Moving up the list of the best Catchers in Atlanta Braves Franchise history, we slip back to the team’s success in Milwaukee, and another of baseball’s best backstops. In at number three is Del Crandall.
The Atlanta Braves franchise spent a long time looking up at the rest of baseball after their worst-to-first season in 1914. The club began to emerge as a threat after the war, adding players from the Negro leagues to their homegrown talent.
Jim Murray of the LA Times wrote that Delmar Wesley “Del” Crandall became a catcher because he was at the back of the line when they were handing out baseball equipment, that all the coach had left was a mask and a catcher’s mitt.
Crandall backed Murray’s prose up when he interviewed with his SABR biographer Gregory Wolf.
“I became a catcher when I was in fifth grade. I was a pudgy little kid and not a very good athlete, but I was enthusiastic. . . a coach, came to my elementary school, . . . looked at me with a mask and a catcher’s glove, and I told him I can catch . . .
Even then, Crandall set high standards for himself; once he decided he was a catcher, his goal was becoming the best catcher around. Along the way, he met the city recreation director — manager of the semipro Fullerton Merchants and one-time minor league catcher — J. F. Lemon.
Lemon coached him, and after six years of tutoring arranged for Crandall to catch Dodgers starter Hal Gregg, an 18 game-winner in 1945. When his senior year arrived, the pudgy kid was a memory. In his place stood a 6-1, athletic all-American boy whose bat and defense led the Dodgers to make him a bonus baby, by offering him $20K signing bonus – about $231,500 today.
Bonus babies were required to spend two years on the active roster, and Brooklyn had already signed Roy Campanella. Crandall’s dad did his research and advised him to sign with the Braves for $4K –about $46k today – instead.