Leroy Oliver Cromartie was born on December 15, 1922 in Miami, Florida. As he looks back on his early childhood, Cromartie remembers the hard times and the struggles that his family endured to survive poverty. His father was employed at the local dry cleaning market and his mother worked as a seamstress. Throughout his early days of sandlot baseball, Leroy was trained at shortstop. He later attended Booker T. Washington High School and played on both their football and basketball teams; selected as a guard on the All-State basketball teams of 1942 and 1943. He felt extremely blessed the day he met Mr. Dean Everett. Mr. Everett was a very special man – a teacher that was a father figure to Leroy. It turned out that Mr. Everett, as a young man, had played baseball in the Negro Leagues, a pitcher for the New York Lincoln Giants. Leroy’s fascination with the life that Mr. Everett led and the example that he had openly shared with all of his students played a major part in the decisions that he would later make for himself. Cromartie graduated from Booker T. Washington High School with the class of 1943.
Leroy continued his studies and his athletic career at Florida A&M College. Affectionately nicknamed ‘Cro’, Leroy was recognized as one of the nations top passers and signal callers, leading the FAMC team to conference football championships in 1944 and 1945. His greatness on the gridiron was further evidenced when the Pittsburgh Courier’s All-American Football team selected him in 1945.
Although “Cro” was originally trained as a shortstop, he made a transition to play second base for the Negro Leagues Baseball Cincinnati-Indianapolis Clowns in 1945. He fondly remembers the thrill of competing against players like Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella. Leroy displayed a unique batting style. He explained, “I would move to the front edge of the batters box and widen my grip on the bat, and make contact.”
As his baseball career wound down, he returned to FAMC and led them to the conference football championships again in 1947 and to the coveted national championship in 1950. Cromartie received his degree from FAMC and would later be inducted into the Florida A&M University Hall of Fame in 1984, more than 30 years later. Cromartie joined the Air force for a brief two years of service where he once again was a standout athlete. He was a starter on the military’s football and baseball teams. He returned to his home after fulfilling his military duty to support his mother. He became very active in his community, and remained so until the day he died. He was a fine example, a stable influence to thousands of neighborhood children. He was hired by the city of Miami where he worked for 25 years. He coached baseball, basketball, and tennis at many of the parks throughout Miami.
Leroy “Cro” Cromartie died in September of 2000. He loved people and it showed. The most memorable part of his life was that which he shared with children. Like Mr. Everett, Leroy wanted to be a father figure and an inspiration to the youngsters interested in sports. Nothing brought him more joy than to work with kids. Everyone who knew him loved him and he will truly be missed.
Leroy Cromartie is one of our NLB Living Legends Remembered. Because he died before the Signature Series One (SS1) trading card collection was complete, his limited quantity of SS1 trading cards has been released, bearing a copy of his personal signature applied using a hand stamp and permanent black ink. (SATC)