Chris Cron played 12 seasons of professional baseball. He had 5,018 at-bats, with 4,993 of those at-bats for Pulaski, Sumter, Durham, Quad Cities, Palm Springs, Midland, Edmonton, Vancouver, Nashville and Charlotte, and 15 for the California Angels and 10 for the Chicago White Sox.
His playing career ended with Class AAA Nashville. At that point, Christopher John Jr. — the first of three children — was 3 and has no memory of watching is father play baseball.
Not even that final at-bat on June 8, 1995, when Chris hit his 172nd minor league homer, then quit to become the manager of the Bristol White Sox in the rookie Appalachian League.
C.J. was too young to digest that last at-bat drama. He did get plenty of chances to spend summers in various locations with his mother, Linda, and younger siblings, Kevin and Carly, as Chris managed for 19 seasons, in Tennessee (Bristol), North Carolina (Hickory, Winston-Salem, Kannapolis, Charlotte), Montana (Great Falls) and Pennsylvania (Erie).
“Our dad didn’t really coach any of the youth baseball teams that my brother and I played on,” C.J. said. “He was always managing somewhere. And for quite a few years, we’d pack up and go spend the summer where he was managing.”
The Crons’ home base is in the Phoenix area. In 2014, Chris took a job as the roving hitting instructor for the Diamondbacks. Chris roved to Anaheim on May 3 of that season, to watch his son go 3-for-5 with two RBI for the Angels in his major league debut.
C.J. was the 17th overall selection in the 2011 draft by the Angels and scouts were convinced (accurately) that his power was going to give him a big-league career.
Younger brother Kevin was drafted a month after C.J.’s debut, a 14th-rounder selected by Arizona in June 2014. It took longer, but Kevin was summoned to the big leagues late last month, and the manager delivering the message of promotion was his father.
Chris Cron had returned this season to manage the Reno Aces, Arizona’s Class AAA farm club. And he admitted a major reason was knowing that Kevin would be opening the season in Reno.
Again, Chris and Linda were there to watch a son in a big-league debut. On May 24, Kevin struck out as a pinch hitter, but he played first base the next night and had a two-run double.
“Reno was the first time my dad had managed either of us,” C.J. said.
He did that for 21 home runs and 62 RBI in 44 games for Kevin, and then came his son’s call-up to Arizona. That has made for quite a fulfilling start to another Cron family baseball season.
On this Joe Mauer Weekend, it’s again worth mentioning the success the 2019 Twins have had in filling the opening at first base, where Joe held forth for the previous five seasons.
As often as Mauer’s power numbers were ridiculed, he was a valuable presence when the Twins moved him to leadoff in 2018. This was my reaction to Joe walking away:
“There wasn’t much reason for Joe to retire. With this low-octane lineup, he was the second-best hitter, behind Eddie Rosario.”
On Nov. 26, the Twins claimed C.J. Cron after he was released by Tampa Bay. This seemed an odd move by the Rays, considering Cron’s 30 home runs and 74 RBI, and his not overly large salary.
“I wouldn’t say I was surprised,” Cron said. “The Rays had released Corey Dickerson the previous winter, and he had been an All-Star.”
Twins followers also had reason to be skeptical. The Rays had dropped Logan Morrison after 38 homers in 2017, the Twins signed him late as a free agent. Morrison was first horrid, then injured, for the non-contenders of 2018.
Theory: When the Rays drop someone, they are usually right.
In this case, they have been very wrong — to the point that Cron could be an AL All-Star next month.
He has 15 home runs, 45 RBI and a .271 average. And contrary to advance notice, he has been on the plus side as a fielder.
Cron claims to be as unsurprised by being part of a powerful, run-producing lineup as he was in being released.
“I knew some of the younger guys could hit from playing against them,” Cron said. “I knew what the players we brought in had done in the past — Nellie Cruz, Jonathan [Schoop], Marwin [Gonzalez].
“I was certain in spring training that we had a chance to be a very good hitting team.”
One big reason: C.J. Cron, for what’s turned into a modest sum of $4.8 million.
Celebrate Joe this weekend. And be pleased with his replacement.