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The High Price Of A League War:

 SAM CRAWFORD

         

    One of the most unfortunate events in Cincinnati Reds history was losing Sam Crawford to the Detroit Tigers. The Reds didn't trade him or sell his contract or even send him to the American League team via waivers. Instead, Crawford's contract was awarded to the Tigers to help settle the 1903 war between the well-established National League and the fledgling American League.

Crawford, a hard-hitting outfielder who was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1957, played four seasons for Cincinnati, including 1901 when he hit the fantastic high number of 16 home runs. But after the 1902 season, Crawford signed two contracts, one with the Reds and another with Detroit, which was starting business in the American League.

About a dozen players signed two contracts and it looked like a player war would unfold, not dissimilar to the one that took place in the early 1960s when the American Football League and National Football League were engaged in bidding for collegiate football stars.

 

Crawford and pitcher Christy Mathewson of the New York Giants were the two most prominent players to sign two contracts. But before the two leagues became involved in an all-out war, peace was achieved. One of the conditions was that Crawford was awarded to the Tigers while Mathewson was returned to the Giants.

 

   It was unfortunate for the Reds. Crawford would go on to become one of the all-time great hitters.

"His misfortune," Ty Cobb, a teammate of Crawford's at Detroit, said in 1955, "was that he played big league ball 50 years too early. If he were swinging away today, he'd be up with the all-time home run leaders."

 

Crawford is the only player to lead both leagues in home runs. His 16 topped the National League in 1901 and when he hit seven for Detroit in 1908, he also led that league. Home runs weren't easy in those days with a dead ball and Crawford knew that.

 

"Sometimes," he recalled shortly before his death in 1968, "we'd playa whole game with one ball, if it stayed in the park. Lopsided and black, and full of tobacco juice and licorice stains."

 

Crawford was a native of Wahoo, Nebraska. He loved that part of the country. On the day he was elected to the Hall of Fame, he told the museum's curator In Cooperstown, New York:

   "When you make up my plaque have it read, 'Wahoo Sam.' That's my hometown and I'm proud of it."

 

 

Crawford, who was studying to be a barber when he decided to play baseball for a living, started his professional career in 1899 with Chatham, Ontario, in the Canadian League. He moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, after only 43 games. Before that season was over, the Reds had purchased his contract. The first day Crawford saw a major league game, he got five hits, playing in a double-header when the Reds played the Cleveland Wanamakers in one game and Louisville in the other.

Crawford's major league career spanned 19 years and he had a .310 lifetime average. He missed 3,000 hits by only 36. Five times he led the American League in triples and his 312 three-base hits remains all-time No. 1.

 

         
       

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