Terry CrowleyMarch 14, 2011
According to the Gods: a 2011 Team-By-Team Preview
Terry Crowley was drawn to winning like a sliver of metal is drawn to a magnet. He played on both of the two most dominant regular-season teams from the 1970s, the 1970 Baltimore Orioles and the 1975 Cincinnati Reds, who each won a decade-best 108 games. When the dynastic Boog/Brooks Orioles started to fade, Crowley drifted away from them and to the surging Reds, and when the Orioles started to build toward another pennant-winning team in the late 1970s, Crowley returned in time to be once again loitering on the bench, bat in hand, for the last of the decade’s dominant regular-season campaigns, that of the 102-win 1979 Orioles.
His magnetic pull toward championships waned in the early 1980s, and in 1983, his final season, he was not with the Orioles as they won the World Series but was instead having his worst season to date, batting .182 in 44 at-bats for a Montreal Expos squad in the process of slipping from perennial contender to perpetual also-ran. But by then Terry Crowley and his bat had hung around the major leagues for fifteen seasons, and when the Expos released him only five players in baseball history had amassed more pinch hits.
Baseball is, obviously, a tremendously difficult profession, and of all its many individual failure-tending tasks, the task of pinch-hitting (as explained in this Baseball Digest article from the 1990s) is probably the trickiest, or at least the most likely to end in disappointment (and in the long run, for its practitioners, in oblivion; if you’re a pinch-hitter, you’ll probably fail in any given pinch-hitting appearance, and if you fail as a pinch-hitter enough times in a row, there’s nowhere else you can go but out the exit door). Terry Crowley managed to stick around in this treacherous doubt-riddled role for a long time and for elite teams embroiled in tense, spot-lit pennant races. You could say he was lucky, and maybe he was, but there must have also been a stubborn yet careful tenacity in his approach to the game. All those innings holding a bat and not using it, it must have been tempting to either start gripping the bat too tightly or let it go altogether, and Crowley did neither, and when he was called on, finally, to do his odd, crucial job, he did it pretty well, which means he did it as well, over the long haul, as just about anyone ever has.
With a few exceptions, the cards guiding this 2011 team-by-team preview are from the 1970s, so you’d have to think the Reds, with their star-studded rosters from that era and with first place clubs in the first year of the decade and the last year of the decade and a peak in the middle of the decade that some believe to be the highest point any team has ever reached, would be almost guaranteed to have a good omen centering the forecast for their coming season. At first glance, then, a Terry Crowley card would seem to be a disappointment, a mild popup off the bat of a career reserve with a .250 lifetime average. But if you think about all the winning he was around for and all the years he existed at the nerve-wracking outer fringe of the profession, Terry Crowley is like a rabbit’s foot tied to a horseshoe in a field of four-leaf clovers.
How to enjoy the 2011 baseball season, part 14 of 30: dig around the Baseball Digest archives, which brings back the game of yore article by article, list by list, letter by letter, cigarette ad by cigarette ad, in a way somehow deeper and more intimate than even the crispest video footage ever could
2011 previews so far: St. Louis Cardinals; New York Mets; Philadelphia Phillies; Washington Nationals; Pittsburgh Pirates; Arizona Diamondbacks; Colorado Rockies; New York Yankees; Cleveland Indians; Detroit Tigers; Milwaukee Brewers; Minnesota Twins; Atlanta Braves