Remembering Big George Crowe

Although I never lived in Cincinnati, St. Louis, Boston or Milwaukee, one of my early baseball favorites was Big George Crowe, a first baseman for the Reds, Cardinals, and Braves.

My first connection to Crowe, who died on January 18 at 89, came when I was a ten-year-old growing up in Los Angeles avidly collecting baseball cards. Crowe’s 1952 and 1953 Topps cards were the most identifiable and treasured in my collection.

When my family moved to Puerto Rico, I went to dozens of Santurce Cangrejeros winter Caribbean League games. Crowe was a key member of the historic 1954-1955 Crabbers squad that many in baseball claim was the best winter squad ever.

Don Zimmer, a stand out shortstop for the Crabbers, considered Santuce as good as or better than any franchise in the major leagues.

Zimmer attested:

Without a doubt, it was probably the best winter club ever assembled. I mean we had guys like Buzz Clarkson, myself, Ronnie Samford, George Crowe, Valmy Thomas and Harry Chiti catching. We had Mays, Thurman and Clemente in the outfield. I mean you’re talking about a big league ball club. Not only that but Herman Franks was an outstanding manager. We could have beaten National League clubs.

The local media referred to the heart of the line-up, Mays, Clemente, Thurman, Clarkson and Crowe, as “Murders Row,” likening them to the famous 1927 New York Yankees.

In addition to the sluggers, on the mound were Ruben Gomez and Sam Jones. Gomez, incredibly, won 179 games over 29 winter league campaigns, all but one of them hurling for the Crabbers.

During his three seasons in Puerto Rico, Crowe hit .337 with 32 home runs and 179 runs batted in.

The Caribbean League allowed only a limited number of “imports,” the word used to describe non-Caribbean-born Americans. But since the Puerto Rican newspapers prominently featured their “off season” summer successes, I could easily follow Crowe’s career.

In 1957 Crowe, at age 36 with the Cincinnati Reds, had his best season. When an injury to Ted Kluszewski gave Crowe a shot at the full time first baseman’s job, he appeared in 133 games, belted 31 home runs and drove in 92 runs placing him sixth and eighth in the league respectively.

Ironically, Crowe was the only Reds starter not selected that year to the All-Star game during infamous ballot stuffing scandal forced the selections of Roy McMillan, Ed Bailey, Gus Bell, Don Hoak, Johnny Temple, Wally Post, and Frank Robinson. Crowe was beaten out by Stan Musial. Nevertheless, Crowe received a degree of revenge the following season when voters selected him as a reserve to the 1958 All-Star team based on his .300 plus batting average for the first half of the season.

Crowe was an outstanding Negro National League star as well as a professional basketball player for the New York Rens and the Los Angeles Red Devils where he teamed with Jackie Robinson. In 1939, Crowe was Indiana’s first Mr. Basketball.

Crowe lived in the Adirondacks until 2006 when he moved to California to join his family. After suffering a stroke in late 2008, Crowe resided in an assisted living facility near Sacramento until his death.

Other recent baseball passings: Art Mahan, Gil McDougald

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