A game-winning home run against the Cardinals provided an early indication that the 1957 season would be special for catcher Del Crandall and the Braves.
On April 24, 1957, Crandall clouted a walkoff home run in the ninth inning, giving the Braves an 8-7 victory over the Cardinals at Milwaukee.
The win was the Braves’ sixth in their first seven games of the season. Propelled by the fast start, they went on to win the 1957 National League pennant, finishing eight games ahead of the runner-up Cardinals, and dethroned the Yankees for the World Series championship.
Crandall was a major contributor to the Braves’ success. A gifted catcher and strong thrower, he was liked and respected by a Braves pitching staff featuring Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette.
A big-league catcher for 16 seasons, Crandall died May 5, 2021, at 91. He was the last surviving member of the Boston Braves.
Crandall was 19 when he was called up to the Braves from the minors in June 1949. Based in Boston, the 1949 Braves were the defending National League champions and were managed by Billy Southworth, the former Cardinals manager.
The teen’s first big-league hit came against Dutch Leonard, the Cubs’ 40-year-old knuckleball artist who had been pitching in the majors since Crandall was 3. Boxscore
The Braves had another 19-year-old, pitcher Johnny Antonelli, and he and Crandall formed a teenage battery in nine games in 1949.
In the book “We Played the Game,” Antonelli said he and Crandall were roommates in Boston.
“Del became my best friend on the team,” Antonelli said. “We were called the Milkshake Twins.
“Del was a leader as a rookie. He liked to hear chatter around the diamond when he was catching, and one day he gunned the ball down to third, saying, ‘Come on, Elliott, wake up.’ Bob Elliott was a seasoned player and warned, ‘Don’t do that again, kid,’ but he would. That’s the way Del would be his entire career.”
After two years (1951-52) in the Army, Crandall rejoined the Braves, who had relocated to Milwaukee, and developed into one of the game’s best catchers.
Among Crandall’s accomplishments:
_ An eight-time National League all-star.
_ Four-time Gold Glove Award winner.
_ Five times led the National League in number of runners caught stealing.
_ Four times led National League catchers in fielding percentage.
“Del had a good head on his shoulders,” pitcher Bob Buhl told author Danny Peary. “We called him Jack Armstrong, the all-American boy. He would never do anything wrong. For instance, he didn’t drink. Yet he wasn’t resentful of those who did, which was fortunate, because we were a drinking team.”
Playing in a lineup with Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews, Crandall usually batted near the bottom of the order. He hit 26 home runs in 1955, including a walkoff grand slam against the Phillies.
His next walkoff home run came two years later versus the Cardinals.
The score was tied at 7-7, with one out and none on in the bottom of the ninth, when Crandall batted against Cardinals reliever Willard Schmidt.
Crandall got behind in the count 0-and-2. “I had good stuff,” Schmidt told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I was getting the ball right where I wanted it.”
He had no excuse, Schmidt said, for the pitch he threw next.
“In that situation, and to a man like him, you never put the ball anywhere but out of the strike zone, maybe even call it a little brushback,” Schmidt said.
Instead, “I was stupid,” Schmidt said. His pitch was over the plate and Crandall hit it over the fence in left, giving the Braves a walkoff win. Boxscore
Crandall hit 15 home runs for the 1957 Braves. He hit another in Game 7 of the World Series against Yankees reliever Tommy Byrne, helping the Braves clinch the championship. Boxscore and video at 38:12 mark
The next year, Crandall hit another Game 7 World Series home run, against reliever Bob Turley, but the Yankees prevailed. Boxscore
In 1960, Crandall had his best season as a hitter. He batted .294 with 19 home runs, 77 RBI and a league-leading 12 sacrifice flies. In a stretch from July 16 to Aug. 25, Crandall hit five home runs: two each against Sandy Koufax and Robin Roberts and one versus Bob Gibson. He also hit a home run against Bill Monbouquette in the All-Star Game. Boxscore
The next year, Crandall sat out for most of the season because of an arm ailment and Joe Torre, 20, took over the catching.
In 1962, Torre was the Opening Day catcher but Crandall came back strong and ended up starting the majority of games.
On June 1, 1962, Crandall broke an 0-for-17 skid with two singles, a triple and five RBI in the Braves’ 7-0 triumph over the Cardinals at Milwaukee. It was the second and last time Crandall produced five RBI in a big-league game. Boxscore
Braves manager Birdie Tebbetts said Crandall took extra batting practice before the game and worked on hitting the ball through the middle of the diamond, the Associated Press reported.
Bob Shaw, who pitched the shutout against the Cardinals, said, “Pitching to a guy like Del makes it a lot easier. He knows the hitters.”
In 1963, Bobby Bragan became Braves manager and he preferred Torre to be the starting catcher. Crandall shared backup duties with Bob Uecker.
In his book “Chasing the Dream,” Torre said, “I’ll always be grateful to Crandall for being a true professional and being so quick to help me during my first few years in the big leagues.”
After the season, Crandall was traded to the Giants.
On May 31, 1964, in the opener of a doubleheader against the Mets at New York, Crandall caught nine innings in Juan Marichal’s complete-game win. Boxscore
In the second game, Crandall batted for pitcher Gaylord Perry in the 23rd inning and delivered a RBI-double against Galen Cisco, breaking a 3-3 tie and sparking the Giants to a 5-3 marathon victory. Boxscore
Crandall finished his playing career with the Pirates (1965) and Indians (1966). He hit .254 overall and .219 versus the Cardinals.
Crandall remained in baseball into the 1990s. He managed the Brewers (1972-75) and Mariners (1983-84). With the Brewers, he was the first big-league manager of Darrell Porter and mentored the future Cardinals catcher.
Also, Crandall was an Angels coach (1977), a minor-league manager in the farm systems of the Dodgers, Brewers and Angels, and broadcaster for the White Sox (1985-88) and Brewers (1992-94).