For 14 years, Joe Cronin’s signature appeared on all the baseballs used in the American League. But a far more interesting tidbit about this former American League president is that he was once sold by his uncle-in-law – not his father-in-law, as is often reported. Cronin was one of baseball’s “boy wonder” managers when he piloted the 1933 Senators to an AL pennant at the age of 27, a year younger than Washington’s first “boy wonder,” Bucky Harris, was when he took Washington to its first pennant in 1924. It is often forgotten that the gentlemanly Cronin was one of the premier shortstops of his day, and knocked in more than 100 runs in a season eight times. He was also Carl Hubbell‘s fifth consecutive Hall of Fame strikeout victim in the 1934 All-Star game.
A former bank clerk, Cronin came up as a slow and clumsy shortstop for Pittsburgh. The Pirates had Arky Vaughan at shortstop, and in 1928 Cronin was dealt to Washington, where he bloomed. In 1930, his second full season, he had career highs in batting average (.346) and RBI (126), and TSN named him player of the year (1930 was the year before the baseball writers started electing regular MVPs). In 1933, Cronin was named player-manager by Washington owner Clark Griffith, and Cronin responded by guiding the Senators to their final World Series appearance. The Giants beat Cronin’s club in five games, but Cronin batted .318.
The following year, Griffith introduced his young manager to his niece, Mildred Robertson, then a club secretary. The two were married later that year. But at the end of the 1934 season, Griffith sold his new nephew to the Red Sox for $225,000, the highest amount paid for a single player (Boston’s sale of Babe Ruth was actually only for $125,000, with the remaining $300,000 being a personal loan from Yankee owner Ruppert to Red Sox owner Harry Frazee). Griffith arranged, however, for Cronin to receive a five-year contract good for $50,000 per year.
Cronin loved hitting in Fenway Park. Three times he registered slugging percentages over .500, with a career-high .536 in 1938, the year he led the AL in doubles with 51. He hit a career-high 24 HR in 1940, the year he also led the league in putouts and assists. Despite hitting .311 with 16 HR and 95 RBI in 1941, he took himself out of the regular lineup in 1942 to make room for a youngster named Johnny Pesky. He still pinch-hit, though, setting a major league record of five pinch homers in 1943, including two in one day — one each in two ends of a doubleheader.
In early 1945 Cronin broke his leg, ending his playing career for good. He took the Red Sox to the World Series the following year, losing to the Cardinals on Enos Slaughter‘s dash home in the seventh game. He moved into the Red Sox front office in 1948 for 11 years, during which time he was elected to the Hall of Fame. In 1959, he was chosen American League president by the owners, the first former player so honored. In his two terms as AL president, he presided over the league’s expansion from eight to ten teams in 1960, then to 12 teams in 1969. In 1970, he fired two umpires for “incompetency” when he learned they were trying to form a union. In his final year as president, he blocked George Steinbrenner’s attempt to hire Dick Williams as manager, but allowed the Tigers to sign Ralph Houk away from Steinbrenner’s Yankees.