Zach Crouch’s major league debut was on June 4, 1988. The young pitcher came into a game at Fenway Park, with the Toronto Blue Jays leading the Red Sox, 7-2, in the top of the ninth. The Jays had already scored four runs in the inning, off ace reliever Lee Smith. There was one out. For Crouch, a left-hander, it was a dream come true to have the opportunity to pitch in the majors. He faced the Jays again the next day and a third time in Toronto on June 10, pitching a total of 1 1/3 innings in his major league career. The Red Sox were legitimate contenders for postseason play, but at the time they were slumping. Crouch didn’t meet manager John McNamara’s needs, and McNamara himself was replaced as manager a little more than a month later by Joe Morgan. The team then went on a tear (“Morgan Magic”), winning 19 of their next 20 games and getting back in the hunt.
Crouch was gone by then, but he had achieved a status that has eluded millions of hopefuls – he had played major league baseball.
Zachary Quinn Crouch was born in Folsom, California, on October 26, 1965, the youngest of five sons born to Betty and Jim Crouch, who were both originally from Decatur, Illinois. He grew up in Rancho Cordova, California, and the Red Sox selected him out of Cordova High School in the 13th round of the June 1984 amateur draft. Zach’s brother Matt (born September 4, 1964), a right-hander, had been selected twice in the same year. In January the Cubs drafted him out of Sacramento City College, but he didn’t sign. In June the Kansas City Royals picked him in the second round, secondary phase. Jim Crouch worked as a teletype repairman for the Sacramento Army Depot. Betty Crouch was a civilian employee as well, who worked at Mather Air Force Base for one of the generals there.1 Jim Crouch had been a Chicago Cubs fans growing up in Illinois. Both parents were very supportive of their boys’ interest in sports. Zach says, “They actually moved us to Rancho Cordova when we were going to school because of sports. The sports at Cordova High School, they were really big with football and baseball. My dad wanted to be part of that.”2
Zach played American Legion ball in the summers, “but the high schools in the Rancho Cordova and Sacramento area probably had some of the best competition in the country. Cordova High School was known for baseball and football. We had a lot of opportunities with scouts who would come out. My high school put out the likes of Jerry Manuel. Larry Wolfe, who played for the Red Sox. Max Venable. Randy Lerch. Chris Bosio. Geoff Jenkins.”3 Though he had been offered a full-ride scholarship to Fresno State University by then head coach Bob Bennett, Zach signed to go pro.4
Pete Randall was the scout credited with signing Zach Crouch. “He followed me, I guess, since I was a sophomore. I never really heard from him through that time. Maybe by a written letter or something, but he wasn’t very vocal – coming up and telling me who he was and talking to me. I was more anticipating being drafted as a hitter. My record in high school at that time was 14-1, and I had 12 to 14 home runs, 50-some RBIs. That was my senior year.”5
Zach was named the California High School Player of the Year in 1984.
Matt, Zach says, “was a second baseman. A little bit of pitching in high school, but he went to Sac City College and that’s where he got into pitching. At the time, that was probably the premier junior college in the country for baseball.”6
It must have been quite a day in June 1984 when Jim and Betty Crouch learned that their two youngest sons had both been drafted by major league baseball teams.7 The Royals assigned Matt to the Eugene (Oregon) Emeralds in the Northwest League; in the first of seven seasons of minor league baseball he was 3-6 with a 2.81 earned run average.8
The Red Sox had Zach report to instructional league in Sarasota, Florida. He was 1-2 in limited duty under manager Tony Torchia. Getting there was an adventure in itself. Having been drafted out of high school, it was, he recalled, “the first time I ever went away from home. I got on the airplane, and my dad had warned me not to put my ticket in the pouch in front [on the back of the seat ahead of him]. Well, I put my ticket in the pouch in front and left it in there. I get to Atlanta – I think it was – and I can’t board the other plane. Well, Jerry Manuel – who was, I believe, a coach or a scout for one of the teams – saw me struggling and knew who I was. He came up and paid for my ticket to get to Sarasota.”9
When Zach Crouch made the major leagues briefly in 1988, he was the fourth Crouch to play in the majors. All either pitched or caught.10 The first was left-hander Bill Crouch, who pitched for the 1910 St. Louis Browns. He appeared in just one game, working the July 12 game against the Washington Senators. He only gave up four hits before the game was called due to rain after eight innings, but he had walked seven and committed three errors of his own. The game ended in a 4-4 tie.
Jack Crouch was a catcher who broke in with the 1930 Browns. Over the course of three seasons, he appeared in 43 big league games, the last 10 with Cincinnati late in 1933. He had a .125 batting average with one home run and eight RBIs, three of them on the game-winning homer against Cleveland on June 8, 1933.
Bill Crouch Jr., a right-hander unlike his father, broke in with the 1939 Brooklyn Dodgers and was 4-0 in his first season. The Second World War interrupted his career. He appeared in 50 games with an 8-5 record and a 3.47 career ERA.
There were 28 players named Crouch who played in minor league baseball. To the best of his knowledge, none are related to Zach Crouch,
Zach Crouch needed to put in some time in the minor leagues before he got his opportunity. His first full season in professional baseball was with the 1985 Greensboro (North Carolina) Hornets in the Class-A South Atlantic League. The team, managed by Doug Camilli, won the first round of the league playoffs but lost out to Florence in the finals. Crouch’s record was 8-5 (3.78). In 131 innings, he struck out an impressive 103 batters. He was the hard-luck losing pitcher in the deciding game of the playoffs; despite throwing a five-hitter, Crouch bore the loss, 2-1.
In 1986, having turned 20 years old, he put in another year at Single A, working for the Winter Haven Red Sox in the Florida State League. In 30 games, he was 9-6 with a 2.72 ERA. West Palm Beach won the first two games in the best-of-three first round of the playoffs. Manager Dave Holt was selected Manager of the Year.
The Double-A (Eastern League) New Britain Red Sox were Crouch’s team in 1987, working again with Holt. Crouch’s salary jumped from $900 a month to $1,200 a month, but the cost of living was significantly higher in Connecticut than Florida. He had worked in the offseason for $7.50 per hour as an automotive service dispatcher.11 Crouch was 1-5 near the end of June, to some extent because of a sore elbow, but finished 6-9 (3.90) in 24 games. The 6-foot-3, 197-pound Crouch’s best pitch was his fastball, but he had one pitch in his arsenal that made him a little different: a knuckleball. That was, however, a short-lived thing. Through his career, he relied on the fastball, changeup, and curve.
There had been almost no mentions of Zach Crouch in the Boston newspapers through 1987. He was a non-roster invitee to spring training in 1988. As it happens, there was a remarkable moment, when he and Matt pitched in the same game. “That was the first time we ever pitched against each other. We have always played on the same team.” Zach, a newspaper story said, “is looking for a spot on the Red Sox’ roster as the left-handed relief pitcher they are so desperately seeking, Matt is in a similar position with the Royals.”12
The game was a B-squad game at Baseball City, Florida, on March 8. Both threw a pair of scoreless innings. Red Sox manager John McNamara was pleased: “He’s been impressive right from the first time we saw him throw.”13 Bruce Hurst was the only other lefty with the Red Sox. Zach earned praise from pitching coach Bill Fischer and was honored by getting a little additional encouragement from a supportive visitor, Sandy Koufax.14
Crouch pitched fairly well in spring training and was among the last cuts, placed with Triple-A Pawtucket near the end of March. Red Sox GM Lou Gorman continued to look for a left-handed reliever, but also knew he might need to call up one of three that were in the minors – Tom Bolton, Mike Rochford, or Crouch. “One of them will be in our bullpen before the year is through,” Gorman said.15
Wes Gardner suffered an infected right index finger while changing an automobile tire and was placed on the 15-day disabled list as of May 29 (he spent three nights in hospital), and Crouch got the call, joining the Red Sox on June 2. His won/loss record was 1-5 at Pawtucket, but with a very good 3.08 earned run average, with 28 strikeouts and just 12 walks.
Why was it Zach Crouch who got the call and not one of the others? He believes it was because he had impressed them just a couple of weeks earlier, pitching for Pawtucket against the Boston Red Sox. In days gone by, the big league team often played several exhibition games during the regular season. They often played their Triple-A club; there were six such games in the 1990s, but there have been none of these in-season exhibition games since 1999. When Crouch was with Pawtucket in 1988, the two teams played each other in Pawtucket on May 12, a game the minorleague club won, 5-1. The starting pitchers were Crouch for the PawSox and Steve Ellsworth for Boston. Crouch worked four shutout innings, allowing just two base hits – and struck out Wade Boggs twice. “I started that game against the Red Sox, and I pitched really well against them. I think that really put me in kind of a good light when I had that opportunity. It was broadcast on NESN. My mom and dad got to watch it.”16
Though Crouch had moved up the organization ladder at a steady pace, he was a bit surprised to be called to the big leagues. He told the Boston Herald’s Joe Gordon that he didn’t want to put any extra pressure on himself. “I’m going to pitch the way I’ve been pitching. I’ve thrown well enough to be here, but I’m not going to approach it as if this is my only chance.”17
With the Boston Red Sox, Zach Crouch faced a total of nine batters.
His June 4 debut at Fenway came as both Boston and the Blue Jays were scuffling. The 25-24 Red Sox were in fifth place; the Blue Jays were 2 ½ games behind them, in sixth. The Blue Jays, however, had won four in a row, while the Red Sox had lost seven of their last 10. This Saturday afternoon game featured Roger Clemens against Toronto’s Jim Clancy. The Jays had a 3-0 lead, but then Boston scored two runs in the bottom of the eighth on back-to-back homers by Ellis Burks and Dwight Evans. Ace reliever Lee Smith was brought into the game to hold the line and give the Sox a shot in the bottom of the ninth. Smith had his worst outing of the season, charged with six runs and getting just one out.
An error, a one-out walk, and a three-run homer had given Toronto a 6-2 lead, but they didn’t stop there. Another walk and two singles pushed across another run before McNamara called on Crouch. There were runners on first and second, with still just the one out. Crouch got the first man he faced – Tony Fernandez – to line out to left field. He walked Lloyd Moseby, loading the bases, and then Sil Campusano doubled down the left-field line, scoring all three baserunners. John Trautwein relieved Crouch and struck out George Bell. The Red Sox failed to mount an eight-run rally and lost the game. Crouch was charged with one earned run (Moseby) and his ERA became 27.00. The seven runs were the most the Red Sox had given up in one inning in 1988. The Boston Globe wasn’t particularly kind, concluding, “McNamara had come to the mound twice, using rookie Zack Crouch and John Trautwein to put out a brush fire that turned into a towering inferno.”18
The very next day, on Sunday afternoon, the two teams squared off again. It was another Blue Jays blowout. After eight innings, the score was 9-4, Toronto. Dennis Lamp, Boston’s fourth pitcher of the day, turned things over to Crouch with the bases loaded and nobody out in the top of the ninth. Swinging at the first pitch, Cecil Fielder singled and drove in two. Then Bell singled and drove in a third. Fred McGriff singled, reloading the bases. Crouch then got Kelly Gruber, who already had three hits in the game and driven in two runs, to hit into an uncommon 6-2-5 double play. Ernie Whitt flied out to left.
Loading up the bases and then asking a reliever to bail out the team wasn’t necessarily assigning a young pitcher the easiest task. He hadn’t put them on base, but Crouch had inherited five baserunners, and all five had scored.
Crouch’s third assignment came against the same team, five days later and at Exhibition Stadium on Friday night, June 10. It was a close 1-0 game, with Toronto clinging to the lead, heading into the bottom of the sixth. Starter Jeff Sellers saw Gruber single to left and then steal second. An error by Red Sox second baseman Marty Barrett allowed Whitt to reach base and Gruber to score all the way from second. Jesse Barfield sacrificed Whitt to second. Nelson Liriano flied out to shortstop and Tony Fernandez walked. John McNamara called on the lefty Crouch to pitch to Moseby. He walked him on four pitches, loading the bases. McNamara promptly brought in Mike Smithson to pitch. Pinch-hitter Rick Leach struck out.
Wes Gardner was reactivated on June 13 and Crouch was sent back to Pawtucket.
He had faced nine batters and thrown a total of 33 pitches, giving up four base hits and walking two. Charged with only one earned run, his career ERA stood at 6.75.
New Britain manager Dave Holt was asked why Crouch had been called up and he was completely candid: “They called him up to the big leagues against the suggestion of the minor league people. He looked good in the exhibition game against Boston [two hits and four strikeouts in four innings] and the big league people thought he was ready. The minor league suggested they take Tom Bolton instead, but they brought up [Crouch] any way.”19
With Pawtucket in 1988, Crouch was 2-8 (4.68). Before the end of July, he was sent further down the ladder, back to the New Britain Red Sox. He also started eight games for New Britain and was 2-3 (3.23).
Shortly after Crouch had been sent down, Joe Giuliotti of the Boston Herald wrote a brief note that Crouch was “not close to being ready for the big leagues.”20 A letter to the editor complained about a litany of problems under John McNamara, among them “McNamara also ruined Zach Crouch by putting him in the bullpen when he has been a starter his whole life.”21
Of the Red Sox, wrote Garry Brown of the Springfield Union-News, “they like Zach Crouch, but he is only 22 and not ready.”22 In December, Crouch was assigned outright to Pawtucket.
He was dropped from the 40-man roster but invited back to spring training in 1989.
There was another reason he had been sent down two levels – he had begun to suffer shoulder problems. They proved difficult to overcome and resulted in multiple surgeries. “My shoulder was hurt when I got called up. I should have been smart enough to say something at that point. It had always gone away in the past – the pain – but it didn’t. That was basically the start of the end, if you will. I ended up in Double A that year.”
“I tried to go to spring training,” he said about the1989 season. “I had an arthroscopic procedure done, but that didn’t work out so well. Then I went to see Dr. [Frank] Jobe in Los Angeles. He was the first surgeon to do those reconstruction surgeries on the shoulder. He had just done the same one for Orel Hershiser. I had a third-degree tear in my rotator cuff. I had subluxation of my left shoulder joint. At the time, I couldn’t even brush my hair with my arm. He was like, ‘Here’s what we can do. We can fix it for the rest of your life, and you’ll have an opportunity to come back and play, or I can fix it and you can go out and throw as long as you can, as hard as you can, for as long as you can. And when it’s done, it’s done.’ I had it fixed for the rest of my life. It’s never really 100% recovered. I spent almost three years trying to get it back to playing, and it could never fully come around.”
In 1989, Crouch pitched in 15 games for New Britain, 14 of them as the starting pitcher. He had a very similar ERA compared to the year before (3.26) but a record of 3-7. New Britain had finished last in the Eastern League both seasons. The Red Sox lost Bruce Hurst to free agency, but there was still no sense that they would bring back Crouch. A Globe writer mentioned him in February as “the lefthanded knuckleball pitcher whom the Sox rushed to the majors in their panic to find a lefthanded reliever last season.”23 He had continuing shoulder problems but was remembered by Fainaru as someone who was probably brought to the big leagues too early “because of a promising spring training and somebody’s fantasy.”24 The shoulder was still bothering him in midsummer, and resulted in another shoulder operation.
In April 1990, the Red Sox signed older brother Matt Crouch. He ended up assigned to the Winter Haven Red Sox and threw only six innings in three games, without a decision. It was his seventh year in the minor leagues; he finished his career with a record of 32-32 (3.80 ERA). He, too, had a shoulder operation, and both were still recovering in April. Zach completed recovery in May and expected to be assigned to a team, but that did not appear to occur.25 Zach has had subsequent surgeries, on both shoulders.
“The last shot of baseball I had, I think it was 1992, if I’m not mistaken. I was getting ready for spring training. I was pitching in a simulated game at Sac City College against the team there. I threw a couple of innings and I felt good. My velocity was good. And then the next day I couldn’t move my shoulder. I said, ‘That’s it.’ I was married and we needed to make the decision to move on.”
In 1989, Zach Crouch had married. “Thirty-three years now,” he said in early 2022. “It was tough at first. We probably shouldn’t have been married but we’ve always stayed close, and we like each other. You can always love somebody, but if you don’t like them … I got lucky. Andie. Her name is Andrea, but she goes by Andie. She’s a hairdresser. We owned a hair salon.”26
Crouch himself returned to school and was working toward a career in law enforcement, but he got a DUI, which required a three-year waiting period before he could reapply. “It taught me a valuable lesson, realizing the consequences of a bad decision that can change the direction of your life very quickly. It certainly did do that. Thank God I didn’t kill or hurt somebody or myself.” He was working at the time for OrePac Building Products. “I’m still in that same business. I’ve had a really nice career in this industry, for the last 29 years. I’m a wholesale lumber distributor, working for the Kelleher Corporation. We’re a wholesaler so we re-sell the material to retail outlets. Home Depots. You go to a lumber yard. Those are the kind of people who I sell to.
“It’s been a lot of fun. When I first got into it, it’s competitive and I was a pretty competitive person. I liked the atmosphere of selling and communicating with people – with the chase. It really worked for me at the time – and still does.”
The Crouches had two children, daughter Lindsay who was 18 at the time of the early 2022 interview and son Alex, who had recently turned 23. “They’re both into sports. My son is a baseball player. My daughter’s a volleyball player. He’s a senior at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph. He’s a shortstop and third baseman. He had a really good year last year. That put him on the radar of some scouts, but who knows? He’s at a Division II school. He could definitely play at Division I, but he wanted to play and go to college. He spent two years at a junior college here in Sacramento and then he transferred over to Missouri Western. He’s majoring in Communications. They’re good kids, I tell you. I’m blessed. I was always told, ‘Wait for the nightmares to show up when they’re teenagers.’ It never happened.”
There are a number of other athletes in the broader family. A nephew, Brady Dragmire, was a pitcher who spent several years in baseball and made it as far as Triple A, working for the Blue Jays, Nationals, and Rangers. Grant Dragmire was a pitcher for Hawaii Pacific University. I’ve got another nephew that went to USC on a baseball scholarship. A niece who played softball at Boise State on a softball scholarship. And then my son.”
During the February 2022 interview, a final question was put to Zach Crouch. In his minor-league years, he had handled 124 fielding chances with only two errors. With New Britain in 1987, he had the only two plate appearances of his entire career and struck out both times – but he had also scored one run. Had he entered a game as a pinch-runner? He couldn’t remember.
“I certainly love the sport today, and I’m a big fan of the Red Sox, for one, and I have to go with two teams because my dad and my family were San Francisco Giants fans, so I’ve been a San Francisco Giants fan for a long time. I root for the Red Sox in the American League and the Giants in the National League.”
Despite his very brief time in the majors, he still gets mail and requests to sign baseball cards. When a Topps card arrived in the mail one day, it was the first time he’d ever seen his own baseball card.
Last revised: March 23, 2022
This biography was reviewed by Donna Halper and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, and SABR.org.
1 In an interview with the author on February 2, 2022, Zack Crouch explained that his two oldest brothers — Tom and Tim – were both deceased. They were so much older than the latter three boys, “it was kind of like two separate families.”
2 Author interview with Zach Crouch on February 2, 2022. All direct quotations attributed to Zach Crouch come from this interview, unless otherwise indicated.
3 A listing of Rancho Cordova High School students who went on to play professional baseball shows 25 minor leaguers, 11 of whom made it to the major leagues. See https://www.baseball-reference.com/draft/?key_school=f23cc737&exact=1&query_type=key_school
5 Zach was an outside linebacker on the football team. He never got into basketball (despite being 6-feet-3 and listed at 180 pounds by the time he turned professional). “I just wasn’t good enough for it to cut into my baseball season.” It’s possible that his high school coach may have unknowingly ask a little too much of him. Crouch recalls throwing 14 complete games during his senior year. “Back then, they didn’t think about it that way, I guess. Hey, you’re in there until we have to take you out. But it was very competitive back them. We had the likes of Greg Vaughn in our league. There were a lot of players from that Sacramento area at that time who got into professional baseball and played a lot. It was very competitive back then, in high school and in Legion ball in the summer. It was fun. I sure have great memories of it, I’ll tell you that.”
6 Baseball-Reference has a listing of 208 pro baseball players in their database, all of whom went to Sacramento City College. A full 43 of them made the major leagues. https://www.baseball-reference.com/draft/?key_school=0aa4942c&exact=1&query_type=key_school
7 They probably weren’t drafted on the same day. Rod Nelson of SABR’s Scouts and Scouting Committee notes that there were 46 rounds in the regular draft that June – more than they could get to in one day – and the secondary phase followed that. Rod Nelson email, February 4, 2022.
8 For an overview of Matt Crouch’s career, visit his page on Baseball-Reference.com at https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=crouch001mat
9 Crouch recalls, “In our local area we have a hall of fame dinner, and they induct high school players into the hall of fame. I told that story and it got a lot of good chuckles.”
10 Though they shared the same surname, there is no known relationship to the family of Matt and Zach Crouch. There was also an infielder, Frank Croucher, who hit .251 in 250 games from 1939-42 for the Detroit Tigers and Washington Senators.
11 “The Town,” Boston Herald, July 12, 1987: 42, 53.
12 Mark Blaudschun, “Brother against brother,” Boston Globe, March 9, 1988: 46.
13 Kevin Paul Dupont, “Hurst gets belted,” Boston Globe, March 13, 1988: 61.
14 Michael Madden, “Spring Magic,” Boston Globe, March 15, 1988: 69, 73.
15 John Powers, “Romero starts at short,” Boston Globe, May 18, 1988: 55.
16 The May 13 Boston Herald had a boxscore of the game. It’s interesting to note that Crouch’s parents never saw son Zach play professional baseball at any level, in part because he always played for East Coast teams.
17 Joe Gordon, “It’s a major step up,” Boston Herald, June3, 1988: 134.
18 Mark Blaudschun, “Red Sox fall apart, 10-2,” Boston Globe, June 5, 1988: 63, 76.
19 Jon Tapper, “Crouch far from happy down on Double-A farm,” Hartford Courant, July 25, 1988: C4.
20 Joe Giuliotti, “McNamara looks for power outlet,” Boston Herald, June 12, 1988: B11.
21 Brian Roche (of Dedham, Massachusetts), “Blame Mac, Gorman,” Boston Herald, July 3, 1988: B28.
22 Garry Brown, “Red Sox seeking new lefty,” Springfield Union-News (Springfield, Massachusetts), December 9, 1988: 53. Crouch had turned 23 a couple of months earlier.
23 Steve Fainaru, “Dopson starts fresh with Sox,” Boston Globe, February 20, 1989: 32, 35.
24 Steve Fainaru, “Just a minor problem?” Boston Globe, May 21, 1989: 52.
25 Matt Crouch’s surgery was different. “He had an arthroscopic procedure done. They cut mine all the way open. They did it completely, from armpit to armpit. They did like three surgeries in one. They fix the rotator cuff. They do an acromioplasty – they shave your acromion bone – and then they tighten your shoulder up, so my shoulder wouldn’t come out of the socket. The doctor asked me, ‘Did you ever dislocate your arm, throwing?’ ‘Not that I’m aware of.’ He said, ‘Whoa, I can’t believe that just happens.’ My arm was in bad shape.”
26 The salon lasted quite a while as well. Andie’s two sisters were partners in the salon as well, a full-service salon with 12 hairdressers, three nail stations, etc., but it went out of business due to the COVID-19 pandemic.