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Mudville: October 28, 2020 11:56 pm PDT
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The Creepiest Crespi

T

he late 1930s and ‘40s were a barren wasteland for baseball cards. Goudey and Play Ball put out some sets, but it really wasn’t until 1948 when Leaf got the major distributors back on the map. The dearth of baseball cards between 1939 and 1942 was an adverse situation for the Cardinals Frank Crespi, but that wasn’t where his bad news would end.

First of all, Crespi’s nickname was “Creepy.” Fantastic. Creepy Crespi is the kind of pre-War baseball nickname alliteration I live for. He was issued a 1941 Double Play card but had to take on Jim Brown as his cardboard roommate. This wasn’t football Jim Brown, but baseball Jim Brown, who had a couple of good seasons for the Cardinals and wasn’t an immortal like his football namesake. Baseball Jim Brown also didn’t play people like Black Gunn in movies or have a short character arc in TJ Hooker the way football Jim Brown did.

Double Play eschewed using the “Creepy” moniker on this card though, so it doesn’t interest me.

There was an oddball set released in 1976 featuring players from 1942 that included a Crespi solo card, but again they stuck with “Frank” on the front.

At this point, I am demanding to know why they wouldn’t put “Creepy” on the front of the card and also how he got the nickname in the first place.

Creepy somewhat sounds like Crespi, so that’s a plausible theory. You could also go the disturbing route and assume that Crespi may have indeed been a creepy guy.

I can picture Crespi lingering a little too long with a stare at Stan Musial in the shower and Harry “The Hat” Walker taking notice.

Seems feasible, especially when you consider his photo on his card.

Looking at the 1976 commemorative black and white card, Crespi does seem to have a sense of creepiness about him.

His eyes are set back in his head and the rudimentary lighting used by the photographer created dark shadows around them. He also wears an odd expression in his photo. It looks like someone just told him that Pepper Martin clogged the only toilet in the Sportsman’s Park clubhouse again.

Creepy Crespi looks like a Dollar Store Bobby Doerr, at least in this photo anyway.

Flipping the card over, I was excited to see two things. First, his name is billed as “Frank (Creepy) Crespi on the back. Score one for the decision makers of this set. Second is that we’re going to jump right in and learn where the nickname came from in his bio. Turns out, Crespi gained this nickname from his “close-up system” of fielding grounders.

Does that mean he creeps in dangerously close to the batter? Or does he creep down low to the ground when picking up a ground ball? The whole thing sounds fishy to me and I don’t think I buy it.

Creepy Crespi is so much more than a nickname though. His card bio points out that he led the National League in putouts and double plays. The Cardinals of this era were great, and it appears that at least for one season, Creepy Crespi and his “close-up system” were integral to their success. So, what happened to Crespi’s burgeoning career? Like many during this era, it was derailed by military enlistment. That was where things got really interesting for Creepy.

Crespi was drafted into the Army in 1943, but he qualified for a deferment. Creepy called bullshit on his deferment and traded his flannel Cardinals uniform for Army fatigues anyway. While playing in an Army baseball game, Crespi broke his leg turning a double play. Bad luck for Creepy, and it would get worse from there. After he recovered from his initial break, Crespi broke the same leg again during training exercises. This led him back to the hospital, where Crespi decided to start acting like Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. While participating in wheelchair races, Crespi fell and broke the same leg for a third time. Then, while recovering from that, Crespi fell victim to a hospital blunder when a nurse oversaturated his leg bandages with boric acid, causing burns and permanent damage. If you’re thinking that Crespi had a really long stay on the disabled list after this, you’re right!

But not in the way that you think.

It probably goes without saying, but our guy Creepy Crespi never returned to the Major Leagues. He played in just 264 games spread over five seasons, so he didn’t qualify for an MLB pension. He tried to land a coaching gig, which would have allowed him into the pensions system, but he was left out in the cold.

Crespi left baseball to work in the private sector until he retired. Decades later, something dawned on Crespi. He never formally retired from baseball. He was placed on the disabled list and just sat there in injury purgatory for decades. Crespi used this realization to apply for a Major League pension and wouldn’t you know, the Hail Mary worked! Crespi’s decades-long stint on the DL paid off in a big way for him as he was awarded a Major League Baseball pension because his service time never technically ended. It was finally a positive twist of fate and things were looking up for Crespi.

That is, until he died in 1990 of a heart attack. Looking back on Crespi’s card from the 1976 reprint set, his expression almost makes it seem like he knows that this was the path his life was going to take.

Creepy, indeed.

Rocco is a baseball writer with too much time on his hands who lives in the dusty corners of Baseball Reference. He was one half of the battery for the 1986 Belleville Recreation Farm League Champion Indians. He likes early 20th century baseball nicknames, pullover polyester jerseys and Old Hoss Radbourn. He works as a College Athletics Director and his second book will be out in April 2021.

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