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
"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.