On Feb. 11, six days short of his 92nd birthday, Jack Crimian passed away, and we lost a remarkable man and a world-class storyteller.
John Melvin Crimian was many things: devoted husband and father, loving (and loveable) grandfather and great-grandfather, Army paratrooper near the end of World War II, and a damn fine auto body repairman.
But the long-time Claymont resident will be remembered by most of us as a talented pitcher who spent parts of four years in the Major Leagues and 11 in the minors, a career from which he mined a treasure trove of stories he shared with Out & About readers in our August 2017 issue.
Throughout his career, Jack had a Forrest Gump-like knack for encountering famous names and playing a part in significant events. He was a minor leaguer in spring training in St. Petersburg, Florida, when Babe Ruth made one of his last public appearances. “Everything stopped when Ruth showed up, and we all went over to him,” Jack remembered. A few months later, Ruth died of throat cancer.
Crimian threw the pitch that Roger Maris hit for his first Major League home run – a grand slam – in 1957. While with the St. Louis Cardinals, Jack became friends with Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst. He pitched against Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle, striking out the Yankee slugger five of the 11 times he faced him. In a game against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jack threw to first base 10 straight times, trying to pick off Jackie Robinson. ‘I had him twice, but they wouldn’t call him out,” he claimed.
Jack was a gentle soul, but make no mistake – he was a competitor. In 1963, five years after retiring from organized baseball, he joined the pitching staff of Brooks Armored Car, the vaunted powerhouse of the highly competitive Delaware Semi-Pro League. Even without his long-gone fastball, Crimian went 24-0 for Brooks over three seasons. He called it his most enjoyable time in baseball.
Before writing that O&A story (“A Baseball Life”), I had never met Jack Crimian, and I spent only a few hours with him in person and on the phone. But, like almost everyone who met him, I felt an instant bond. He was a salt-of-the-earth guy who was as comfortable as an old baseball mitt and his keen memory produced vivid stories from his playing days.
Jack lost his beloved wife, Mary, in 2010. And every day after that, for as long as he was able, he would drive to her grave at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Middletown, set up a folding chair, and, as he said, “talk to her for a while.”
Now they are reunited, and his four children, seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren can take solace in that, and in the comment Jack made near the end of our last interview: “I wouldn’t trade the life I’ve had for anything.”