The Yankees had their own California Gold Rush in the 1920’s and ’30’s. New York’s favorite mine for the precious metal was the Pacific Coast League, which back then was the equivalent of Major League Baseball for the western United States. The team’s prospecting began with San Francisco native Tony Lazzeri who the Yanks acquired from his Salt Lake City PCL team in August of 1925. Four years later, they struck gold again when they purchased the contract of pitcher Lefty Gomez from the San Francisco Seals. Their most famous western find of course was the great Joe DiMaggio, also born in the City by the Bay and also acquired from the Seals in 1934. In between the Gomez and DiMaggio additions came Frankie “The Crow” Crosetti, who was born on today’s date in 1910 in San Francisco. He spent more seasons in a Yankee uniform than any other human being. These included ten seasons as a starting shortstop, seven more as back-up shortstop and then a twenty-season tenure as New York’s third base coach. Not a force with the bat, Frankie was a good base-runner, an excellent fielder and one of the game’s all-time great sign stealers. He was also a skilled bunter and turned the act of getting hit by a pitch into an art form. He became one of Joe McCarthy’s favorite players.
The Yankees of the 1920s were a rowdy bunch, led by the greatest partier and biggest kid in big league history, Babe Ruth. The Yankees of the thirties eventually became the team of Lou Gehrig and McCarthy. They were all business on the field and much more quiet and reserved off of it. Crosetti joined the Yankees as the club was in the process of transitioning from being Ruth’s team to being Gehrig’s. Picking a side was an easy choice for the Crow.
Crosetti was a quiet guy off the field. In his New York Daily News obituary, the writer describes an evening after a Yankee game on the road, at the team’s hotel. Crosetti, Lazzeri and DiMaggio all came down to the lobby at the same time and sat next to each other for an hour and twenty minutes and not one of the three players said a word to each other.
He finished his playing career with a .245 lifetime average. His on base percentage during that time was almost 100 points higher. He collected 1,546 hits and scored 1,006 runs. He was not a great World Series performer although in the 1936 Fall Classic he drove in six runs in New York’s four-game sweep of the Cubs and also hit his one and only postseason home run off of the great but past-his-prime, Dizzy Dean.
He was also a no-nonsense Yankee coach. Crosetti often threw Yankee batting practices and he demanded that every player work on a specific hitting skill when it was their turn in the cage. If someone started swinging for the fences, Yogi Berra remembered Crosetti would actually just walk off the mound and refuse to throw the guy any more pitches. In his book “Ball Four,” Jim Bouton claimed that Crosetti was useless as a coach and hardly ever spoke to or attempted to instruct Yankee players. Ellie Howard later refuted that charge in his own book, claiming Bouton loved everybody on the team when he was pitching good and then hated and blamed everybody when his career went bad. Crosetti retired as a Yankee coach in 1968 but returned to the coaching box for a short time with both the Pilots and Twins.
He died in 2002, at the age of 91. He owned 17 World Series rings. Actually, Crosetti had accumulated so many rings, the Yankees finally started giving him engraved shotguns instead. In all, Crosetti received 23 World Series paychecks as a Yankee player (9) and coach (14). They totaled $142,989.30.
The Crow shares his October 4th birthday with this long ago Yankee spitballer.
The amazing thing about Ray Fisher’s Yankee pitching career was that as good as he was at getting Major League hitters out, it was instead his coaching and dedication to players at the collegiate level that serves as his most significant contribution to the game. He was the son of a Vermont farmer who became a star pitcher of his high school baseball team and a three sport athlete at Vermont’s Middlebury College. The Yankees took an interest in him wile he was pitching minor league ball in Hartford, CT and signed him just before the Red Sox made him a better offer.
Fisher made his debut as a New York Highlander on July 2, 1910 against the Chicago White Sox’ Hall of Fame pitcher, Ed Walsh. George Stallings, the New York Manager at the time later told Fisher he figured the Yankees had no chance of beating Walsh that day so he decided to throw his rookie and save his better pitchers for weaker match ups. Fisher ended up out-pitching Walsh and getting the 2-1 victory.
Fisher would spend the next eight seasons pitching for some very bad Highlander/Yankee teams and some pretty bad managers. His best year was 1915 when he went 18-11 with a 2.11 ERA. His signature pitch was a then legal spitball that he juiced with saliva and a piece of slippery elm bark he always chewed while working on the mound.
In 1917, he came down with pleurisy and then missed the entire next season when he was drafted into the Army for service during WWI. It was while he was in the military that the Yankees traded him to the Reds, who immediately lowered Fisher’s $6,500 Yankee salary by $3,000 for the upcoming 1919 season. Fisher had a great year for Cincinnati, going 14-5 and helping the Reds win the 1919 NL Pennant. They then went on to win the 1919 World Series against the White Sox, allegedly benefitting from the infamous Black Sox scandal, in which several White Sox players took money from gamblers to throw the Series. Poor Fisher still lost Game 3 of that forever-tainted Fall Classic.
In 1920, Major League Baseball banned the spitball, but Fisher was one of the hand full of pitchers exempted from the ban. The veteran right-hander went 10-11 that year and started thinking about finding a new career. He had a young daughter at home who he never got to see and his 33-year-old body was growing tired of the extensive traveling and stress of big league life. Compounding the problem was the penny pinching ways of the Reds front office. Fisher decided to accept an offer to manage the University of Michigan’s baseball team. He would remain in that position for the next 39 years and his Wolverine teams would compile a 661-292 record and win 14 Big Ten baseball titles and the 1953 National Championship..
His new job may have been in Michigan, but Ray Fisher’s heart never left Vermont. Every offseason he would return to his camp on Lake Champlain in the Green Mountain State. But instead of spending all his time fishing, Fisher would actually continue to pitch for local semipro teams in the area until he was well into his late forties. He also became manager of the Twin City Trojans of Vermont’s Northern League, and battled long and hard with the NCAA to permit college baseball players to earn some extra money by playing in summer leagues.
Ray Fisher died in 1982 at the age of 95. At the time, he had become the last surviving member of the old New York Highlanders. His record was 76-78 during his eight seasons in New York and 100-94 with a 2.81 ERA for his complete ten-season big league career. He shares his October 4th birthday with this long-time Yankee shortstop and coach.
|NYY (8 yrs)||76||78||.494||2.91||219||166||37||88||13||5||1380.1||1337||586||447||24||393||583||1.253|
|CIN (2 yrs)||24||16||.600||2.47||59||41||11||22||6||2||375.1||330||141||103||9||88||97||1.114|