Our Hometown Hero was Outstanding, Yet Overshadowed & Underrated
Imagine a town so rich in baseball history that a borderline Hall of Fame hometown player is often left out of the conversation or mentioned as a side note.
Fullerton is that town, and Del Crandall is that player.
Del Crandall was an 11-time Major League All-Star. He caught 3 no-hitters, won 4 Gold Gloves and a World Series championship, yet isn’t even the most famous catcher in his own hometown (Hall of Famer, Gary Carter).
He was a two-time major league manager with the Milwaukee Brewers and the Seattle Mariners, yet wasn’t even the most famous manager from his own hometown (Hall of Famer, Tommy Lasorda).
Del was probably used to being just outside of the limelight. Over the course of his 16-year major league career, he was teammates with 14 future Hall of Famers, and a competitor of two of the greatest catchers in baseball history (Yogi Berra and Roy Campanella).
But the men he played with knew of his talents. “Crandall was a hell of a defensive catcher,” Hank Aaron said.
Orlando Cepeda paid him the highest compliment that one player can pay another when he called Del Crandall simply, “A Gamer.”
Del Crandall’s Fullerton roots ran deep. Born in Ontario, he came to Fullerton with his family as a five-year-old and remained a resident for most his life.
He learned the game at Amerige Park under the guidance of Fullerton’s Parks & Recreation superintendent, Pep Lemon, the namesake of Fullerton’s Lemon Park.
“Everything I learned was from Pep Lemon. He was the most influential man in my baseball career,” Crandall said.
Crandall played for FUHS, Fullerton’s American Legion team, and the Fullerton Merchants, our semi-pro town team.
He married a Fullerton girl, Francis Sorrells, and they raised their family in Fullerton. He played 16 major league seasons, mostly with the Milwaukee Braves, and spent most of his winters back in Fullerton working for the City’s Park & Recreation Department teaching Fullerton’s youth the finer points of the game.
Crandall won the Boston Braves starting catcher’s job as a 19-year-old in 1949 and then put up good enough numbers to finish second in the voting for the Rookie of the Year Award.
After winning the 1957 World Series with the Milwaukee Braves, Fullerton welcomed back its favorite son with a victory parade down Spadra Road [now Harbor Blvd] and a dinner at the Elks Club.
In the late 1960s after his paying days, Crandall and his wife opened and ran a restaurant in Fullerton called Cesar’s Family Hofbrau.
“I followed Del’s career with the Braves and was always impressed with his skills. I got my first teaching job at Troy High School, and one day driving downtown I saw ‘Del Crandall’s Diner’. I was so thrilled and stopped in for lunch. I sat at the counter and introduced myself to this great man. He was so cool, and when I told him that I was the baseball coach at Troy, we talked about his baseball experiences. I remember ‘picking’ his mind about the game and especially catching.” Nick Fuscardo, longtime Fullerton College baseball coach, said.
After a year as a restauranteur, Crandall was drawn back to the Grand ol’ Game as a minor league manager.
“Del managed in the Dodgers organization when I was there,” All-Star pitcher Bill Singer remembered. “He was a class act, someone to look up to.”
He eventually made it back to the big leagues, managing the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1970s. That’s when he gave an 18-year-old shortstop his first shot at the big leagues. That player was Robin Yount, who, at his Hall of Fame induction ceremony, gave Del Crandall thanks for taking a shot on a teenager.
After his time with the Brewers, Crandall managed the Dodgers Triple-A team in Albuquerque in the late 1970s and early 1980s, before getting another big league call-up managing the Seattle Mariners.
Former Dodgers catcher and Angels manager Mike Scioscia played under Crandall for the Albuquerque Dukes in 1979-80. A few years ago, Scioscia said, “There’s nobody I’ve met in the game that knows more about the game than Del Crandall.”
Del was later honored with many awards. He became a Member of the Milwaukee Brewers Wall of Honor, the Braves Hall of Fame, Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame, the Albuquerque Professional Baseball Hall of Fame, the Orange County Sports Hall of Fame, and the Fullerton Union High School Wall of Fame.
Unfortunately, sometimes memories of greatness fade while time marches on. In 2012, a book was published titled, Baseball in Orange County. Shockingly, Del Crandall wasn’t mentioned in the book. From overshadowed and underrated, to overlooked and ignored.
I was upset with his omission in the book. I called Del and asked him if he’d like to do an article to set the record straight about his playing career. “Nah,” he said humbly, yet confidently. “I know what kind of player I was.”
So do we Del, and you will be missed.
Del Crandall passed away on May 5, 2021.
Categories: Local News