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After 12 Years as a Professional, Chris Cron Is a Rookie Again

August 23, 1995|LON EUBANKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Baseball has been a big part of Chris Cron's life since he was a kid on the sandlots of Placentia.

It carried him to a sparkling high school career at El Dorado, then on to Rancho Santiago College and a 12-year career in professional baseball, including a brief appearance with the Angels as a backup first baseman in 1991.

This year, however, Cron was beginning to see his playing career wind down with the Chicago White Sox triple-A farm club in Nashville. Just when Cron, 31, was wondering what his next move might be, the White Sox made it easy for him. They offered him a job managing their Class A rookie league team in Bristol, Va.

"All I knew for sure was that I wanted to stay in baseball when I stopped playing," Cron said. "I wasn't sure I wanted to be a manager, but I knew I didn't want to leave the game. I knew I had to consider some options, possibly scouting or coaching. Then, out of the blue, the White Sox gave me this opportunity."

And Cron is delighted with his new role.

"It's actually more enjoyable than I even expected it to be," Cron said. "I couldn't be more happy right now that it's turned out the way it has. I thought it might be more of a grind, especially going back to one of the lower levels, but it's been great. I haven't missed playing at all. I still take batting practice with the players two or three times a week, and that gives me my fix. And the players seem to enjoy seeing me out there swinging the bat with them too."

Cron said he's not left with the thought that he fell short of his big goal as a player. "I had only 41 days in the majors, but I loved every minute of it," he said.

Cron was with the Angels for 20 days in 1991, but was playing behind Wally Joyner and had only 17 at-bats in six games. He had a good season with triple-A Edmonton that year, with 23 home runs and 91 runs batted in.

"The worst mistake I probably made as a player was leaving the Angels," Cron said. "But I was a free agent, and I decided to go to the White Sox after 1991."

Joyner, however, jumped to the Kansas City Royals for a $4.2-million contract, and Cron ended up behind Frank Thomas when he was called up by the White Sox in 1992 after hitting .287 with 16 homers and 81 RBIs for Vancouver.

With Thomas at first in Chicago, Cron spent the remainder of his career in triple A, hitting .257 in Nashville in 1993 and .231 with Charlotte, N.C., in 1994.

He started the 1995 season with Nashville. "By then I was mainly a designated hitter, and wasn't playing as much as I had been," he said. But Cron went out with a blast, hitting a pinch-hit home run in his final at-bat. "That really made it special because everyone knew that it would be my last time at the plate in Nashville," he said. A day later, Cron was on his way to Bristol to begin his managing career.

Steve Gullotti, Cron's high school coach, isn't surprised to see him go into managing.

"Chris was the kind of kid who grew up eating and sleeping baseball," Gullotti said. "He loved everything about it. He would talk about it and think about it all the time. I think he'll do well as a manager. He has the right personality for it. He has a non-threatening manner, and he's easy to talk with and get along with. I think that's what it takes these days."

Steve Noworyta, director of minor league operations for the White Sox, said the club saw the qualities in Cron. "We liked the way he was around other people, his demeanor and his makeup," Noworyta said. "And we know he has good baseball knowledge."

Noworyta believes Cron will be especially effective working with young players. "For a lot of these kids in rookie ball, it's their first time away on their own, and Chris makes them feel comfortable," he said. "And we need a good reading early on what these young players can do. He'll give us that."

Cron said he's enjoyed working with the young players. "They're like sponges at this stage," he said. "They really want to learn."

But it's taken some adjustments. Mainly, he said, a healthy helping of patience.

"When you've played for quite a while at a high level, even in the minors, you forget what it's like in the lower leagues," Cron said. "You just have to look back on when you played at this level. These players are going to make mistakes, but that's expected, and my job is to help them develop. I know some of the things I'm doing won't really show up in their play for a couple of years.

"Only about four or five of our players aren't in their first season season of pro ball. And it's almost like being a father to them. That's the big difference for me, having to be in charge of everything, right down to setting the time we get on the bus for a trip."

Cron's first stop as a minor league player after signing with the Atlanta Braves was in the same Appalachian League.

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