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“If we were looking for a model for a statue of a slugger, we would choose Sam Crawford.” Baseball Magazine, 1916
“Wahoo Sam” Crawford began his baseball career playing semi-pro ball around his birthplace of Wahoo, Nebraska. He rose quickly through the minors, debuting at age 19 with the Cincinnati Reds in September, 1899, batting .307 in 31 games. After moderate success in 1900, he emerged the next season, hitting .330 and leading the league with 16 home runs. The consistent Crawford would hit .333 the following year, and .335 in 1903, when he jumped to the Detroit Tigers. 1903 also marked his second consecutive year leading his league in triples, with 25; the triple was a specialty of Crawford’s, who finished his career with 309 three-baggers legged out in the cavernous ballparks of the dead ball era.
With outfield contributions from Crawford and the young Ty Cobb, the Tigers broke out in 1907 to the first of three consecutive pennants. Crawford led the league in runs in 1907, while hitting .323. The next year he led in Home runs, with 7, batting .311. In the third straight pennant year, 1909, he hit .314, leading the league in doubles, with 35. The Tigers, alas, lost all three World Series, the first two to the Cubs and the 1909 series to Honus Wagner and the Pirates. Though Crawford hit three doubles and a homer in the 1909 series, his career World Series batting average was just .243.
Though there would be no more World Series for the Tigers with Crawford, he certainly continued to pace the club and the league. In 1910, he led the league in triples and runs batted in—the first of three times he would lead the league in that vital category. In 1911, he batted .378, the highest mark of his career. He led the league in triples three consecutive years, beginning in 1913, and in runs batted in in 1914 and 1915.
1917 was the final big league season for Crawford, who led the league in triples 6 times, home runs twice, runs batted in three times, total bases twice, and once each in runs and doubles. For his career, he batted .309 over 19 seasons, while also hitting the identical number—309—in triples. He stole 367 bases, drove in 1,525 runs, scored 1,391 times, hit 458 doubles, and rang up 2,961 hits. He remains the career leader in triples, hitting 14 more than Cobb, a teammate with whom he did not always get along. Never the less, Cobb’s advocacy of Crawford is often cited as a contributing factor in his 1957 election to the Hall of Fame.
Crawford knew what he was doing at the plate: “My idea of batting is a thing that should be done unconsciously…If you get to studying it too much…you will miss it altogether.”