Crowson, Woody

Position: Relief pitcher
Birthplace: Fuquay Springs

First, Middle Names:  Thomas Woodrow
Date of Birth:  Sept. 9, 1918   Date and Place of Death: Aug. 14, 1947, Greensboro, NC
Burial: Springfield Friends Meeting House Cemetery, High Point, NC

High School: Undetermined
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: R Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-2, 185
Debut Year: 1945        Final Year: 1945          Years Played: 1
Team and Year: Philadelphia Athletics, 1945

Career Summary
G          W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR

1           0          0          0        6.00     3          2           0.0

It had been a meaningless game – even in August — between two teams heading nowhere. The dismal, hometown A’s of Martinsville, Virginia, were destined for last place in that 1947 season of the Carolina League, a lowly Class C congregation of eight teams, most in North Carolina, that had formed two years earlier to compete in the subbasement of the minor leagues. The fifth-place Patriots of Greensboro, North Carolina, were little better. The A’s won 9-4 that night, but the outcome made little difference in the final league tally. A game of no athletic significance would however have tragic human consequences.

Long bus rides along dark, country roads were staples of life for minor leaguers back then. They were endured but rarely enjoyed by the 15 Patriots who boarded the team bus for the 50-mile trip back to Greensboro. Third baseman James “Sheepy” Lambe slipped behind the wheel, while the others settled into their seats. Some likely cracked open bottles of beer. A few played cards or read. Many tried to follow Woody Crowson’s example and take a nap. He chose the long seat at the back of the bus to stretch out. By all later accounts, he was fast asleep by the time the bus pulled out of town.

If a fifth-place team could claim a pitching ace, Crowson, with a 12-13 record and the lowest earned-run average among the starters (3.51), was it. At 28, he was also one of the oldest Patriots. He had pitched six years in the minors, preceded by several more seasons in the industrial leagues that flourished amid the textile plants near his home in High Point, North Carolina. He was also the only player on the team who had pitched in the big leagues. It was only a few innings in one game, but the big leagues all the same.

Thomas Woodrow was born in Fuquay Springs in southern Wake County in 1918 to Sam and Alberta Crowson.[1] The family, which included an older brother, Milton, moved to Sam’s family farm in adjacent Harnett County a couple of years later. By 1930, the Crowsons, which included an infant daughter, were living in High Point where Sam was a police officer.

Wooddy Crowson married Ruth Wood of High Point in 1938 and worked in area hosiery mills while pitching for their teams, once hurling 21 innings in a 6-5 loss. He signed his first professional contract with the Cleveland Indians in 1940 and spent the next five seasons in the low minors. Signed by the Athletics in 1945, he started the season in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where Manager Connie Mack hoped he would bolster a pitching staff that had been depleted by World War II. He sent Crowson out on April 17 to start the sixth inning of a game against the Washington Senators that his team was already losing 10-2. Crowson gave up two more runs in three innings, and Mack shipped him back to the minors within days.

Steve Laney knew none of that history, of course. He very likely had never heard of Woody Crowson or the Greensboro Patriots for that matter. He was from Pageland, South Carolina, and worked for a trucking company owned by the town’s most-famous son, Van Lingle Mungo. A retired All-Star pitcher, he was a ballplayer most fans had heard of.[2]

Laney that night of August 13 was driving one of Mungo’s trucks loaded with watermelons to customers in Virginia. Sometime just before midnight on a curve in US 220 near the town of Mayodan, North Carolina, Laney and his watermelons heading north met the Greensboro Patriots on their bus going in the opposite direction. One of the vehicles strayed across the center line, which one would become a matter of dispute. They sideswiped each other. Metal crunched and glass broke before the bus and the truck came to jarring halts on the road’s shoulders. Laney was unhurt. The players filed out of the bus, some bruised, some cut by flying glass, but no one with serious injuries.

Woody Crowson wasn’t among the dazed players gathering outside the bus. He lay unconscious inside on the floor where his teammates tried unsuccessfully to revive him. Rushed by ambulance to Wesley Long Hospital in Greensboro, Crowson died early the next morning of a compound head fracture, the only serious injury in an otherwise minor accident.

His widow later sued Mungo, claiming his driver caused her husband’s death by crossing the center line. Some writers claimed, but without offering evidence, that Mungo had never properly insured his trucks and was forced to close the trucking business because of legal claims arising from the accident.

Footnotes
[1] Named for one of its early settlers, Fuquay Springs was incorporated in 1909. It merged with the nearby town of Varina in 1963 to become the modern Fuquay-Varina.

[2] Van Lingle Mungo pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants from 1931-1945. The five-time All-Star led the National League in strikeouts in 1936. He achieved legendary status in Brooklyn where he was the most-colorful and most-talented pitcher on terrible teams. Many of the stories centered around his carousing after games or his sour disposition during them. One of his managers and a colorful character himself, Casey Stengel, once famously said of his combative pitcher: “Mungo and I got along just fine. I just tell him I won’t stand for no nonsense, and then I duck.” (“Van Lingle Mungo” by David Frishberg, Baseball-Almanac.com, https://www.baseball-almanac.com/poetry/vanlinglemungo.shtml)