Crowder, General

Player Name: General Crowder
Position: Starting pitcher
Birthplace: Winston-Salem

First, Middle Names: Alvin Floyd      Nickname: The General
Date of Birth:  Jan. 11, 1899   Date and Place of Death: April 3, 1972, Winston-Salem, NC
Burial: Forsyth Memorial Park Cemetery, Winston-Salem, NC

High School: Did Not Attend 
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: L             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-10, 170
Debut Year: 1926       Final Year: 1936          Years Played: 11
Team(s) and Years: Washington Senators, 1926-27; St. Louis Browns, 1927-30; Senators, 1930-34; Detroit Tigers, 1934-36

Awards: All Star, 1933; N.C. Sports Hall of Fame, 1967

Career Summary

G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
402   167    115      22       4.12      2344.1 799    28.3

For six years starting in 1928, the great Lefty Grove was the only pitcher who won more games than Alvin Crowder, a durable and dependable right-hander who was so eager to be called into service that he was known as The General. He won at least 20 games three times, appeared in three World Series and was chosen to pitch for the American League in the inaugural All-Star Game.

A lifelong resident of Winston-Salem, Crowder retired after 11 seasons as one of the best pitchers North Carolina has ever produced. His 167 career victories is eighth-best among natives who pitched at least 500 innings in the major leagues. His 150 career complete games is sixth on that list and his almost 2,350 innings pitched are 10th. In all, Crowder is among the top 20 in 13 pitching categories.

Walter Johnson, a pretty fair pitcher himself, managed Crowder on the Washington Senators and had this to say about his ace: “Pitchers like Crowder come along once in a generation. He’s got everything – speed, curve, control and sense. There was many a time when I’d look the bench over for a pitcher to work the day’s game. Crowder would say, ‘Gimme the ball.’ And he went out and won 15 straight.”[I]

Born in 1899, Alvin Floyd Crowder grew up in the Broadbay section of southeastern Forsyth County, about eight miles from Winston-Salem. His father, George, was a blacksmith and a farmer and his mother, Emma, was a homemaker who took care of Alvin and his sister, Maggie.

Young Alvin quit school after the fifth grade to help on the family farm. He worked in a cotton mill when he was 14 and played baseball on the company team. He was also a mechanic at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in Winston Salem and a riveter in shipyards in Alexandria, Virginia. He continued to play amateur and semipro ball.

Crowder joined the Army in 1919 and was stationed in Siberia and then the Philippines, where he volunteered for the base team to break the monotony of Army life. He found out he could pitch. By the time he was transferred to San Francisco in 1922, Crowder had established a reputation as a hard-throwing right hander. He is said to have won 19 in a row in the military league. He also moonlighted with area semipro teams.

Discharged that June, Crowder signed with the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League. He pitched one inning with the championship team and was released in the offseason. He had better luck the following year back home with the Winston-Salem Twins of the Class C Piedmont League, winning 10 games in his first full professional season.

He proved to be a rubber-armed pitcher for the Birmingham, Alabama, Barons in 1925, leading the Class A Southern Association in appearances with 59 while logging 226 innings. Because he would take the ball at any time, teammates called him The General after Gen. Enoch Crowder, the Army provost marshal who instituted the draft lottery during World War I.          

After he won 17 games in less than three months of the 1926 season, the Washington Senators bought his contract for $10,000, or about $147,000 when adjusted for inflation. Crowder reported to the reigning American League champions in mid-July with the team struggling to remain above .500. He made his big-league debut on July 24, tossing a complete game 3-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers, and ended the season with a 7-4 record.

An “ulcerated stomach” and a sore right arm interrupted Crowder’s spring training in 1927 and contributed to a disappointing sophomore season. After tossing a complete game to win his first start, he lost three in a row and was relegated to the bullpen. The Senators traded him in July to the last-place St. Louis Browns for fellow North Carolinian Tom Zachary. Crowder’s struggles continued with the Browns, as he won only one of his eight starts.

The 1928 season began with more of the same. Inconsistent and wild in his first three starts, Crowder was again sent to the bullpen. He worked his way back into the rotation in June and reeled of 10 straight wins, including nine complete games. Often pitching on short rest, he won 21 for the season, including the last eight in a row. In one game, he struck out Ty Cobb three times. Yes, the fuzz was off the 41-year-old Georgia Peach, who was playing in his last season, but the game’s greatest hitter hadn’t whiffed three times in a game since his rookie season 23 years earlier.

Crowder became known as a workhorse and was among the American League leaders in games, complete games and innings pitched. He was also an excellent fielding pitcher, making only seven errors in 450 total chances. After making an error against the New York Yankees on May 19, 1932, he went the rest of his career without making another one.

Speaking of the Yankees, Crowder beat the best team in the league consistently and even handled its star, Babe Ruth, with relative ease. “My success against them,” he said, “came from … studying the pitchers around the league. I tried to see what type of pitch each Yankee hit well, especially what they didn’t pull, and used it against them.”[II]

Back with the Senators in 1932, Crowder may have had the best season any pitcher in that franchise not named Walter Johnson ever had. He led both leagues in wins with 26, reeling off 15 straight at the end of the season, and proved to be the most-durable pitcher in the majors. He threw 327 innings in 39 starts, often on three days’ rest. “If you’d let him, he’d pitch every day,” marveled Manager Johnson. “His arm is made of rubber, and he doesn’t know the meaning of fatigue.”[III]

The Senators cruised to the American League pennant in 1933, their first in 12 seasons. Crowder won a league-high 24 games and logged more than 299 innings, second in the league. He was one of five pitchers chosen to represent the American League in the first All-Star Game that year. He always considered it his greatest achievement in baseball. “I don’t think a greater honor could be bestowed on any player, unless it would be admittance to the Cooperstown Hall of Fame,” Crowder said 25 years later.[IV]

He bombed, however, in his two starts in the World Series, which the New York Giants won in five games.

The General was 35 when the new season began and seemed to have lost his stripes. He had a 4-10 record and an earned-run average, or ERA, approaching 7.00 when the Senators shipped him to Detroit in August. He became the Tigers’ cagey veteran, going 5-1 the rest of the way for a World Series bound team. He appeared in another Series, losing his only start to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Crowder relied on instincts and an assortment of sliders, sinkers and off-speed pitches and methodical precision during his last full season in the majors in 1935. He won five of eight starts in June to keep the Tigers in contention and then won all five of his August starts, but age caught up with him. Physically drained, he lost all three decisions in September as the Tigers limped to their second-consecutive pennant. He took the mound in Game Four of the World Series in a chilly, windy Wrigley Field and the magic returned one final time. Crowder limited the Chicago Cubs to five hits in a complete-game victory that gave the Tigers a commanding 3-1 series lead. They won it two days later.

While Crowder was on the mound for his only Series win, his wife, Ruth, lay gravely ill in a Winston-Salem hospital. They had married in 1924, and she had been in poor health since the early 1930s.

In a story that doesn’t pass the smell test, a reporter for United Press International wrote that Crowder was close to tears in the clubhouse after the game. “His wife heard the game over the radio,” an unnamed teammate is quoted as saying. “The doctors told him that if won the game it would help her a great deal to get well. Hell, I’d like to see the guy bust right out crying. He’d feel better and nobody would mind.”[V]

Crowder developedl igament problems in his throwing shoulder during spring training in 1936. He had an ERA over 8.00 in limited playing by late June. He left the team and retired in the offseason. Ruth died several weeks after Crowder returned home. He married Joan Brockwell, a nurse in Chapel Hill, in September. They would have two children, Kathryn and Alvin Jr.

He led efforts to bring professional baseball back to Winston-Salem, which had been without a team since 1933. His Winston-Salem Twins, an unaffiliated team in the Class B Piedmont League, lost its first 28 games to begin the 1937 season. Crowder managed the team during the first 20 of those losses.[1] He secure an affiliation with the Brooklyn Dodgers for the following season and sold his majority stake in the team in 1939, but he continued to play an active role through the 1940s.  

Crowder owned a farm in Germanton in Forsyth County during much of his baseball career but he was living in Winston-Salem when he died of heart disease in 1972.


Footnote
[1] The Winston-Salem Twins’ 28-game losing streak was second only to Muskogee in the Southwestern League, which lost 38 straight in 1928. (“The General Finally Wins One.” Sporting News [St. Louis, MO], June 10, 1937.)

References
[I] Mallette, Mal. “Old Yank-Stopper Crowder Predicts They Will Stay Up Another Decade.” Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), July 12, 1958.
[II] Wolf, Gregory H. “General Crowder.” Society for American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/general-crowder/.
[III] Ibid.
[IV] “All Other Thrills Combined No Equal to All-Star Pick in Crowder’s Book.” Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), July 9, 1958.
[V]
United Press International. “Al Crowder is ‘Man of the Hour’ as Tigers Praise him in Clubhouse.” Daily Illini (University of Illinois, Champaign, IL), October 6, 1935.