IT DIDN'T TAKE long for Shag Crawford, who died last week at age 90, to impress baseball observers as a hustling, authoritative umpire. In September 1956, near the end of his first year on the job, SI declared Crawford "our favorite umpire." "For connoisseurs of umpiring, the National League this year offers an encouraging phenomenon," wrote an anonymous correspondent. "He is Freshman Umpire Henry C. (Shag) Crawford, who never walks when he can run...." For the next two decades Crawford, a native of West Philadelphia, Pa., never strayed far from the action, sometimes even dropping to his belly to get a good view of a play. "The closer I am to a play, the better I can see it," he said. "I never hesitate in going down. It's too difficult to judge from an erect position."
A founder of the umpire's union, Crawford—who got his nickname from his sandlot teammates for the shaggy clothes he wore—saw his career come to an end in 1975 in a dispute over World Series assignments. (Crawford, who worked three Series, didn't believe it was fair to go to a rotation instead of a merit system.) "They said they retired me," he said, "but in my personal opinion, they dumped me." The game wasn't without a Crawford for long; in 1977 the National League hired his son Jerry as an umpire. That same year, another son, Joey, became an NBA referee. (Both are still on the job.) "My father got a lot of [flak], and he gave it back," Joey Crawford told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "He didn't look for trouble, but if someone started defaming his profession, he'd throw him out quick. His profession meant a lot to him."