue one warning though, saying "Remember, when you hear me boom 'My ball!'--get out of the road!" Crosetti could only answer, "Yes sir, Mr. Babe."
Once spring training got underway, Yankees manager Joe McCarthy quickly took a shining to the shortstop, who was willing to work at his defense, even though it was already sharp. McCarthy and his fellow coaches made him even better thanks to his thorough dedication to improving his range, and it also did not take long for Crosetti to be imprinted with McCarthy's principles. He became a staunch believer in them, and carried these ideals of what a Yankee should be be throughout the rest of his career. To him, a Yankee was professional on and off the field, fundamentally sound, and one hundred percent focused on his commitment to make the team as dominant as possible.
Crosetti's rookie season was a resounding success once he nabbed the starting shortstop role from Lyn Lary in midseason. He set the tone for what the best years of his career would be like with a 91 wRC+ that was just fine for a shortstop, and thanks to his careful eye at the plate, an on-base percentage that was almost 100 points higher than his batting average. Crosetti realized that while he might not have the necessary power to be a run-producer, his patience could make him a valuable tablesetter for the likes of Ruth, Gehrig, and other future threats.
That '32 lineup ended up scoring over 1,000 runs, romping to 107 wins and a World Series sweep over the Cubs. Crosetti only had two hits in the series, but after Game 4, he was already a champion, just two days before his 22nd birthday. He attended a party that celebrated the title, but the McCarthy principles had made their impression. He felt winning was expected at that point and never again attended a championship parade or party. When players would ask him why, he simply said that he had already experienced it and didn't need to again. He always preferred to get right back on the road to California to enjoy his offseason.
Over the next four years, Crosetti became a fixture among Yankees regulars, holding onto his job with solid defense and a .268/.343/.412 triple slash in 512 games. He became a master of the hidden-ball trick thanks to previous tutelage by the player-turned-umpire Babe Pinelli in the PCL, and he made his first of two All-Star teams in '36 with a career-high 35 doubles, 15 homers, and a 108 wRC+. It took the Yankees until that '36 campaign to return to the World Series though, and by that time, one superstar was gone and replaced by another. Ruth's career had ended, but then came a new Italian PCL superstar, Joe DiMaggio. Crosetti and Lazzeri were friends by this point and tasked with driving DiMaggio east. It was an almost entirely silent cross-country trip for the three reserved men.
It should be noted though that Crosetti was anything but quiet on the field. "Crow" was an easy nickname for him anyway, but it stuck with great help from his voice driving opponents crazy. He was a bench jockey and never afraid to get into anyone's face. He played the position hard and one time, he even shoved umpire Bill Summers over a questionable call in the World Series. The voice of "the Crow" lingered at Yankee Stadium for decades.
The Yankees turned into a well-oiled machine in the late '30s with DiMaggio and Gehrig anchoring the lineup. They won a then-record four consecutive World Series titles, running away with AL pennants year after year, and averaging 102 wins per season, never failing to finish at least nine games in front. It was the peak of McCarthy's Yankees, and Crosetti was a valued member. He made another All-Star team, mastered the Craig Biggio-like craft of being gracefully drilled by pitches to get on base more (Crosetti led the AL for five years in a row), and surprised by grabbing the spotlight with his bat in the '38 World Series.
The Cubs could not stop Crosetti in the sweep, as he had a 1.056 OPS with two doubles, a triple, and a homer--an eighth inning two-run blast off Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean in Game 2 at Wrigley Field that vaulted the Yankees from trailing to the lead. He shined on defense as well in the opener, with a Derek Jeter/Timo Perez-esque relay to save a run and a dive to rob a two-run single. Crosetti was often hit-or-miss in World Series performances, but '38 was definitely the standout.
Crosetti had an inconsistent '39 season at the plate, and the next year was even worse. In both seasons, he was plagued by a sore arm, which had residual affects on his swing. He didn't adjust well and slumped horribly to a .572 OPS. By the spring of '41, he was feeling the heat. The Yankees had failed to win the pennant for the first time in five years, McCarthy had benched him at points in 1940, and there was another talented Italian shortstop breathing down his neck in Phil Rizzuto, who tore up the American Association.
To Crosetti's credit, he did not shun the youngster. He did his best to teach him the ins and outs of the shortstop position, helped make Rizzuto one of the game's elite bunters, and along with DiMaggio, encouraged his teammates to accept him. It might have been another shaky year at bat for Crosetti, who only made it into 50 games splitting time between shortstop and third base, but it paid off, as Rizzuto helped him win his sixth World Series ring (and several more down the road).
McCarthy leaned on Crosetti over the next few seasons, as the Yankees lost players like Rizzuto and DiMaggio to enlistment in World War II. Crosetti was able to avoid direct military service by working on a shipyard in the 1943-44 offseason, though he was forced to continue working there until draft restrictions were relaxed in July of '44. So he remained a fixture in the lineup during the lean times, and scraped by at the plate enough for the Yankees to remain competitive. He won another pennant in '42 and his seventh World Series ring in '43.
Once the war ended though, Crosetti knew that his days were numbered, and McCarthy had left the team. The Yankees liked the way he worked with Rizzuto and other such rookies though (as well as his proficient sign-stealing), so they asked if he would transition to being a player-coach. He accepted the role and gradually wound down his playing career, appearing in just 48 games over his last three years. When the Yankees won the World Series with Bucky Harris in '47, he made one plate appearance all year.
Casey Stengel came aboard as the new manager in '49, and Crosetti became a full-time coach. With Crosetti as the primary third base and infield coach, the Yankees broke the McCarthy era team's record with five straight championships from 1949-53, and then added two more titles in '56 and '58. He remained on the coaching staff under Ralph Houk when Stengel was let go following the 1960 World Series, and added the last two championships to his name in '61 and '62.
Thanks to a combination of $142,989.30 in total World Series check earnings and smart real estate investments, Crosetti became a wealthy man. The Yankees eventually eschewed giving him rings in favor of engraved shotguns, tokens that he preferred. He remained stern, refusing to deal with the press (whom he never liked), and unrelenting on even Mickey Mantle when his knees were shot. He was such a stickler that for several years, he would chase after fans who tried to run off with balls hit into the foul territory stands during batting practice. It was said that the only time Crosetti shook hands with players after homers were when Mantle hit his 500th home run, when Roger Maris tied and broke Ruth's single season record, and, while coaching with the Twins near the end, when Harmon Killebrew joined Mantle in the 500-homer club.
By the end of the 1968 season, Crosetti was about to turn 58, the Yankees were lousy, Mantle would soon retire, and there wasn't much incentive to keep coaching. So after an amazing 37 seasons in pinstripes, Crosetti finally hung up his spikes. He coached with the expansion Seattle Pilots during their lone season in '69, and then moved on to the Twins for two more years, reaching the postseason one last time when they won the AL West in 1970.
Crosetti never desired to make it back to Old-Timers' Day, but he remained devoted to the Yankees and lived for a long time in Stockton, California, fishing a lot and occasionally visiting the team when they traveled to Oakland. He made it all the way to 91 before a broken hip accelerated his decline. He passed away in February 2002, as one of the last living teammates of Babe Ruth faded away.
Although there was definitely more talented Yankees behind Crosetti in this list, few spent as many years in helpful service to the team or witnessed as many unforgettable moments. His moments of success sometimes seemed joyless from afar, but he obviously took great pride in being a Yankee for so long. Here's to the Crow.
Andrew’s rank: 72
Tanya’s rank: 50
Community rank: 52.33
WAR rank: 43.0
|NYY (17 yrs)||1683||7268||6277||1006||1541||260||65||98||649||113||62||792||799||.245||.341||.354||.695||83||2225||23.9||27.4|
Stats from Baseball Reference and FanGraphs
Appel, Marty. Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012.
Goldstein, Richard. "Frank Crosetti, 91, a Fixture in Yankee Pinstripes, is Dead," New York Times, 13 Feb. 2002.
Halberstam, David. Summer of '49. New York: HarperCollins, 1989.
Leavy, Jane. The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood. New York: HarperCollins, 2010.