Sun, Oct 16, 2005 - Page 24 News List

Old Crowe turns against Steinbrenner's NY Yankees

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , GOLD RIVER, CALIFORNIA

Even in this small town in Northern California, news of the Yankees' relative collapse reverberates. George Crowe sat over lunch and asked about the upheaval in New York surrounding a team with a US$200 million payroll; he did not seem to have much sympathy.

"I don't have any," Crowe corrected. "I don't have any. George Steinbrenner just turned me against the Yankees. With his arrogance and his mentality: `I'm George Steinbrenner, and I got all this money and I'm the boss.' He just turned me against them."

Crowe is not a mere fan of baseball but one of the pillars of the game. The general public may not know about him, but baseball aficionados probably do.

Crowe turned 84 in March, and when he speaks, even Steinbrenner, the principal owner of the Yankees, should listen.

I learned about Crowe through his older brother Ray, a coach who rose to prominence in March 1955, when his Crispus Attucks High School team became Indiana's first all-black high school basketball squad to capture the state title. Attucks, starring Oscar Robertson, also became the first Indianapolis team to win the championship.

By that time, George Crowe was well into a solid major league baseball career.

Crowe was born in 1921, in Whiteland, Indians. He was the fifth of eight children and the third boy, and he grew up a Yankees fan.

"Going back to the '30s, the Yankees were a prime team; you hear more about them, and we didn't have anything but radio," Crowe said. "If you hear about baseball, you hear about the Yankees. So I just grew up a Yankees fan.

"From 1936 on until the time I left to go into the Army in 1943, Joe DiMaggio was my hero. I never met him or saw him or even saw a game. He just caught my fancy, because he was a young guy playing for the Yankees."

Crowe said he knew as a high school student that he wanted to be a professional athlete. "But there were no prospects out there," he said.

When he graduated from high school in 1939, he became the first Mr. Basketball selected in Indiana. He attended Indiana Central College and spent three years in the military after graduation.

His first professional athletic experience came in 1946, when he played basketball for the Los Angeles Red Devils. He had driven a younger brother to California to attend college. Crowe remembers picking up the newspaper and seeing an advertisement for tryouts for the team.

Jackie Robinson was on the team, though the club quickly folded. Crowe returned to Indianapolis, and the pro team there alerted Robert Douglas, founder of the Harlem Rens, that he was available. He traveled to New York in 1947, when began his pro baseball career with the New York Black Yankees in the Negro National League during the fall. He played with the Rens in the winter.

"I used to walk to Yankee Stadium, watch batting practice and as much of the game as I could," he said. "Then I'd have to come back down and catch the Black Yankees bus to travel to a game."

Robinson reached the majors in 1947, when Crowe was 26. "We had hope once Jackie got in; everybody started taking it seriously," he said. "If I'm good enough, maybe I can make it someday, even though my age was advanced."

In 1950, Crowe was named the most valuable player of the Eastern League while he was with the Hartford Chiefs. He was the first African-American player to win the award. Crowe reached the majors in 1952, when he was called up by the Boston Braves. He played nine seasons in the majors with the Boston and Milwaukee Braves, the Cincinnati Redlegs and the St. Louis Cardinals.

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