Crosby’s odd connection to a hotel snack bar

Jerry Crosby

By the time he retired from baseball, Jerry Crosby had done the remarkable. He’d played, in no particular order, for teams named Bathers, Judges, Triplets, Exporters and Flamingos, with stints on more mundane teams named Reds, Owls, Indians, Bears and Oilers sprinkled among them. But his career’s quirkiest footnote occurred in 1949 when he became the Anniston Rams’ manager.

Not because his predecessor was fired, retired or ascended to a larger club.

It happened because Rams Manager Charley Baron quit 15 games into the season to concentrate on his other job — running the snack bar in the Hotel Jefferson Davis in downtown Anniston, or, at least, that was the story that made the rounds.

When Baron resigned on May 2, team president Loy Gunter first turned to Billy Bancroft, the longtime Birmingham Barons standout who was coaching high school ball in Anniston and had helped the Rams the previous two seasons. Bancroft managed three games. Gunter then installed Zach Schuessler, the team’s business manager, as skipper. That experiment lasted only seven games because the former minor-league pitcher decided he no longer could work for Gunter. But unlike Baron — who had led the Rams to a playoff berth the year before — he quit without having a job running a hotel snack bar in his hip pocket.

A 1949 headline from The Anniston Star

That spring, Crosby was a 30-year-old career minor-leaguer who a decade prior had left the University of Oklahoma to sign with his hometown team in Tulsa. After ping-ponging around the New York Yankees’ farm system for several years, Crosby no longer had Major League potential, and he hadn’t managed in the minors. But The Anniston Star nonetheless described him as “a highly regarded managerial prospect from the fast Class AA Texas League” when Gunter bought his contract from Oklahoma City and installed him as a player-manager.

No one knew how Crosby would fare as a rookie manager. But as a player, Crosby brought a track record of being a durable middle infielder with occasional pop at the plate. In 1945, he hit .272 and 12 home runs in stints with two Yankees farm teams, though year to year his power was inconsistent, his batting average dropped and he was prone to defensive miscues.

He seemed a perfect fit for Anniston’s Southeastern League team.

A 1949 clipping from The Anniston Star.

At 11-17, the Rams sat in seventh place in the eight-team SEL when Crosby took over the dugout. They lost his managerial debut, 7-0, in Montgomery. They gave him his first win, 10-9, the following night. In his first appearance at Johnston Field, Crosby hit a home run, triple and single in the Rams’ 9-8 loss to Selma.

Those three games exemplified Anniston’s season, more valleys than peaks, more losses than wins. In July, the Crosby-led Rams had risen to fourth place, an ascension without permanence. They finished in sixth place, 64-74; under Crosby, they were 54-59, though the Oklahoman performed admirably, hitting .289 with 14 home runs. He even made four mound appearances, just for good measure.

A Jerry Crosby baseball card from his days with Colorado Springs.

In January, Crosby signed as a player-manager with Miami Beach, a Class B team in the Florida International League. And the cash-strapped, win-starved Rams would play their final game that summer.

It’s remarkable that Crosby’s best years in the minors occured after he left Anniston and well after his 30th birthday. In 1951, Crosby hit .271 in Colorado Springs, the Chicago White Sox’s Class A team in the Western League where players often called him “Dad” or “Gramps.” Two years later, he hit .302 with 25 home runs — four coming in a recording-setting game against Pueblo, one right-handed and three left-handed.

Before hitting his fourth homer, Crosby’s Sky Sox teammates were urging him “to go for another one. That ball looked big as a balloon when it came up there,” he told a reporter from his home state of Oklahoma.

That evening even made quite an impression on Crosby’s oldest daughter, 13-year-old Linda.

Jerry Crosby and his daughter, Linda, in 1953. (Clipping from the Des Moines Register.)

“I was the only one who saw it — from our family, I mean,” she told a newspaper reporter that summer. “It was a school night and it was kind of cold, so mother and (my sister) Camille stayed home. Oh, boy, what a thrill! I bet they could hear me yelling way out home. He hit ’em all good, too. They went way over the fence.”

Though his final season came at Class C Modesto in the California League, he hit .312 with 13 home runs, but it didn’t alter his decision to retire. (“I can feel I’m slowing up,” he’d previously told an Oklahoma reporter.) After 16 seasons, Crosby ended with nearly as many hits (1,579) as games played (1,738). Anniston’s role in those years was admittedly brief.

While playing in Colorado Springs, Crosby earned extra money selling cars during the winter and selling advertisements for the Sky Sox programs. He also hosted a local radio show and moonlighted as a college football radio broadcaster. Following his final seasons in Modesto, he and his family returned full-time to Colorado Springs, where they made their home.

That’s also where Crosby developed his second career. Soon after retiring from baseball, he opened the Jerry Crosby Bureau of Employment, an agency that remained in business for more than a decade. He also served as the National Baseball Conference commissioner in Colorado in 1976.

Jerry Crosby died in 2006 at the age of 87.

Jerry Crosby’s World War II draft registration card.

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