(By Michael Pointer for the Indianapolis Star Online / Published: January 21, 2011)
Quiet star played pro basketball, baseball
George Crowe’s place in history was cemented when he won the first Indianapolis Star Indiana Mr. Basketball honor while playing for Franklin High School in 1939.
Yet he continued to have mixed feelings about it up until his death earlier this week, a nephew said.
“He was very proud that he was selected as the first Mr. Basketball, but it was a bittersweet time for him because his team lost to Frankfort (in the state championship game),” said Brad Crowe, New Castle.
“For him to take personal glory at that point in time was not his style. He always said he would have much rather won the state championship and someone else be Mr. Basketball.”
George Crowe died near Sacramento, Calif., on Tuesday night. He was 89 and had been residing in an assisted living facility. His health had deteriorated in recent years after a series of strokes, Brad Crowe said.
Crowe was born in Whiteland and played at Franklin under legendary coach Fuzzy Vandivier. Indiana basketball historian and “Hoosier Hysteria” author Herb Schwomeyer said the Grizzly Cubs’ appearance in the state finals likely earned Crowe the Mr. Basketball award because few people saw him play before then.
“He was everyplace on the floor,” Schwomeyer, 92, said. “Fuzzy had him doing everything. I think he’s the best ballplayer that Fuzzy ever coached.”
His athletic career hardly ended when he left Franklin. Crowe was a basketball, baseball and track star at Indiana Central (now the University of Indianapolis) and is a member of the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
He played professional basketball for the New York Rens, a barnstorming team of black players, and major league baseball for the Boston/Milwaukee Braves, Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals from 1952-61.
His best year was in 1957 for the Reds, when he hit .271 with 31 home runs and 92 runs batted in. He was selected to the National League All-Star team in 1958.
Brad Crowe said his uncle’s most enjoyable times came at Indiana Central, where six brothers and sisters also attended.
“Even though he had a wonderful baseball career, it was a tough time for the Negro athlete,” he said. “He did his job and worked hard at it, but there wasn’t a lot of glory at that particular time.”
Brad Crowe said his uncle loved the outdoors after growing up on a farm. He sold insurance and taught school before moving to Long Eddy, N.Y., along the Delaware River, where he was an active hunter and fisherman. He lived there for nearly 40 years before moving to California five years ago to be near his two daughters and their families.
“He would have been perfectly content to stay in Johnson County and be a farmer,” Brad said. “Regardless of where he was at, he always had a garden and he always came back home to till my grandmother’s garden for her.”
Crowe stood 6-2 and was nicknamed “Big George” but was a soft-spoken sort, his nephew said.
He was proud of an incident at a Franklin movie theater after returning from serving in the Army during World War II, however. Crowe was watching a film with his wife, who was white, when an attendant told him he had to sit in the blacks-only section in the balcony.
Crowe refused. The theater was integrated one week later.
“He was a determined individual,” Brad said.
“I guarantee there were not six people that heard his voice. He would have politely said a few words to the usher and maybe the manager, then he went back and enjoyed the movie.”
Crowe was the brother of the late Ray Crowe, who coached the legendary Crispus Attucks High School teams in the 1950s. He has two surviving brothers, Billy and Ralph Edward, in Indianapolis.
Brad Crowe said his uncle will be cremated and his ashes spread near where he lived in Long Eddy.
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