In a sport conducive to numbers, John Crumbley continues to amass the most bloated ones in the Tampa Bay area, at least at the high school level.
The winningest prep baseball coach in Hillsborough County history, Crumbley earned his 800th career triumph Wednesday in Steinbrenner’s 10-5 victory at Land O’Lakes. The latest milestone arrives in his 36th season, the last 14 of which have been spent at his current program, which he started from scratch upon his hiring in the spring of 2009.
“It’s just not something that you go into it at 22 years old thinking about it,” said Crumbley, a 62-year-old father of two and grandfather of three.
“I’m just so thankful of my blessed career and being at what I feel is obviously two great educational institutions at Jesuit and Steinbrenner. I just feel so blessed and lucky to have so many great assistant coaches and players along for the ride.”
Toss in a glorious 22-year tenure at Jesuit, and Crumbley’s career mark stands at 800-267, with four state titles. He has succeeded with private-school resources and public-school restraints, with rosters both seasoned and sophomore-laden. Perhaps of equal significance, he has remained successful as the game, its rules and society have evolved.
Crumbley has won state titles in three different decades.
“I’ve always said I’m just a little undersized guy from Leto High School (Class of 1978) that I guess didn’t want to get out of the game of baseball when they told me I couldn’t play anymore,” he said. “So I started coaching.”
Whether he makes a serious pursuit for 900 remains unclear. The baseball lifer hasn’t tipped any signals about his future, at least not publicly. But the former University of Tampa shortstop did offer some perspective on his career in an interview last week, as he neared No. 800.
What still makes you want to get up and head to the ballpark every morning?
“Man, I would say that the fraternity of older and younger coaches has always been special to me. The desire to compete and try to get kids to be the best they can be, and the ones that have the ability — get them showcased to further their playing careers. ... Definitely not the long hours, definitely not the mowing and the weeding.”
What is a high school baseball coach’s biggest nemesis today? What’s hurting your game?
“Just to be politically correct, I would probably say that I don’t feel like today’s athletes, with so much to do, are students of the game. So they don’t seem to think the little things are as important as (the kids) in the early part of my career.”
Who were your biggest coaching influences?
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“I just think I was lucky to have Frank Cacciatore and Charlie Yuengling at Leto. Those guys were disciplinarians. I think I just had the innate ability, not being the greatest player or the biggest player, I was able to become a student of the game and (add) fuel to the fire. And then I was fortunate enough to play under Lou Garcia at (Hillsborough Community College), and I was fortunate enough to play under Pete Mulry at (the University of Tampa). Legendary icons, and that just fueled me more.”
What are the characteristics of a Crumbley-coached team?
“I think in my early career, the players would say we were the best-conditioned track — I mean baseball — team in America. I would hope that my players would know that I had the passion to have the facility nice, to spend the time scouting and being as prepared as best we can as coaches to provide the opportunity for them to go out and perform.”
The title teams
We asked Crumbley to describe, in a sentence or two, each of his four state championship teams:
1994 (Jesuit, 33-4, Class 4A state champ)
“It was the first one in the history of Jesuit High School. Just a hard-working group of kids. Craig Brown was our leading pitcher, and Jason Michaels had a tremendous major-league career. It was just getting that first one, you know?”
1997 (Jesuit, 32-3, 4A state champ)
“Unbelievably talented group. All I had to do was stay out of the way.”
2000 (Jesuit, 21-13, 4A state champ)
“Only a few seniors, but we plodded along and (embraced) the theory of the little things count. Got hot at the right time, and everything clicked. Great, hard-working team that achieved great things.” (Crumbley’s replacement at Jesuit, Richie Warren, was a pitcher for that Tigers team.)
2016 (Steinbrenner, 27-5, 8A state champ)
“Skiboe Nation. Fun, talented. We had a great arm in CJ (Van Eyk) and a tremendous bat in PK (Morris); they’re both in the Blue Jays organization. The stereotype that anybody can do it at a private school, and then doing it at a second school just was a tremendous accomplishment for the kids and for the community.” (In the urban dictionary, skiboe refers to something positive, cool or good.)
Milestones with extra meaning
At least four of the biggest triumphs (from a numerical perspective) of John Crumbley’s career have featured added personal significance:
No. 500 (March 16, 2004)
Jesuit 13, Sarasota Cardinal Mooney 3
Crumbley’s son, J.J., was Jesuit’s starting pitcher. It also was his daughter Amy’s birthday.
No. 600 (March 18, 2011)
Steinbrenner 11, Cambridge Christian 0
Was played at Leto High (Crumbley’s alma mater) against former Jesuit pitcher (and Cambridge coach) Sam Marsonek on the two-year anniversary of the death of Crumbley’s father, Rod
No. 700 (March 18, 2016)
Steinbrenner 6, Alonso 4 (10 innings)
Another March 18 contest, this one for the Saladino Tournament title
No. 800 (April 12, 2023)
Steinbrenner 10, Land O’Lakes 5
His son J.J.’s 36th birthday
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls