Tim Crews was granted free agency after the 1992 season and signed with the Cleveland Indians on January 22, 1993, but never played a regular season game for his new team due to a tragic boating accident that took his life and his teammate, fellow reliever Steve Olin. Baseball Almanac takes a look "beyond the stats" at the Little Lake Nellie boating tragedy:
ROCK | PAPER | SCISSORS
It was March 22, 1993, the Cleveland Indians only day off during their first spring training in Winter Haven, Florida, manager Mike Hargrove having turned down a request from the Dodgers to play an impromptu extra game that day. No one knew then that the day would end with the greatest tragedy to befall active Major League ballplayers since Thurmon Munson died in a 1979 small plane crash.
Newly acquired pitcher Tim Crews, who had spent the previous six seasons as a dependable reliever for the Los Angeles Dodgers, wanting to foster friendships and camaraderie with his new teammates, earlier that week made an open invitation to his teammates to come to his newly built 45-acre ranch on Little Lake Nellie, near Winter Haven, for a day of horseback riding, dinner (a sumptuous barbeque), beer, family fun, and night bass fishing. Three accepted: team trainer Fernando Montes, fellow pitchers Steve Olin and family (who almost turned around as they got lost trying to find the ranch) and Bob Ojeda and family.
After dinner, as the sun was beginning to set, the four men hitched the boat trailer, drove down to the lake, and prepared to launch the boat. Before they set off, Crews, who had had several beers, suddenly noticed that they had forgotten some gear at the house and Crews' best friend, Perry Brigmond, who built the ranch and had arrived at the house late was just finishing dinner.
Rock… Paper… Scissors…… Moments after losing a "child's game", and his seat in the boat to retrieve the forgotten gear and Crews' friend, trainer Montes stepped out of the boat to drive the truck back up to the house. Crews launched the boat with Olin and Ojeda sitting alongside.
When they returned to the shore, Montes and Brigmond could only watch as Crews circled the lake in the dimming sunlight. Crews, in a seeming gesture to his friend, held one finger up as if to say "One more time around."
The neighbor's unlighted 165 foot dock and lake were now enveloped completely in darkness. As Crews accelerated, the boat's nose rose up above the vision line. The boat cleared and planed out. A "thump"… a "crash"… silence… utter silence. It was too late… the boat was under the dock.
Then… the screams for help… Steve Olin was killed instantly… Tim Crews was gasping for air… Bob Ojeda was bleeding profusely from his head. It fell to trainer Montes to make the call to manager Mike Hargrove.
Ojeda was taken to a hospital and would survive his head injuries. What saved his life, it was later learned, was that he had been slouching in the boat and, he later wrote in a rare personal account, "escaped being killed by a half-inch." Tim Crews was airlifted to Orlando Medical Center. He lingered until the early hours of March 23 before succumbing to his injuries.
"Lord, I can’t do this. You'll have to take over" Hargrove thought as he drove to the Winter Haven ballpark to face his team and the media. For the remaining six years of his tenure as Indians' manager, the team never had another spring training day off.
Laurie Crews never remarried and still lives on the ranch on Little Lake Nellie. Patty Olin remarried and later divorced.
The pain endures………
A Baseball Almanac exclusive written by Barclay Livker.
Did you know that the 1993 Cleveland Indians wore a patch (seen below) on the sleeves of their jerseys which consisted of a baseball with their numbers on it: Steve Olin's #31 is on the left with an arrow above, Crews' #52 is on the right with a star above it? The Los Angeles Dodgers also wore a patch with Crews' #52 for the 1993 season.