For 14 years, Joe Cronin's signature appeared on all the baseballs used in the American League. Joe Cronin - who was once sold by his uncle-in-law (not his father-in-law, as is often reported) - was one of baseball's "boy wonder" managers when he piloted the 1933 Senators to an AL pennant at the age of 27, a year younger than Washington's first "boy wonder," Bucky Harris, was when he took Washington to its first pennant in 1924.
Cronin was the All-Star American League shortstop 7 times, and won the MVP in 1930 when he hit .346 with 126 RBI. The jovial Irishman topped the .300 mark eight times and he also enjoyed eight 100-RBI seasons. In the post-Honus Wagner era, he was essentially the only slugging shortstop in the American League - on a list of high-profile offensive AL shortstop performances, only a few good years by Luke Appling and Vern Stephens show up beside Cronin's until Robin Yount and Cal Ripken emerged in the 1980s, and Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter and Miguel Tejada redefined the position in the late 1990s.
A former bank clerk, Cronin came up as a slow and clumsy shortstop for
Pittsburgh. The Pirates had Arky Vaughan at shortstop,
and in 1928 Cronin was dealt to Washington, where he bloomed. In 1930, his
second full season, he had career highs in batting average (.346) and RBI (126),
The following year, Griffith introduced his young manager to his niece, Mildred Robertson, then a club secretary. The two were married later that year. But at the end of the 1934 season, Griffith sold his new nephew to the Red Sox for $225,000, the highest amount paid for a single player (Boston's sale of Babe Ruth was actually only for $125,000, with the remaining $300,000 being a personal loan from Yankee owner Ruppert to Red Sox owner Harry Frazee). Griffith arranged, however, for Cronin to receive a five-year contract good for $50,000 per year.
Cronin was a good fielder, and his determination and toughness helped him improve to become a wizard with the glove. All that money affected Cronin's defensive work for a few years, but he never stopped hitting. In 1938, he led the major leagues with 51 doubles, and topped all shortstops with 17 home runs. In 1941, his last full season as a player, Cronin batted .311 with 16 homers. He could have padded his career stats after that, but as manager he restricted himself to pinch-hitting duties so younger players (such as Johnny Pesky) would have a chance.
In early 1945 Cronin broke his leg, ending his playing career for good. He took the Red Sox to the World Series the following year, losing to the Cardinals on Enos Slaughter's dash home in the seventh game. He moved into the Red Sox front office in 1948 for 11 years, during which time he was elected to the Hall of Fame.
In 1959, he was chosen American League president by the owners, the first former player so honored. In his two terms as AL president, he presided over the league's expansion from eight to ten teams in 1960, then to 12 teams in 1969.
In 1970, he fired two umpires for "incompetency" when he learned they were trying to form a union. In his final year as president, he blocked George Steinbrenner's attempt to hire Dick Williams as manager, but allowed the Tigers to sign Ralph Houk away from Steinbrenner's Yankees.
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