Wilie Crawford last of the bonus babies
Willie was only 57 years old when he died on this day (Aug 27th) in 2004, that baseball card image on this page has always been one of my favorite baseball cards. Some players just look like stars. Willie had it all, perfect baseball build, power, speed, athleticism, but for whatever reason he didn’t become that star, but he certainly owns his own page of Los Angeles Dodger history. After all how many African American 18-year-old’s have ever gotten a hit in a World Series? Only one. Willie Crawford.
Willie Crawford much like his predecessor Willie Davis was Los Angeles through and through. Signed by Tommy Lasorda out of Fremont High School in Los Angeles, Crawford was the last of the Dodger baby bonus signers as the MLB draft went into effect in 1965. Tommy Lasorda remembered Willie as one of the greatest athletes he ever saw.
Lasorda signed Crawford two days after his graduation from Fremont High, where Crawford was a standout in baseball, football and track. Crawford won All-City honors in baseball and football and ran the 100-yard dash in 9.7 seconds. He also competed in the long jump.
Willie got a World Series ring at the age of 18 in 1965 because of the bonus baby rules in effect back then. Much like Sandy Koufax in 1955, Willie did not deserve to be on the team but had to be on the team because of the rules.
The Bonus Rule was a rule instituted by Major League Baseball in 1947 that prevented teams from assigning certain players to farm clubs. The rule stipulated that when a Major league team signed a player to a contract in excess of $4,000 ($42,200 today), the Major League team was required to keep that player on the 25-man roster for two full-seasons.
Playing for the Dodgers in the late 1960’s Willie was part of the crew known as the mod squad. This article depicts the Mod Squad as Bill Sudakis, Ted Sizemore, Billy Grabarkewitz, and Bill Russell, but I remember Willie as also being part of this group even if I can’t find the photo to prove it.
The interesting part about Willie Crawford that for all his talent, (think Darryl Strawberry) he never seemed to reach the heights expected by Dodger fans. He was a favorite of mine growing up, but I’d be the first to admit he never seemed very good. Even if Willie never became a star he was a fixture on the late 1960 early 1970 Dodger teams who once in a while would show glimpses of what Tommy Lasorda saw in him.
It wasn’t until I started reading Bill James Abstracts that I realized that Willie was actually better than I or other fans had thought. Using Baseball Reference OPS+ which normalizes OPS we can see that while Willie was not a star he was an above average outfielder.
Player OPS+ G From To Age PA HR BA OBP SLG OPS Hank Aaron 162 957 1968 1974 34-40 3878 252 .294 .383 .571 .955 Roberto Clemente 153 612 1968 1972 33-37 2548 74 .328 .380 .513 .893 Rusty Staub 135 1165 1968 1975 24-31 5007 146 .286 .380 .452 .832 Bobby Bonds 131 1014 1968 1974 22-28 4610 186 .273 .356 .478 .834 Ken Singleton 123 636 1970 1974 23-27 2487 64 .277 .387 .415 .802 Willie Crawford 119 917 1968 1975 21-28 3148 74 .269 .352 .416 .768 Jose Cardenal 115 822 1970 1975 26-31 3394 67 .294 .361 .431 .792 Ollie Brown 108 652 1968 1975 24-31 2255 65 .269 .323 .414 .737 Johnny Callison 105 505 1968 1971 29-32 1876 57 .250 .328 .417 .744