Joseph Edward Cronin is, without a shadow of a doubt in my mind, the most underappreciated figure in Red Sox history. The story of Joe Cronin is about a Hall of Fame caliber shortstop, a manager who led his team to a pennant, a general manager, and an American League President.
The Red Sox fan base of today hardly remembers Joe Cronin. When young fans look at the list of retired numbers at Fenway Park’s right field upper-deck, they often ask, “Who is number 4?” It is an absolute shame, to me, that not only do people not talk about the legacy of Joe Cronin enough, many don’t even know who he is.
Cronin’s Early Life
The story of Joe Cronin began on October 12, 1906 in San Francisco, California. Cronin spent much of his early years in poverty, as the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake destroyed much of what his family owned. Cronin attended Sacred Heart High School where he won many athletic awards for his talents in baseball. After spending a year in the minors with the Chattanooga Lookouts, Cronin made his Major League debut in 1926 with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Major League Career
Cronin spent 20 years in the big leagues. He played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Washington Senators, and the Boston Red Sox. Cronin’s first impressive year came in 1930 with the Senators when he hit .346 with 13 home runs. His best season came in 1933, when he was actually a player-manager for the Senators. That year he had 45 doubles, hit .309, and finished in second place for American League Most Valuable Player. His Red Sox playing career started in 1935, and continued until 1945 when he retired. In that time, Cronin was a five time all-star, hit over 15 home runs five times, and hit over .300 six times. He retired in at the age of 38, due to a broken leg he suffered while playing.
Career as a Manager, General Manager, and AL President
The story of Joe Cronin doesn’t end after his playing career. The year after Cronin hung up the cleats, the Red Sox hired him as a manager for the 1946 season. That year, Cronin led the Red Sox to their first World Series appearance since 1918. Despite falling short to the St. Louis Cardinals, Cronin was praised for the job he did that year.
Following the 1947 season, Cronin became the general manager for the Red Sox. Cronin held that title up until the end of the 1958 season. Cronin’s acquisitions of pitchers Ellis Kinder and Jack Kramer, as well as shortstop Vern Stephens, helped the Red Sox challenge for the American League pennant in 1948 and 1949. In the 1950’s, Cronin had to rebuild the Red Sox core, as many of the teams stars were aging. He had some success, as the Red Sox only fell below .500 twice in his remaining years as general manager. Cronin accomplished this despite having somewhat of a weak team that was only led by a then aging Ted Williams.
Cronin became the first former player in history elected as president of the American League. He was well received as president, and held that position until 1973.
Hall of Fame Induction and Later Life
In 1956, the National Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Joe Cronin. Cronin fittingly chose to be portrayed wearing a Red Sox hat on his Hall of Fame plaque. In 1984, the Red Sox finally retired Cronin’s number four. Later that year, Cronin passed away due to a long fought battle with cancer.
Joe Cronin is the greatest shortstop in Red Sox history. He always wore his heart on his sleeve, while he was playing as well as while he was coaching. The story of Joe Cronin, however, is not remembered in today’s era of Boston sports.