In his first year as a playing manager, Joe Cronin had a charmed season. Already an established star, he had doubts that he could both manage and play at the level he had become accustomed to. He needn’t have worried. Cronin led the Griffith franchise to its third – and last – pennant, hit .309 and drove in 118 runs. He was named the starting shortstop for the American League in the first-ever All-Star game.
On top of all that, during a Senators’ hot streak that stared in early June and put Washington in first place to stay by July 4, Cronin set an A.L. record that still stands for most hits in three consecutive games.
In St. Louis on June 19, Cronin had five hit in six times up, including a home run, two doubles and five runs batted in. After an off-day, he went four for five in Chicago, with three doubles and an RBI on June 21. The next day against the White Sox, he was four for four with two RBIs and two walks: 13 hits and two base-on-balls in 17 plate appearances.
Two A.L. players have since matched Cronin’s mark – Walt Dropo, as part of his three-game stretch in which he had a record 12 hits in a row in 1952 (established in Washington and detailed elsewhere on this site) and Tim Salmon in 1992. In 1995, a utility outfielder for San Francisco, Mike Benjamin, set the all-time mark of 14 hits in three games, but Cronin’s 13 remains the A.L. standard.
Cronin had begun what became a nine-game hitting streak on June 18, going two for three with a walk. He followed his 13 hits in three games with nine hits and four walks over the next five games. During those nine games, Cronin was 29-for-48 with seven walks – a .665 on-base percentage.
After losing on June 8, Washington won 19 of its next 22 games. In early August, a loss to the Yankees left New York just one game behind the Senators, but Cronin’s crew really turned it on. A 13-game winning streak left the Yankees in the dust, even though Cronin’s bat cooled off in the final two months. As late as July 21, Cronin was hitting .360, but by late August his average had fallen to .309, where he finished.
Although Walter Johnson had managed Washington to 90+ wins three seasons in a row, he had not been able to win a pennant, so Clark Griffith gave the greatest Senator ever his release. As he had in 1924, Griffith turned to one of his players: Cronin. This was the depth of the depression, and saving Johnson’s salary likely had something to do with it. Although Griffith’s loss was minimal, ever team in the A.L. lost money in 1933. Washington’s attendance of less than 500,000 was still second best in the A.L. With the league’s highest payroll but a shockingly disappointing seventh-place finish in 1934, Griffith’s finances forced him to sell Cronin to the Red Sox for $250,000 and a far lesser shortstop as a replacement. The cash saved Griffith from bankruptcy.
For a detailed look at the Senators’ 1933 season, get a copy of The Wrecking Crew of ’33 by Gary Sarnoff, a noted authority on Washington baseball and fellow SABR member.