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A Kind You Don't Forget : Reporter Recalls How Crews Touched Many


One of the strangest things in a very strange Dodger season last summer occurred in Cincinnati shortly after a game had been lost because of another bullpen collapse.

Tim Crews announced that he was not talking to the media.

"Hey, a lot of other guys in here don't talk . . . it's my turn," he said.


He stalked from his locker toward the showers. Five minutes later, he returned, smiling.

"OK, so what do you need?" he asked. "You know me. I can't be like those other guys."

Indeed, during his six seasons as a Dodger relief pitcher, Crews could not be like so many modern-day baseball players.

He was a country boy from central Florida--Southern accent and cowboy boots included--who didn't know how to strut. He couldn't talk big, or act bad.

He didn't know how to be mean to a Dodger publicity intern, or scare a rookie female reporter.

He had no idea how to snub even one of the many fans who dared ask for his autograph.

Tim Crews was not a star, which did not separate him from 90% of major leaguers.

But he never acted like a star, which did.

Crews' tragic death after a boating accident Monday night might not be more than a footnote in the record books. His major league career, spent entirely with the Dodgers, yielded 11 victories, 13 defeats, 15 saves.

You booed him. I criticized him. And the game made him wait eight years before he could become a major leaguer for good.

But when he died, so did another piece of baseball's shrinking heart.

Teammates endearingly called him, "The dirt farmer." The name was perfect.

He was as plain, and solid, as the stuff that makes up the Dodger Stadium pitching mound.

Some players are embarrassed to bring relatives into the clubhouse. Crews brought his father and brother in whenever the Dodgers played in Atlanta.

He would even ask the manager to allow his brother to wear a uniform and run around the field during batting practice.

And whenever Crews' three children were at the game, he insisted on bringing his two sons into the clubhouse afterward. Nothing he did on the mound was as impressive as the sight of him holding Travis, 2, while chasing Shawn, 4, and trying to get dressed at the same time.

During the four years that I covered the Dodgers as a beat reporter for this newspaper, fans and friends asked me one question more than any other:

"What is Tim Crews doing on the team?"

My answer was always greeted, understandably, with a sigh of disbelief. He was the 10th and final pitcher on the team, the mop-up man for a struggling bullpen, the guy you saw mainly when the Dodgers were out of the game.

My answer, upon reflection, makes sense only now, after his death.

He was a Dodger pitcher, simply, because he loved being a pitcher.

He never complained when he didn't pitch for two weeks, then pitched for a week in a row. He never complained about being ignored by reporters and ridiculed on radio talk shows.

He didn't complain when the Dodgers, struggling with injuries, asked him to remain with the team while his wife, Laurie, gave birth to Travis. He stayed and didn't see his new baby for nearly two weeks.

Tom Lasorda has been known to speak in hyperbole, but believe whatever nice things he has said about Tim Crews since his death, because Lasorda loved Crews. He loved Crews because Crews reminded Lasorda of himself.

During the bullpen's most difficult days, when injuries would force Crews into pressure situations he did not handle well, Lasorda stood behind Crews.

Lasorda always said that Crews was perfect as a 10th pitcher, and insisted that using him in any other situation was unfair to him.

"Hell no, we aren't going to get rid of him," Lasorda would say. "You need guys like that."

Crews was finally moved to triple A after last season because the Dodgers needed room on their major league roster. That was a move Crews refused to accept, forcing the Dodgers to make him a free agent.

But while Crews was a Dodger, he rewarded Lasorda with his willingness to step into any situation.

When Pittsburgh pitchers were brushing Dodger hitters off the plate several years ago, it was Crews who hit Gary Redus in the head, starting a brawl that led to a continuing feud between the teams. Crews said he was not throwing at Redus' head. But he said later that some Dodger needed to throw an inside pitch.

Crews also stepped forward during the 1990 championship race, when injuries left a hole in the Dodgers' rotation. With little notice, Crews was asked to start, for only the second time in his career, in Atlanta on Sept. 17.

He not only said yes, but gave up only one run in 5 1/3 innings in a 5-2 victory.

Afterward, Crews' wife and children were waiting for him in the tunnel outside the visiting clubhouse. He was so excited, he walked outside, half-dressed, to hug them.

Then he returned to the clubhouse and kept them waiting for nearly an hour while he politely answered questions from reporters who, until then, had mostly criticized him.

Tim Crews would laugh if he knew that people were writing nice things about him today. He would wonder what he had done to deserve it.

He would find it even funnier that, on the day his name finally crosses the lips of baseball fans everywhere, those fans at spring training sites are honoring him with a moment of silence.

Why can't a public-address announcer ever ask for a moment of cheering?

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