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Willie Crawford, 57; Was L.A. Dodger for 12 Years

August 31, 2004|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

Willie Crawford, the former outfielder for the Dodgers whom longtime manager Tommy Lasorda described as "one of the greatest athletes" to come out of Los Angeles, has died. He was 57.

Crawford died Friday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the Dodgers said. The cause of death was not disclosed.

Crawford, who was born in Los Angeles, spent the first 12 seasons of his 14-year major league career with the Dodgers, stroking a pinch-hit single in Game 1 of the 1965 World Series against Minnesota at age 19.

Crawford's most productive season came in 1973, when he hit .295 with 14 homers and 66 runs batted in as a platoon player. But his biggest moment came a year later, when he homered in the World Series against Oakland.

"He was big and powerful, and he could hit a ball as far as anybody," Lasorda said of Crawford, a career .268 hitter who collected most of his 86 homers and 419 RBIs while with the Dodgers from 1964-75. "Boy, was he something."

Lasorda signed Crawford two days after his graduation from Fremont High, where Crawford was a standout in baseball, football and track. Crawford won All-City honors in baseball and football and ran the 100-yard dash in 9.7 seconds. He also competed in the long jump.

"He could have gone on to college and been one of the true great football players," Lasorda said. "He had so much ability. He was loaded."

Lasorda said that all 20 major league teams were interested in the left-handed-hitting Crawford as he was coming out of high school. But he signed with the Dodgers for $100,000, a large sum for a player then.

Before the free-agent draft took effect in 1965, "bonus babies" who signed large contracts were kept on major league rosters for a full season to prevent the club from losing the player to another team.

The "bonus baby" rule hampered the development of some players, including Crawford. The 19-year-old Crawford got a World Series ring for being on the Dodger roster in 1965, but he batted only 16 times, collecting five hits. In his first four seasons as a Dodger, he played in 72 games.

Crawford was finished as a major league player at age 30 after spending his final two seasons with St. Louis, Houston and Oakland.

Funeral services will be held at 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 7 at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills.

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