- Joe Cronin: A Life in Baseball
In the spring of 1939, at age seven, my twin brother David and I were members of the third grade class at Westport Head Grammar School, then located (it’s now a Senior Citizen Center) in a sleepy township that includes a bit of the southernmost Massachusetts coastline backed up against Rhode Island directly to the south. It was then and there that each of us became embroiled in a lifelong fascination with the affairs and fortunes of the Boston Red Sox. We listened intently to the play-by-play descriptions of Jim Britt and Tom Hussey, pasted Boston Post, Boston Traveler, and Boston Globe baseball photographs in our homemade scrapbooks, and at every opportunity engaged in the then popular contest with other youngsters of ballplayer/ballclub identification (“Who does Arky Vaughn play for?” It could have been Frankie Crosetti, or Rick Ferrell, or Luke Appling, or one of hundreds of other major leaguers). But, most of all, we began to play at ball in the schoolyard and beyond. That was how our baseball odyssey commenced. Our first recollections of Red Sox heroes were of Jimmy Foxx, Lefty Grove, and the team’s manager, Joe Cronin. Years later we read biographies of Foxx and Grove but never one of Joe Cronin, one of the most revered and loveable figures in Red Sox Nation history. Mark Armour’s new book, Joe Cronin: A Life of Baseball finally puts to rest our need to know the detailed life of the third member of that trinity of major league players of whom we were first aware. In that sense, it seems as if the final piece in that long unfinished portrait of our first-ever baseball impressions has been taken care of.
A book is only as good as its author’s expertise to “take care of business.” Mark Armour is a skilled practitioner of baseball research. Beyond that, he is a strong writer. Though this biography is his first, he has long been a contributor to various publications sponsored and produced by the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR), as well as the author of two substantial books on the National Pastime: Paths to Glory: How Great Baseball Teams Got That Way (2003), and Rain Check: Baseball in the Pacific Northwest (2006). Armour, a native New Englander with substantial childhood rearing in both Massachusetts and Connecticut, now lives and works in Corvallis, Oregon.
Joe Cronin died in 1984, over a quarter of a century ago. Thus, there is time and space between his passing and the appearance of the first really definitive biography of his life. Armour’s years-long research trail led him to archives on both the Pacific and East Coasts, into the living rooms and business offices of an impressive number of past Major League Baseball players, club front office folks, and league officials and executives, most of whom were contemporary to Cronin’s time in history. Though personal interviews proved a significant dimension of Armour’s material-gathering exercise, it was not fundamental, as can be detected from the thirty pages of endnotes at the completion of the book. The books’ publisher, University of Nebraska Press, went the extra mile in producing a handsome volume. There is an eighteen-page index, thirty-four pages of photographs (most of them from the still photograph files of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown), and a solid prologue. [End Page 141]
The biography begins with Cronin’s early life in San Francisco; he was born in mid October of 1906, five months after the disastrous earthquake leveled much of the Bay City. In fact, his father’s full-time job for years after was helping to remove earthquake debris. Joe Cronin was an athlete from the start, and baseball became his passion. Though San Francisco was almost two thousand miles from the westernmost major league city (St. Louis), the sport of baseball was unrivaled in all of California in popularity; the sport endowed Cronin...