The Negro Leagues: Gone But Not Forgotten:Remembering Jimmie Crutchfield

By Tony McClean
Updated: March 18, 2006
Jimmie Crutchfield
Jimmie Crutchfield

NEW HAVEN, CT.He was known as the “Little Big Man” of the Negro Leagues. He was also a baseball player who was a household name in Pittsburgh’s Black baseball community. His name was Jimmie Crutchfield.

Born March 15, 1910 in Ardmore, Missouri, John William “Jimmie” Crutchfield began his 15-year career with the Birmingham Black Barons in 1930. As a rookie outfielder for the Black Barons, he earned a spot in the everyday lineup with his solid fielding skills and reliable performance at the plate.

Although he demonstrated little power as a hitter, Crutchfield was an excellent slap hitter with the ability to place the ball in play behind runners on the base-path. In addition to compiling impressive RBI totals, he always maintained a respectable batting average near .300 throughout his career.

After a brief stint with the Indianapolis ABCs, the 5-foot-7 inch Crutchfield jumped to the Pittsburgh Crawfords joining Hall of Famer “Cool” Papa Bell and Ted Strong to form the finest outfield in the Negro Leagues.

While with the Crawfords, Jimmie’s performance earned him three trips to the East-West All-Star game. As the Crawfords’ dynasty began to crumble in the mid-1930s, Crutchfield moved on, first to the Newark Eagles and then to the Chicago American Giants.

In Chicago, his affable personality and consistent willingness to interact with fans at the ballpark made him a favorite with the local regulars. In 1941, he was again honored by election to the West squad in the East-West Classic.

As a player, Crutchfield never rose to league leading stature in any single category, yet demonstrated better than average skills in almost every aspect of play. He was, in essence, the epitome of the well-rounded ballplayer – a solid everyday performer.

He did, however, possess one exceptional talent – the ability to make friends wherever he went and to serve as a unifying force on every team on which he played. Former teammate “Cool” Papa Bell once said that Jimmie was “the best team player in baseball”.

Bell added, “If he never played in a game he would still have been an important part of any baseball team. He cheered you up when things weren’t going too good whether you had troubles on or off the field. You always knew you could count on Jimmie to be on the bright side of everything.”

In February of 1992, Crutchfield and other representatives of the Negro Leagues Baseball Players Association (NLBPA) were invited to participate at a lecture and reception for Black History Month in the East Room of The White House.

A year later, Crutchfield passed away on March 31, 1993 in Chicago, Illinois. In 1994, Crutchfield and several other Negro League stars were honored on a poster put together by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

NOTE: The African-American Registry and the Negro League Baseball Players Association contributed to this article.