Joseph Edward Cronin, who guided the Washington Senators to the American League pennant in 1933 as a player and manager, and later become president of the American League, died yesterday at his home in Osterville, Mass., at the age of 77 after a long illness.

Mr. Cronin, an all-star shortstop, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1956 after an 18-year playing career in which he compiled a lifetime batting average of .301. For 13 of those years he was a player-manager, directing the Senators in 1933 and 1934 and the Boston Red Sox from 1935 to 1947, playing shortstop for all but the last two seasons.

His best year in the major leagues was 1930 when he hit .346 with the Senators, drove in 126 runs and was voted the league's most valuable player. During his career he earned a reputation as a clutch hitter.

"With a man on third and one out, I'd rather have Cronin hitting for me than anybody I've ever seen and that includes (Ty) Cobb, (Al) Simmons and the rest of them," Philadelphia Athletics Manager Connie Mack once said of Cronin, who was born to poverty in San Francisco Oct. 12, 1906.

After his father died during Mr. Cronin's teens, his mother and older brothers worked to send him to parochial school, where he was a standout in tennis, basketball, baseball and soccer. He was offered a scholarship to St. Mary's College in California, but turned it down to earn a living as a baseball player.

The Pittsburgh Pirates signed him in 1926 with a $200 bonus, but dropped him because his hitting was not satisfactory. Three years later, he broke into the Washington Senators' starting lineup. In 1932, at the age of 26, Mr. Cronin was named player-manager of the Senators.

Mr. Cronin's marriage to Mildred Robertson, the adopted daughter of Senators owner Clark Griffith, was encouraged by Senators scout Joe Engel, who sent a telegram to Robertson a few days before Mr. Cronin was called up to the team.

"Dear Mildred. Am bringing you home a real sweetie in Joe Cronin. So be dolled up Wednesday or Thursday to meet him. Tall and handsome . . . " They were married in 1934.

Despite the kinship, Griffith sent Mr. Cronin to the Boston Red Sox after the 1934 season in exchange for $250,000 and another shortstop. Under Mr. Cronin, the Red Sox won a pennant in 1946 but lost the World Series to St. Louis. He became general manager of the team in 1948 and president of the American League in 1959. He served in that capacity until 1974, when he was replaced by Lee MacPhail.

One of his last public appearances was at Fenway Park last May, when the Red Sox retired his No. 4 along with Ted Williams' No. 9. Sitting in a wheelchair, Mr. Cronin listened to Ted Williams praise him.

"Joe Cronin was a great player, a great manager, a wonderful father," said Williams. "No one respects you more than I do, Joe. I love you. In my book, you're a great man."

In addition to his wife, Mr. Cronin is survived by four children, Thomas, of Minnetonka, Minn., Michael of Sudbury, Mass., Kevin of Boston, and Maureen C. Hayward of Osterville, and by nine grandchildren.