MISSION VIEJO, Calif. – Del Crandall, a star catcher who played on two Milwaukee Braves teams that reached the World Series in the 1950s before managing one of the great minor league teams of all time in Albuquerque, has died at age 91.
Crandall had Parkinson’s disease and died Wednesday in Mission Viejo, California, surrounded by family, his son Bill Crandall said.
“Dad was a humble man,” Bill Crandall said. “He was just a good man, a good example of what a man should be. He treated everybody fairly. He didn’t take his celebrity seriously at all.”
Crandall was inducted in 2008 into the Albuquerque Pro Baseball Hall of Fame. He managed the old Albuquerque Dukes from 1978 to midseason 1983, when the Seattle Mariners hired him away. His entire time with the Dukes, he lived in a one-room Albuquerque apartment alone, not wishing to uproot his family from California.
Under Crandall, the then-Los Angeles Dodgers affiliated Dukes won four Pacific Coast League titles. The 1981 Dukes team is one for the ages, going a ridiculous 94-38. It was a star-laden team in a perfect storm of a season – before minor league free agency and in a year of a Major League Baseball players strike, so Dodgers’ talent bottlenecked here.
And Crandall, in retrospect, earned abundant credit for managing the talent and the egos.
Mike Marshall, who at age 21 hit .373 with 34 homers and 137 RBIs for the 1981 Dukes, was a call-up in 1981 and an established star in 1988 on Dodgers teams that won the World Series under manager Tommy Lasorda. Yet he said Crandall was the best manager of his pro career.
“Tommy was the best motivator, but with X’s and O’s and handling a team day in and day out, I try to model myself after Del,” Marshall, who tried managing years later, told the Journal in 2008.
Other players on that 1981 Albuquerque team included Rudy Law (.335, 56 steals), pitcher Ted Power (18-3), closer Alejandro Peña (22 saves, 1.61 earned run average), hitters Candy Maldonado (.335), Wayne Caughey (.314), Ron Roenicke (.316), and so forth.
“We wouldn’t allow anybody on that team if they didn’t hit .300,” Crandall once told the Journal, laughing at the absurdity of it all.
The team also beat the parent Dodgers, who went on to win that year’s World Series, 1-0 in an exhibition game in Los Angeles after the major league strike was settled and before big-league play had resumed.
Crandall was known as a firm but patient mentor to his young players. Patrick McKernan, son of the late Dukes general manager Pat McKernan, once told of a conversation related to him by former New York Mets manager and Crandall protégé Terry Collins.
Collins, McKernan said, was exasperated by players’ consistent failure to execute certain skills. How many times, he asked Crandall, did he have to tell them?
Once more,” Crandall said.
“Terry said that was the most important thing ever said to him,” McKernan said.
Years earlier, Crandall was one of the best defensive catchers in the 1950s and ’60s. He was a member of the Braves’ 1957 World Series championship team as well as the 1958 squad that lost the World Series. He homered against the New York Yankees in each of those matchups.
According to the Society for American Baseball Research, Crandall had been the last surviving member of the Boston Braves.
He was a four-time Gold Glove winner who appeared in 11 All-Star Games. Crandall played for the Boston Braves (1949-50), Milwaukee Braves (1953-63), San Francisco Giants (1964), Pittsburgh Pirates (1965) and Cleveland Indians (1966). He didn’t play in 1951-52 because of military service.
He had a career batting average of .254 with 179 homers and 657 RBIs. He led all NL catchers in fielding percentage four times and threw out the most potential base stealers of any NL catcher in five seasons.
Crandall was a longtime teammate of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, who died in January. When Aaron joined the Milwaukee Brewers in 1975, Crandall was his manager.
After his playing career, Crandall managed the Brewers from 1972-75 and the Mariners from 1983-84. He posted a 271-338 record with Milwaukee and a 93-131 mark with Seattle.
Crandall was managing the Brewers when Hall of Famer Robin Yount began his MLB career in 1974 at the age of 18.
“Fortunately he saw enough potential in a raw 18-year-old kid to give me a chance,” Yount said in his Hall of Fame induction speech “I’m grateful for that.”