Glancing Back, and Remembering Del Crandall
During his prime, Del Crandall was generally acknowledged as one of the smartest handlers of pitchers among major league catchers. During the 1950s, with Crandall averaging better than 125 games caught per season, the Milwaukee Braves pitching staff consistently ranked among the best in the league in ERA, one of the reasons that the Braves enjoyed so much success in the late 1950. And for the most part, the man calling those pitches for the likes of Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette and Bob Buhl was Crandall.
In 13 seasons with the Milwaukee Braves, Del Crandall was an All-Star eight times. His best season with the Braves came in 1959, when he hit 21 home runs with 72 RBIs.
Crandall was signed by the Boston Braves and made his major league debut as a 19-year-old rookie a year later. He was the Braves’ back-up back-stop his first two season, and did military service during the next two years. He returned to the Braves – now the Milwaukee edition – in 1953 as the team’s everyday catcher, hitting .272 that season with 15 home runs and 51 RBIs.
Hitting amid a power-laden Braves lineup that included Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews, Crandall’s power production increased over the next two seasons, swatting 21 home runs with 64 RBIs in 1954 and 26 home runs with 62 RBIs in 1955. In 1959, catching 146 games for the Braves, Crandall hit .257 with 21 home runs and 72 RBIs. He followed up in 1960 by hitting .294 with 19 home runs and 77 RBIs.
Shoulder problems sidelined Crandall for most of the 1961 season, and opened the door for a young Braves catcher named Joe Torre. Crandall returned to catch 90 games in 1962, hitting a career high .297, but he gradually began surrendering more playing time to the talented Torre. In 1963, his last season with the Braves, Crandall hit only .201.
Del Crandall batted a career-best .297 with the Braves in 1962, but split playing time with 21-year-old Joe Torre (left). He also won his fourth Gold Glove that season.
In December of 1963, the Braves traded Crandall, along with pitchers Bob Hendley and Bob Shaw, to the San Francisco Giants for Felipe Alou, Ed Bailey and Billy Hoeft. In 1964, Crandall hit .231 for the Giants as a back-up for catcher Tom Haller, and was traded after the season to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Bob Burda and Bob Priddy. He spent one season in Pittsburgh and then played his final season with the Cleveland Indians. He retired in 1966.
In 16 major league season, Crandall hit .254 with 1,276 hits, 179 home runs and 657 RBIs. From 1954 through 1960, his prime years with the Braves, Crandall averaged 19 home runs and 62 RBIs per season.
But even with these respectable numbers, it was Crandall’s defense and pitch-calling ability that set him apart. He was an All-Star eight times and won four Gold Gloves. He led all National League catchers in assists six times, in fielding percentage four times, and in total putouts three times – a testament not only to his playing skills but also his durability in the game’s most physically demanding position.