In 1898, he was traveling with other 16- to 18-year-old boys in a horse-drawn lumber wagon, pulling into towns to challenge local teams to a baseball game. But a year later, "Wahoo Sam" was in Cincinnati, making his major league debut with the Reds.
The 19-year-old went on to hit .307 in 31 games that year. And so began his 19-year career that would eventually lead to his membership in Cooperstown — one of six native Nebraskans in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
After four years in Cincinnati, Crawford came to Detroit in 1903. Though he and fellow outfielder Ty Cobb had a strained personal relationship, they had a partnership on the bases. Often with Cobb on third, Crawford would draw a walk, speed up before reaching first and then scoot toward second, forcing teams to decide whether to make a play on him.
"Most of the time, they were too paralyzed to do anything," Crawford said in the book "The Glory of Their Times."
They led the Tigers to the World Series from 1907 through '09, but lost all three.
Crawford was considered one of the greatest sluggers of the dead-ball era. When he retired, his 70 homers were the most all time in the AL. He still holds the major league record for career triples (309) and inside-the-park homers (12) in a season. He is second with 51 career inside-the-park home runs.
The lefty finished with 97 homers, 1,525 RBIs and 363 stolen bases. But statistics guru Bill James figured Crawford would have had 494 homers (and 101 triples) if he began his career in 1919.
"My idea of batting is a thing that should be done unconsciously," Crawford said. "If you get to studying it too much ... you will miss it altogether."
Crawford also accumulated 2,961 hits and a .309 average — including .378 in 1911. He was the first player to lead both the American League and the National League in home runs (1901 and '08).
Baseball Magazine wrote in 1916: "If we were looking for a model for a statue of a slugger, we would choose Sam Crawford."
Ed Barrow, who managed Crawford his first two years with Detroit, had a pretty good eye for hitting. He went on to convert Babe Ruth to an outfielder as general manager of the Yankees, and he once said there never was a better hitter than Crawford.
Baseball wasn't Crawford's only sport. The Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Famer led Wahoo to state football titles in 1896 and '97. He was also noted for foot racing wherever he played.
Though it took campaigning — notably from Cobb — Crawford joined the Hall of Fame in 1957, 40 years after his final big league game.
He remembered his roots, as Crawford told the curator that he wanted his Hall of Fame plaque to read, "Wahoo Sam." "That’s my hometown, and I’m proud of it," he said.
His hometown was proud of him, too. The ballpark in Wahoo is named Sam Crawford Field.
And Sam Crawford Field has a place in history, too. The Wahoo park is home to seats formerly at Rosenblatt Stadium.
Played for: Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers
Best athlete from Nebraska played with or against: He never played against Grover Cleveland Alexander in a major league game, but he must have somewhere along the line. In the majors, his Nebraska contemporaries included Pleasanton-born pitcher Winfield Noyes, catcher Les Nunamaker of Aurora, catcher Ted Easterly of Lincoln, Omaha catcher Frank Gibson, and Omaha outfielder "Gloomy Gus" Williams.
Best moment as an athlete: Probably the 1907 season, when he ranked second in the American League in batting average (.323), doubles (34) and triples (17), scored a league-high 102 runs and led the Tigers to the first of three straight losing World Series appearances
Crawford was No. 13 in the inaugural Nebraska 100 list in 2005. See more about the 2005 list »