And later Charlie Grimm was to call him "the closest thing to another Gabby Hartnett I've ever seen." In 1954 Grimm made Crandall his field captain at the age of 24.
There is no doubt that Del was good. He had been catching since he was 9 years old back in Fullerton, California, and he had been taught how to do things the right way. He also knew that it was a catcher's job to take charge of the ball game. The first time he caught Spahn the Braves' famous left-hander shook off his signals 20 times. Crandall kept giving them. Spahn gave up and pitched the way the kid wanted him to.
Crandall had tremendous hustle, backing up plays at first and third base, running out to the mound to settle down his pitcher, going far up the line after pop flies, moving his fielders around, bellowing encouragement all across the field. Here, it was quite apparent, was a boy who was going to take over. Braves fans were positive that Delmar Wesley Crandall would be hauled, warm and kicking, into the Hall of Fame before his 30th birthday, and lift the Braves to dizzy heights with one hand while clouting home runs with the other.
It didn't work out quite that way. Del hit .263, then .220. He went off to the Army for two years, hurt his arm and couldn't throw as hard when he came back. It took a year for him to get over that. He hit a good .272 the year the Braves moved from Boston to Milwaukee, which was probably just part of the hysteria which infected the whole ball club.
But then he hit .242 and .236 and .238 and .253. He had 26 home runs one season and 21 another but never did he drive in more than 64 runs. He reported 30 pounds overweight one spring and hurt a leg in a collision at home plate. In 1956 he messed up an elbow in another close play on a sliding runner, and this bothered him for more than a year. So most people finally gave up and quit watching.
This didn't stop Del from hustling, nor did he stop yelling. The trouble is that no one on the Braves ever seemed to be listening. If it was leadership they needed in Milwaukee, Crandall apparently wasn't the man.
"I never thought I was," says Del now. "That's just the way I play ball. A guy my age doesn't go out there and inspire a bunch of other ballplayers the same age just by making noise. If they had ever thought I was trying to take over around here, they would have stuffed me head first down the drain. A leader has to be older and more experienced or else hit .350 and 50 home runs. I'm afraid I never have done that."
But when people began to look at Crandall again through the 1958 season and as he attracted even more attention with a .300-plus batting average this spring, they began to realize what they had missed. Although Del could never lead the Braves out of the wilderness by himself, he was a pretty sturdy fellow during the march and now he can be an even stronger factor in keeping them at the top. He has become by far the best catcher in the National League.
This has been very important to the progress of the Braves, because they have had a solid, dependable, highly intelligent man behind the plate during this period when every other club has had to patch and pray and hope. Crandall has one of the strongest throwing arms in the league and almost certainly the quickest and most accurate one. He is a masterful handler of pitchers, a real student of opposing hitters and a tough man with the bat. He has never ceased to work hard and to learn—and never has he ceased to hustle.
A LITTLE SOMETHING EXTRA