By Marty Appel
To say Frankie Crosetti was “old school” is putting it mildly. Trained in the corporate efficiency of Joe McCarthy, he joined the team in 1932, in time to be there for Babe Ruth’s last Yankee pennant and his “Called Shot Home Run” in the World Series. By the time young Cro became “The Old Cro,” he had witnessed Lou Gehrig’s retirement, Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak, Roger Maris’ 61st home run and Mickey Mantle’s last game. And about 1,000 other memorable moments in between.
When Frank Crosetti died on February 12 in Stockton, California, an important part of Yankee history went with him. At 91, he was alert and spry and still fishing until a broken hip in January felled him. Although he never journeyed back to New York after his retirement – he never made an Old Timers’ Game – he was a frequent visitor to Yankee games in nearby Oakland, and as chirpy with his high pitched voice as ever.
Maybe he didn’t need any more road trips after 43 years in pro ball. Maybe his suitcase had experienced enough wear and tear.
Crosetti played his minor league ball in his native San Francisco from 1928-1931, and then was purchased by the Yankees for $75,000, for whom he played from 1932-48. He was the team’s regular shortstop from ‘32-’40, and then Phil Rizzuto’s backup through the end of his playing days.
In 1947, he became a player/coach, and was the team’s third base coach until 1968, waving home more than 16,000 runners. He finished his career with the Seattle Pilots in ’69 and the Minnesota Twins in 1970-71. His responsibilities were more than giving the signs and slapping the backs of home run hitters. (He shook hands only once – Mickey Mantle’s walk-off homer off the Cards’ Barney Schultz in the 1964 Series). He was, for instance, responsible for the ball supply. And dare anyone – even a player – try to sneak a free baseball out of his ball bag – Cro was on the case. If a batting practice ball went into the stands before the gates opened – Cro would hurdle the fence and run it down. He was a company man.
He made the famous cross country auto trip with fellow Bay-area teammates Tony Lazzeri and Joe DiMaggio in 1936, delivering Joe D. to his first Yankee spring training (and learning that Joe didn’t drive),
Besides learning how to pack a suitcase, Cro also learned how to endorse a World Series check. It was his good fortune to accumulate 23 of them as a player and a coach, and when such things seemed enormous, it was often publicized that he earned $142,989.30 in additional World Series money. (Today’s winning shares approach $300,000 per year).
Perhaps the greatest tribute to Crosetti however, was in his corporate way of approaching his business. Schooled in the discipline McCarthy brought to the franchise, he knew that there was a “Yankee Way” to do things. When he hit .194 in 1940, although only 29 years old, he graciously acknowledged the gifts of young Phil Rizzuto, and helped tutor his successor and ease his way into the big leagues. His classy approach to the transition endeared him to McCarthy and to Yankee management, and cemented his “job for life” position with the franchise.
He was there for the managerial transfers to Bucky Harris, Casey Stengel, Ralph Houk, Yogi Berra, Johnny Keane, and Houk again. He went with the franchise – a new manager could name his own staff, but Crosetti stayed. He wore number 2 for all those years, but when he left after the 1968 season, it was felt that rather than retire it, it should go to a hot young prospect who would put it back on the playing field in the Crosetti tradition. That player was Jerry Kenney. Twenty-eight years later, it finally made its way to Derek Jeter.
Although only 165 pounds, he had some punch in his bat. He hit 98 home runs, which, when he left the team in ’68, was still 20th on their all-time home run list, and when he retired as a player, 11th. He also could take one for the team, leading the league in being hit by pitches eight times.
And then there was his moment, the 1938 World Series, Wrigley Field, Chicago. Game Two. Lefty Gomez against Dizzy Dean. Cubs leading 3-2, going to the eighth. Cro came to the plate with two out, a runner on first. Dean, in his declining years, was pitching an inspiring game, one that had the typewriters humming in the press box.
But Crosetti swung and sent one into the Wrigley Field bleachers, giving the Yanks the win, taking two from the Cubs in their home park and breaking their backs. They easily took the next two and swept. Crosetti’s homer was the big hit of the Series, the one that broke the hearts of the Cubs fans.
Frank Crosetti had little to say to the press after the game. Might have accidentally fired up the Cubs, you see. The company man left his talking for the field. It’s the way it was done in Joe McCarthy’s clubhouse, and ol’ Cro carried that tradition on longer than anyone else in pinstripes.