I knew little about the Boston Red Sox in the first half of the 20th century, even up to 1960, so I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. While learning about Joe Cronin, I learned more about the Red Sox, about Ted Williams, about the Washington Senators, the minor league system, train travel, contract negotiations, expansion, and the big changes to baseball that Cronin helped shape, including the DH rule. Well worth reading.
This book is not just for Red Sox fans or baseball historians; it's an entertaining and enlightening look into, as the title implies, one man's life in baseball. It rolls from the post-'black sox' era of the 20s to the glory days of the 30s, late 40s, through the legendary 50s, and into the tumultuous 60s. As a player, it's odd that Joe Cronin is not better known; he was a perennial all-star through the 30s while at the same time managing the team. And as a leader, he was made manager at just 26 yrs old (!) and continued as a player-manager and then manager until moving into baseball management positions at a team and then league level. The reader is taken on not just a journey through Cronin's life, but also through the life of the great american pastime, which was changing (and stubbornly not changing!) in a rapidly changing world. A well-written, enjoyable read for anyone that likes history, sports, or both. It reminded me of David Maraniss' Lombardi bio, another great book covering two of my favorite subjects: sports and history.
For most major league baseball players, their careers generally end when their playing days are over. Some may go on to become a coach or manage a team at the big league level. For Hall of Famer Joe Cronin, his retirement as an active player allowed him to move up the ranks; as a full-time field manager, then as a general manager, and then finally, as the President of the American League.
The author, Mark Armour chronicles Cronin's long and fruitful relationship with the game, which always seemed to place him as the right guy for the job, whenever a new opportunity popped up.
Growing up in post-earthquake San Francisco, Cronin very quickly established himself as a top-notch player, following in the footsteps of his idol, Tony Lazzeri; another local San Francisco boy who certainly made a name for himself on that remarkable Murderer's Row New York Yankees team of the '20s, featuring guys like Ruth and Gehrig. It didn't take long for Cronin's playing ability to surpass Lazzeri's; in fact, it didn't take long for Cronin's skills to overshadow the vast majority of players in all of baseball. He was simply one of the greatest players in the history of the game, performing his craft with remarkable skill at shortstop; probably the most crucial position for any team.
Additionally, Cronin's leadership skills and knowledge of the game afforded him the opportunity to become a player-manager, at the tender age of 26; first with the Washington Senators, then with the Boston Red Sox. Those Red Sox teams of the '30s and '40s featured some big-name players (Williams, Foxx & Grove), but they never really did much until 1946, when they finally reached the World Series (losing in seven games to the Cardinals). By the end of the '47 season, Cronin called it quits as field manager, then moved into the Boston front office as the team's general manager. Armour notes that while the game had become integrated in 1947, the Red Sox were the last American League team to have an African American on its roster. Ownership's tacit rascist behavior further exasperated the team's ability to contend; it wouldn't be until 1967 when Boston would make it back to the World Series again.
Clearly, Joe Cronin's management style was a very "hands on" approach; sometimes it worked well, sometimes not so well. However, his reputation remained stellar, leading to his final assignment as President of the American League. His most noteworthy contribution was the creation of the designated hitter, thereby allowing those good-hit no-field players to extend their careers, while providing a little more offense to a game many fans regarded as boring.
In the end, Joe Cronin's impact on the game of baseball was significant; his abilities were quite impressive. His biography makes for a nice piece of baseball history, especially if you love the game, and love its rich folklore.