Classic Yankees: Frank Crosetti

New York Yankees Frank CrosettiThere may be no one, in the history of any sport, who shook more hands, patted more backs or slapped more fannies, than Frank Crosetti.

After all, the “Crow” was able to congratulate a lot of players in his 37 years with the Yankees—a stretch that ran from an aging Ruth right through to Mantle’s final days.

Crosetti was there for everything from the “Called Shot” to the gift HR that Denny McLain gave to the Mick.

Crosetti came up at the age of 21 in 1932, and stayed the Yanks’ regular SS through 1940. Never a great hitter (career B.A. .245, OPS+ 83), he hit .241 as a rookie. He was selected to two All-Star teams, in 1936 and 1939. Three times he received MVP consideration (1938, and the WWII years of 1943 and 1944).

He was a master at getting plunked by a pitch. Eight times he led the league in getting HBP, and seven times he led all of MLB. He was also a master of the hidden-ball trick, a skill another Yankees’ SS, Gene Michael, would pull off some thirty years after the “Crow.”

His best year was probably 1936, when he had career highs in BA, HR and RBI, hitting .288-15-78, with 18 SB. He led the majors in SB in 1938 with 27.

After the .241 rookie year of 1932 (2 for 15 in the WS), Crosetti had years of .253, .265 and .256 before his career year of 1936 (7 for 26 WS). He had a rough 1937, hitting just .234, and a worse WS (1 for 21). He rebounded to hit .263 in 1938 (WS 4 for 16, 1 HR, 6 RBI, the HR a big one off of the Cubs’ Dizzy Dean) but dropped down to .233 in 1939 (WS 1 for 16).

In 1940, the Yanks made a mistake which probably cost them the pennant. Crosetti’s bat, never good to begin with, was nonexistent as he only hit .194. Meanwhile, in KC, level AA, young Phil Rizzuto hit .347. Rizzuto wasn’t called up.

Rizzuto replaced Crosetti in 1941, hitting .307 and finishing 20th in the MVP vote (no ROY back then). Crosetti was now relegated to a backup, but that situation would be changed in future years due to world events. Crosetti only got into 50 games in 1941, hitting .223.

The Yanks won four consecutive WS from 1936-1939, then won it again in 1941 and 1943. They won the pennant in 1942, but lost the WS.

Had Rizzuto been brought up in the middle of 1940 to replace Crosetti, maybe the Yankees could have won the WS. They finished 3rd, 88-66, 2 games back.

Who knows. They could have won six consecutive WS and eight consecutive AL pennants (7 WS) from 1936-1943 if only they’d have gone to the “Scooter” in mid-1940. The only thing that could stop them in those days was WWII.

In 1942, Crosetti hit .242 in 74 games. WWII would see Crosetti once again getting regular playing time because many top players were now in the service. The “Crow” got into 95 games in 1943, and despite only hitting .233, he finished 31st in MVP voting. The experience and veteran leadership of players like Crosetti and Dickey were instrumental to the Yanks winning the WS in that strange era of wartime baseball—an era that would see the Browns, of all teams, win the 1944 AL pennant.

The Crow only got into 55 games in 1944. He hit .239, but then wartime baseball put Crosetti back as an everyday player. He saw 130 games of action in 1945. It was the first season of 100 or more games for him since 1940. He hit .238. When WWII was over, Crosetti went back to being a backup, then a coach. He only saw 48 games of action from 1946-1948.

Crosetti was 0 for 3 in the 1942 WS, but 5 for 18 in 1943. His WS record was .174-1-11 in 29 games. But as a player, he was on WS winning teams 8x (only 3 games in 1947 however) and 9 AL pennant teams.

Despite his .245 B.A. (OPS+ 83), Crosetti played with the Yanks for 17 seasons, 1932-1948. He then became a coach and would stay in that capacity from 1948 to 1968 with the Yankees.

He spent 37 consecutive years with the organization.

Between his playing career and coaching career with the Yankees, Crosetti was part of 17 WS champions and 23 AL Pennant winners.

After the 1968 season, Crosetti left the organization. He spent 1969 with the Seattle Pilots as a coach, then was a coach for the Twins in 1970 and 1971.

He wasn’t too popular with Jim Bouton (but then, Bouton burned his bridges with many people). Crosetti was old-school, Bouton new school, if you will. Some of Crosetti’s ways (a bit tight, especially with the ball bag and baseballs) were chronicled in Bouton’s book, Ball Four. Bouton, of course, experienced Crosetti not only in NY, but also during that one and only Pilots’ season.

Crosetti’s old-school ways were also on display in the Phil Linz harmonica incident, when he took the harmonica-playing as insubordination and called it the “worst thing he ever saw.”

One story in Crow’s NY Times’ obituary goes like this:

Crosetti and his fellow teammates, DiMaggio and Lazzeri — all Italian-American Yankees from San Francisco — were a quiet threesome. In the summer of 1936, Jack Mahon, a sportswriter for the International News Service, was reading a newspaper in the lobby of the Hotel Chase in St. Louis when it occurred to him that Crosetti, DiMaggio and Lazzeri, seated together nearby, had not said a word to each other in some time.

”Just for fun, I timed them to see how long they would maintain their silence,” Mahon remembered. ”They didn’t speak for an hour and 20 minutes. At the end of that time, DiMaggio cleared his throat. Crosetti looked at him and said, ‘What did he say?’

”And Lazzeri said: ‘Shut up. He didn’t say nothing.’

”They lapsed into silence, and at the end of 10 more minutes I got up and left. I couldn’t stand it anymore.”

Crosetti’s player stats weren’t impressive, and being a slender righty-hitting SS in the old Yankee Stadium didn’t help; but if you ever are going to put coaches and people who contributed to baseball over a lengthy time (meritorious service to the game) into the HOF, Crosetti would have to be considered. He knew the outfielders’ throwing arms and was one of the best third base coaches in the game. Given the rumors of Stengel snoozing sometimes during games, you wonder how much managing Crosetti did (he never was a major league manager) or how he would have done. (Jane Leavy, in her book on Mantle, has the line that sometimes Stengel was asleep, and Crosetti would say, “Don’t wake him up, we’re ahead.”)    It’s something to consider. Maybe there should be a coaches’ wing of the HOF. Some of the first inductees could then be Crosetti, Charlie Lau, Dave Duncan, and Leo Mazzone. Just a thought. In that NY Times obituary, it was written of Crosetti that “he was an expert sign stealer and adept at finding an edge, as when he encouraged the bespectacled, fastball-throwing reliever Ryne Duren to frighten would-be batters by throwing warm-up pitches high against the screen.”

Crosetti wore #5 from 1932 to 1936 (DiMaggio wore #9 as a rookie, and switched to #5 in 1937). Crosetti then switched to #1, which he wore from 1937 to 1944. In 1945, the Crow switched to #2, which he then wore through 1968.

Crosetti died in 2002 at the age of 91.

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3 Responses to Classic Yankees: Frank Crosetti

  1. Just so everyone is aware. Mike Sommer wrote this, as he has all the Classic Yankees pieces. Just wanted to point it out as this was probably the 5th one I accidentally tagged it as one of my articles. They're definitely all him.

  2. bob says:

    What I remember best about Crosetti was how elegantly and fearlessly he fielded hot grounders barehanded down the third base line – made it look beautiful and easy.