Umpire Shag Crawford dies

Shag Crawford has a word or two for Phillies manager Frank Lucchesi in 1971. Crawford umpired more than 3,000 games in a career that started in 1956.

Shag Crawford, 90, the square-jawed, hard-nosed umpire who raised two professional sports officials, died Wednesday in the Glen Mills assisted-living facility where he had lived for the last year.

Mr. Crawford, who never earned more than $35,000 a year in baseball, worked the first of more than 3,000 National League games in 1956. In 20 seasons, he umpired three World Series, two NL championship series, and three All-Star Games.

The West Philadelphia native's nickname and his passionate, no-nonsense style helped him stand out in an era when umpires often were as nondescript as the black uniforms they wore in both cold and heat.

"He was never quite sure where the nickname came from," his son, Joey, a 30-year NBA official, said yesterday. "He thought it was either because he wore shaggy pants or because he used to like to shag fly balls when he played baseball."

One of Mr. Crawford's other sons, Jerry, has been a major-league umpire since 1976, the year after his father left the game. Shag worked the first game at Veterans Stadium in 1971 and Jerry the last in 2003. Before that final contest, the two stood side by side at home plate during ceremonies marking the Vet's history.

"When we were kids, we would all go and watch my dad work," Jerry Crawford said. "That's probably how we ended up doing what we do."

Mr. Crawford might be best remembered for Game 4 of the 1969 World Series between Baltimore and the New York Mets. That's when he threw out Orioles manager Earl Weaver for arguing balls and strikes, only the third ejection of a manager from a World Series game and the first since 1935.

He was fit and aggressive and, more than anything else, a hustler.

"His philosophy was "work your [butt] off," Joey Crawford said. "That's what he told me when I started. He hustled. He used to run into the outfield on fly balls at a time when not many other guys did that."

Mr. Crawford also had a distinctive style when he worked home plate. He was one of the first umpires to perch right on the catcher's shoulder.

"He almost hugged the catcher," Joey Crawford said. "In fact, he used to lay his right hand on the catcher before each pitch."

Born Henry Charles Crawford in 1916, he bounced from job to job as a young married man raising a family of four children in a West Philadelphia rowhouse. He was a milkman, a cabdriver, an iceman.

Then, while umpiring high school baseball games to earn a few extra dollars, he found his calling.

During a Roman Catholic High School game in the early 1950s, Roman coach Joe "Goldie" Graham was impressed by the young man working behind home plate.

"So Goldie Graham called John Stevens, who was an official of the old Canadian-American League, and told him about my father," Joey Crawford said. "And John Stevens, sight unseen, called my dad and offered him a two-month job.

"I asked him once how he told my mother that he would be leaving for two months. He told me, 'I didn't say nothing. I just went.' That was my father."

Mr. Crawford moved up to the Eastern League and finally the American Association before making his big-league debut in 1956.

Over the years, he had his share of spittle-spewing run-ins with players and managers. He gave them plenty of leeway - until their arguments got personal.

"My father got a lot of [flak], and he gave it back," said Joey Crawford. "He didn't look for trouble, but if someone started defaming his profession, he'd throw him out quick. His profession meant a lot to him."

His son recalled the aftermath of one Phillies game in the late 1960s when he inadvertently walked into the middle of an expletive-laced runway exchange between his father and a Phillies manager.

"I can't recall if it was George Myatt or Bob Skinner," Joey Crawford said, "but the stuff was flying. I know he was really embarrassed when he saw that I had heard everything they'd said to each other."

One of his more memorable arguments occurred on May 18, 1967. Mr. Crawford called Jim Wynn's down-the-line shot a home run. Giants manager Herman Franks insisted it was foul, and the two men went toe-to-toe for several minutes.

Meanwhile, someone in the Giants' dugout called Mr. Crawford a "meathead," and the umpire tossed out outfielder Ollie Brown. Later, pitcher Gaylord Perry admitted he was the culprit.

Mr. Crawford was one of the men who helped umpires gain union representation in the 1960s. His career ended when he refused to work the 1975 World Series, claiming baseball secretly had replaced its merit-selection system for the Series with a rotation.

He umpired World Series in 1961, 1963 and 1969. And he was at third base on June 4, 1964, when Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax threw his third no-hitter.

Mr. Crawford was the son of a West Philadelphia barber/boxing trainer. He continued to live there until 1956, when the umpiring job allowed him to move his wife, three sons and daughter to Havertown. He lived there until entering the retirement home a year ago.

"My older brothers and sister tell me he was tough on them as kids," said Joey Crawford, the youngest child. "But when I was growing up, you hardly knew he was around."

Mr. Crawford became an avid golfer in his retirement. He was the starter at Edgmont Country Club in Delaware County, and he won a car when he scored a hole-in-one during a club tournament.

"That was typical of him," Joey Crawford said. "After he did it, he called me up and all he said was, 'The Shagger won the car.' "

A viewing will be held from 5 to 8 p.m Sunday and from 9:30 to 11 a.m. Monday at the D'Anjolell Memorial Home, 2430 West Chester Pike in Broomall. A funeral Mass will be said at noon Monday in Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, Manoa, Wilson Avenue and Manoa Road in Havertown.


Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or