Every Friday, we will be taking a look back at the career of a critical player in New York Yankees history that doesn’t quite get the recognition they deserve. When looking at the storied history of the Yankees names like Ruth, Mantle and Jeter quickly come to mind. Today, we will be looking at those players who played a critical role. Simply put, without these individuals, the Yankees wouldn’t have been the Yankees.
Today we will be taking a look at the shortstop position. Derek Jeter was clearly the best Yankees shortstop and Phil Rizzuto was a legend and icon of the mid-century teams. When looking at under appreciated Yankees, we are going to head back to the man that handled short in the 1930s and 40s; the Crow, Frank Crosetti.
Crosetti was born in San Francisco and raised in the heavily Italian neighborhood of North Beach, which also produced the DiMaggios and Tony Lazzeri. His father had come to California from Genoa, Italy and worked a series of odd jobs including a gardener and orchardist. Eventually, his father saved enough money to start a small vegetable farm where Crosetti first learned the game of baseball. Along with his older brother, Crosetti fashioned a bat out of a long wooden board and a ball out of the dried end of a corn cob.
While Crosetti grew up in a traditional, strict Italian household, he was viewed as a lazy child and he eventually dropped out of high school by the age of 16. After a stint playing baseball in Montana, Crosetti returned to San Francisco where he was first discovered by the San Francisco Seals. At the time, Crosetti was seen as too small for a professional contract, which lead to the team sending him bottles of milk every morning. Crosetti was able to add 10 pounds and signed his first professional contract.
Croseeti started his Seals tenure off with a bang. In an exhibition against the Pirates, Crosetti hit a grand slam in his first at bat. However, he would struggle to a .248 average for the season. The following year saw him move to shortstop and his average rocket to .314. The next season saw his average increase to .334 with with 27 homers. Now, fully on MLB’s radar, Crosetti caught the eyes of Yankees’ scout, Bill Essick.
New York Yankees
Crosetti joined the Yankees in 1932, and saw himself as the leading candidate to play shortstop. Manager Joe McCarthy would challenge the 21 year-old Crosetti early by hitting difficult grounders just out of his reach. He impressed his manager by always going hard after every ball and quickly earned the respect of his fellow infielders. Lou Gehrig liked him for his ability to stay calm in difficult situations, while Tony Lazzeri viewed him as a younger brother.
Despite his teammates support, Crosetti struggled early in his career. By 1935, Crosetti was committing too many errors and striking out too often. Even worse, his 1935 season ended early after blowing out his knee. While recovering from his injury, Crosetti altered his batting stance and would have a career year in 1936, earning him his first all star appearance.
While never a threat with the bat, Crosetti found a way to stay in the leadoff position. Despite hitting only .245 for his career, Crosetti’s OBP of .341 kept him at the top of the order. With the likes of Ruth, Gehrig and DiMaggio batting after him, he frequently was near the top of baseball for runs scored. Crosetti found his value by knowing how to get on base, averaging over 75 walks a season while being hit by 114 pitches in his career. Despite all of the HBPs, he learned how to avoid being injured while being hit.
For his playing career, Crosetti earned six World Series rings as the frequent leadoff man on the 30s and 40s.
Crosetti the Coach
After retiring in 1948, Crosetti stayed with the Yankees as a third base and infield coach. Crosetti is credited with helping Phil Rizzuto adjust to MLB while teaching pitcher Ryne Duren to intimidate opposing lineups by throwing over the head of the first batter. Rizzuto also credits Crosetti with understanding how to steal signs by just looking at how a pitcher was standing. For his coaching career, it is believed that Crosetti had sent more than 16,000 runners home.
Crosetti continued to be a favorite amongst Yankees players as he remained the first to the park, and the last to leave even as a coach. Whitey Ford is quoted with saying that one time, Crosetti saw Ford and Mantle returning to the Spring Training hotel after a night out around 6:30 in the morning as Crosetti was on his way to church. Ford said of the incident, “He looked at us and laughed and went to church. Cro was a great guy. We didn’t have to worry about him squealing.”
Crosetti would remain a fixture with the Yankees until 1968. During his time as a coach he helped players break out of slumps and write pamphlets for rookies about what to expect in Major League Baseball. He stood up for players while challenging those who were not playing the game how it was supposed to be played. Crosetti remarked that one of the worst things he had ever seen was a player playing the harmonica after a bad loss during a long losing streak.
As a manager, Crosetti would win nine more championships. At one point, rumor has it that the Yankees actually stopped giving him rings. Instead they sent an engraved shotgun each time they won another championship.
Crosetti eventually retired from baseball following the 1971 season. He retired back to California and would frequently attend Yankees games whenever they were in Oakland. After he passed at the age of 91 in 2002, his wife perfectly summarized his career and why he is on this list.