“Crooked Arm” Cremins faced 24 batters in the major leagues and four of them scored. The lefty pitcher from just outside New York had already met Albert Einstein when he was taken under the wing of Hall of Fame pitcher Iron Man Joe McGinnity. He faced Babe Ruth, had a long career connected with boxing, captained a boat during World War II, went into politics, and became a cartoonist. His sister once beat up a guy. Bob Cremins had quite a colorful life.
He was born Robert Anthony Cremins in Pelham Manor, New York, just outside New York City. The date was February 15, 1906. “My father came from Limerick, Ireland,” he told SABR researcher Nick Wilson, “when he was a teenager and he became a great oarsman for the New York Athletic Club. In fact, there were five boys and two girls in the family and we were all athletes. My sister, Sheila, beat up a guy one time.”1
James Cremins had indeed come to America from Ireland and by the time of the 1910 census was an importer of laces. He and his wife, Mary Theresa Sebastian Brown (born in New York of Irish parents), had seven children: Margaret, Joseph, James Jr., Sheila, Robert, Anthony, and Lawrence. Business must have been good; they also had a 15-year-old servant. Later censuses in 1920 and 1930 described James’ occupation as “merchant, dry goods.”
Bob was, by his own description, a “sickly kid, having pneumonia three time (sic) and supposed to kick the bucket the last time. I had a bad case of scarlet fever, too…I guess you can say that I am just a lucky guy.”2
He did come from an athletic family. His father he described as a “National Champion oarsman and the N.Y.A.C. heavyweight wrestling champion. My mother used to play baseball with us when we were kids. My four brothers were fine all-around high school athletes and my two sisters were into softball and basketball.”3
Bob had some opportunities and he took them. “You’d have to say that I was involved in the two most popular sports in America during the Twenties – boxing and baseball. I fought in the New York Golden Gloves and I got third place in the middleweight division and I’m proud to say that I’m still the same weight as I was then. I was lucky because I learned how to box from one of the best referees in New York City, Arthur Donovan, and I learned how to pitch from the great Hall of Fame pitcher, ‘Iron Man’ Joe McGinnity.” McGinnity was right-handed (and a friend of Bob’s brother) and Cremins was left-handed, but the teaching took. “He lived in New York at the time, because he was working for our dentist in the city. He used to come up and visit us and he taught me all the different kinds of pitches. That was the beginning of a wonderful friendship.”4
Cremins put in the time it took to become good. “When I was in high school I used to pay a guy a quarter a week to catch for me in my backyard. Every morning I used to throw rocks at his window to wake him up so we could play. Then one day I hit him in the groin with a fastball and he raised his fee to fifty cents. All that practice helped because when I was a senior I pitched a no hitter for the high school team.” He also played semipro ball for the Pelham Fire Department team, the New Rochelle A.C., and the Young Men’s Republican Club of White Plains, among other teams.
While still at Pelham Memorial High School, he embarked on an adventure at one point, getting hired at age 15 to work as a deck hand on the S.S. Siboney as it sailed for Cuba. Einstein was one of the guests on the boat. Another ship, a freighter, the Suralico, was marooned for 14 days in the Pacific before finally limping into Balboa “about the time the crew was facing a tragic fate.”5
He wrote Cliff Kachline of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, “I worked on a farm for $10 a month [at age 17] just to get in shape for football and when I got back in school in the fall, it really paid off.”6 Indeed. Cremins was made captain of the football (and basketball) teams at Pelham. His athletic talents (which also included baseball and track) earned him a four-year scholarship to Hamilton College. He was never able to attend Hamilton, however, as one of his brothers died, one who was working in his father’s business. “My father said that he needed me. He was a wonderful guy and I didn’t hesitate to give up my dream of college athletics.”7
After high school he worked for his father, whose business at that time he described as a dress making supply company. “He serviced all the dress makers in New York City.” In his spare time, Bob says, “I used to go to the New York Athletic Club and box every day or play baseball on the Pelham Fire Department team… we used to play some of the Negro League teams on Sundays. So once we played the Cuban Giants and some of those great players I saw from Cuba were on the team. They were very good.”
Looking at Cremins’ minor-league record, one finds he didn’t seem to have one. The way he tells it, he was signed directly to the Boston Red Sox and it was through a Catholic connection. Thanks to Nick Wilson, we are privy to the story as Cremins remembered it more than 70 years later:
“Our parish priest knew the Boston Red Sox manager, Bill Carrigan, so in 1927 he told me to go see him and ask him for a job. So, I took the train to Yankee Stadium where the Red Sox were playing that week, but I lost my nerve and I came home.
“When I confessed my fear to my brother he said, ‘You go back tomorrow. Don’t come home until you get the tryout, or I’ll beat you up!’
“The next day I went back down and I met the manager [Bill] Carrigan as he was going in to the stadium. I asked him for a tryout and he said, ‘No way.’ And I said ‘Look, my parish priest sent me down here to talk to you. You know him. He said you would give me a tryout.’
“He finally gave in and said, ‘Do you have your uniform? Go put it on.’ Since I had my baseball uniform from the fire department team in Pelham, I was ready to go. “I pitched batting practice that day and I must have impressed them because after batting practice they said that they would sign me up after they got back to Boston. I was so excited, but I didn’t drink to celebrate that night. I have never smoked and I only took five cups of coffee in my whole life. I went to Boston and they signed me up right off the bus and I pitched batting practice every day.
“Then one day we were playing the Yankees and we were behind 13-1. Carrigan asked for a volunteer to go in and pitch and I said, ‘I do.’
“He said, “Warm up because I’m going to put you in.”
“I had been pitching batting practice that day so I went down to the bullpen and tried to get myself warmed up. So I went in at the eighth inning and who comes up [in the ninth] but Babe Ruth.
“Our catcher signaled for a fastball and my first pitch was low. The catcher came out and said, ‘God damn it, Cremins, I signaled for a fast ball!’
“I said, ‘I’m throwing it as hard as I can.’
“I don’t remember what I threw next, but I know I was just trying to reach the plate. The second pitch Ruth grounded out to first base.
“Then Gehrig came up. He hit a bullet to center field and it went between the hands of the outfielder and they gave Gehrig a two-base hit, but it was really an error.
“I finally retired the side and the next day a sports writer wrote, ‘The thing you can say about Cremins is that he is the only one to get the Yankees out.’”
The date was September 6, 1927, and Cremins was facing Murderer’s Row, the 1927 Yankees – in the first game of a doubleheader at Fenway Park.
He had actually pitched once before, on August 17 in Detroit. Slim Harriss started for the Red Sox and the Tigers had a 4-0 lead through six innings. Harriss was taken out for a pinch hitter in the top of the seventh and Cremins got the nod. He faced seven batters in 1 1/3 innings, walking two and giving up one base hit. He was charged with two earned runs. The Red Sox lost, 6-2.
It was a little bit of a surprise to see Cremins in the box, even on the perennially last-place Red Sox who might have been in the frame of mind to want to try almost anything. They were already 44 games out of first place. But this was really something remarkable. The Boston Globe noted, “Cremins caused a lot of commotion yesterday when he went to the box. No one appeared to know him. The announcer asked four different Boston players but none knew his name. Finally he asked Cremins and Cremins introduced himself.”9
His next time was indeed against the Yankees, at Fenway. Tony Welzer started for the Red Sox and Ruth hammered two homers off him, the first one said to be “probably the longest hit Ruth ever made” – and Ruth had hit for the Red Sox for several years before being sold to the Yankees.10 It was hit to Fenway’s center field, just to the left of the flagpole, and said to be still rising as it went out of sight. The score was actually 13-2 in New York’s favor, after seven innings. Gehrig had homered as well. Cremins pitched the final two innings. The Globe wrote, “Cremins…is a southpaw just off the sandlots whom Carrigan thinks is worth giving a trial.”
The phrase of praise Cremins recalled was no doubt that of John Drebinger of the New York Times who wrote that Welzer had been replaced by “Cremins, whose commendable work was that he finally got the game over.” 11 That he did. In two full innings, he gave up one run on a single, a steal, another single, and Herb Pennock‘s squeeze bunt. In Ruth’s case, he grounded out.
Cremins wasn’t getting a lot of help from the others on his team. “My teammates called me ‘Crooked Arm’ because I was a left-hander, but it was not a friendly environment in the clubhouse. The veterans treated me like garbage and I was ostracized, because I was trying for a job they were holding down.” He added, “When I was pitching no one ever told me what Ruth’s weaknesses were at the plate. But I know his weakness had nothing to do with baseball. His weakness was women. He didn’t know when to stop.”
Ruth hit two more home runs the next day, the Yankees’ last in Boston in 1927, and most of the crowd had come out to see The Babe, cheering him “wildly.”12 Cremins pitched the top of the ninth, giving up just one hit and no runs.
The only other game Cremins ever pitched in the majors was against the Tigers, this time at Fenway, on September 17 in the second game of a doubleheader. The Red Sox, as fans had come to expect, lost both games. He was the fifth and final pitcher in the game, giving up one run on no hits – he walked a man. Cremins’ career ERA was 5.06 in 5 1/3 innings of work, without a decision. He had a 1.500 WHIP. He never batted, so held a .000 lifetime batting average. He had had three chances at fielding and erred once, for a .667 fielding percentage.
Perhaps not surprisingly – though the Red Sox had worse pitchers – he was not hired back. The team ERA that year was 4.72 and four pitchers who worked a total of 440 1/3 innings had equal or higher ERAs (Ted Wingfield‘s was also 5.06).
Even after baseball, he kept boxing and made it to the semi-finals in the 1930 Golden Gloves in the 160-pound class.13
“They let my contract go after the 1927 season so I wound up opening a boxing club and teaching boxing. Eventually I got into politics in Pelham and Westchester County and on the side I designed boxing rings and was a cartoonist for the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. One time I drew the same cartoon character with my left and right hands at the same time and they printed it. I guess you can say I love to stay busy.” He reportedly designed boxing ring canvases for events around the country.14 One was used for the 1982 heavyweight championship fight between Gerry Cooney and Larry Holmes. He also kept two portable boxing rings at his home, available for rental, and was a ghost artist for Robert Ripley of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” fame.15
Actually, the Sox hadn’t cut ties immediately. He traveled to Bradenton, Florida and trained with the team in the spring of 1928 and started the season with them. On April 25, he was optioned to Waterbury’s Eastern League club.
And on June 5, he was released to Akron (Central League). He’d played some for both Wilkes-Barre and Akron in 1928, and for the Springfield (Massachusetts) Ponies in the Eastern League in 1929. There he got the only known decision of his career, a loss.
Cremins did stay busy, though. Nick Wilson adds, “He spent the next 50 years of his life involved in politics and boxing. In the early 1940s he was the founder of the Pelham, New York Boys Club and 40 years later was elected to the Westchester (County, New York) Sports Hall of Fame. At the age of 37 years and seven months he entered the [US Army Air Force] and was the skipper on an 85-foot speedboat in the Philippines during World War II.”16
Cremins himself reported that he served from July 19, 1943, to February 11, 1946. He was commanding officer of P-440 Air Sea Rescue Vessel with the Fifth Air Force in the Philippines.17
He married Gertrude Biegen on July 14, 1940. They had three children – Margaret Marie, Patricia, and Michele. She pre-deceased him, dying in 1969. His work in Pelham included being a town supervisor and tax receiver, a position he held from first being elected in 1942 until December 21, 1964, elected eight times in all. He also served on the Westchester County Board of Supervisors, and was Town of Pelham Supervisor from 1965-69.
Somehow he also had found time in 1950 to get into the schooner cruise business and had two 90-foot schooners, a business he ran for eight years “till the Coast Guard put me out of business after a schooner in the Chesapeake sank in a hurricane losing a number of passengers.”18
He taught boxing for more than 45 years, including a course of “The Manly Art of Self-Defense” and was active with community Police Athletic League programs.
Cremins died in Pelham, at the age of 98, on March 27, 2004.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Cremins’ player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.
1 Nick Wilson interviewed Bob Cremins on May 31 and October 22, 1998. All quotations from Cremins are from those interviews, unless otherwise indicated. Cremins was one of the ballplayers featured in Nick Wilson, Voices from the Pastime: Oral Histories of Surviving Major Leaguers, Negro Leaguers, Cuban Leaguers and Writers, 1920-1934 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2000).
2 Letter to Cliff Kachline, November 14, 1979, housed in Cremins’ player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
3 Letter to Cliff Kachline, December 30, 1979.
4 Donovan’s son, Art Donovan, a five-time Pro Bowl honoree, is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
5 Undated clipping ca. 1932 from the Daily Argus (New Rochelle, New York) found in Cremins’ Hall of Fame player file.
6 Letter to Cliff Kachline.
8 E-mail Larry Boes to Tim Wiles at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, April 2, 2004.
9 Boston Globe, August 19, 1927.
10 Boston Globe, September 7, 1927.
11 New York Times, September 7, 1927.
12 Boston Globe, September 8, 1927.
13 Letter to Cliff Kachline, November 14, 1979.
14 Pelham Weekly Update, April 5, 2004. He is said to have designed over 50 canvases, over the years.
15 New Rochelle Standard Star, May 2, 1982.
16 E-mail from Nick Wilson, October 26, 2014.
17 Pelham Weekly Update, April 5, 2004.
18 Letter to Cliff Kachline, November 14, 1979.