Former Brewers manager and Braves star Del Crandall dies at age 91

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Former Milwaukee Brewers manager Del Crandall, who was an 11-time All-Star and key figure on the Milwaukee Braves teams of the 1950s, died Wednesday at age 91.

Crandall's two-pronged Milwaukee career included eight All-Star appearances as a Milwaukee Brave, four Gold Gloves at catcher and a key role on the 1957 World Series champion.

For Brewers fans, he's the manager who took a chance on an 18-year-old shortstop named Robin Yount in 1974, naming him the starter and kicking off a 20-year Hall of Fame career.

Crandall knew a thing or two about starting a Major League Baseball career as a teenager. The Californian became the youngest starting catcher in baseball history at age 19 with the Boston Braves in 1949, and he wound up taking second behind Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe in rookie of the year voting.

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But his career really took off when the franchise relocated to Milwaukee in 1953, and Crandall rejoined the team after a two-year stint in the military. He made seven of the next eight National League All-Star teams and eight total before the club traded him to San Francisco at age 34 in 1964. He finished his playing career in Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

The defensive-minded standout won four of the first five Gold Gloves once the award was established in 1957 and caught three Braves no-hitters (Jim Wilson in 1954, Lew Burdette in 1960 and Warren Spahn a month later).

"We had some young pitchers who contributed to those pennant chases, too," Crandall said in a Journal Sentinel Q&A in 2012. "But, yeah, Spahn and Burdette trusted me and pretty much went along without ever shaking me off. It was a mutual thing where I pretty much understood what they wanted to do. It was a good association. They were fun to catch."

Del Crandall managed the Brewers from 1972-75.
Del Crandall managed the Brewers from 1972-75.

Crandall also homered in Game 7 of the 1957 World Series at Yankee Stadium, what amounted to the final dagger in a 5-0 win that gave the Braves their first and only World Series championship in Milwaukee. He also had five hits in 14 at-bats in the 1958 World Series to give the Braves a 3-1 lead over the Yankees, though New York came back to win.

In 1971, Crandall turned to managing. He had been hired as the Brewers' Class AAA manager in Evansville in 1971 and was promoted to the big-league club early in 1972 when the Brewers fired their first Milwaukee skipper, Dave Bristol. Crandall finished with a 271-338 record as Brewers manager before he was fired in the final days of the 1975 season.

In Crandall's penultimate season, he advocated for Yount to open the year as the Brewers' shortstop.

"I told him yesterday he had made the team," Crandall said in late March 1974. "He broke out in a grin. That was the first sign of emotion I've seen him display.

"I like his talent and I like his makeup. It was the talent that really impressed me at first, then his makeup. When we didn't find any flaws, we made up our minds that he'd be the one to open at shortstop."

Crandall retold the story of pushing for Yount in 2012.

"So I went to my general manager, who was Jim Wilson, and I asked him if there was any reason why an 18-year-old kid could not start on our ballclub," Crandall recalled. "And he says, 'Look, we don’t have much. What do you want to do?' And I said I want to play him. I think we had about 15 games left on our spring training schedule. I said I want to play him every day and see how he handles the 0-for-4s and how he handles the boots and he handles some adversity.

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"And he was just tremendous. He had just great, great makeup. So he started the season with us. It was just that obvious that he could play, and then it was just a matter of could he play at a major-league level enough so he could gain confidence and help the ballclub, and he could do that."

Yount hit only .250 as a rookie with three homers and 26 RBI, but "The Kid" blossomed into a two-time American League MVP. By then, however, Crandall was gone, though he appeared on the coaching staff in the 1975 All-Star Game in Milwaukee.

He later managed the Mariners from 1983-84, once again hired midseason to shepherd a struggling team. Coincidentally, the man he replaced, Rene Lachemann, then managed the Brewers the following season in 1984.

Crandall returned to Milwaukee once again as part of the broadcasting team from 1992-94, alongside Rory Markus on Brewers telecasts. He was the last remaining living player who appeared in a game for the Boston Braves.

JR Radcliffe can be reached at (262) 361-9141 or jradcliffe@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JRRadcliffe.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Braves great, former Brewers manager Del Crandall dies