On the edge of a quiet golf course in the hills outside San Diego, highwaymen’s music blazes through the sound system. Family and baseball are inextricably linked, and they came together to say a final goodbye to Roger Craig. Horses and golf, his other two staples of this North Carolina country boy’s life, gracefully filled green meadows and dusty imaginary paths as songs thundered.
I was a highwayman
Along the long-distance bus, I actually rode
Craig was 93 when he died this month. He was married to his beloved Carolyn for 71 of those years. And at Saturday’s memorial service, filled with laughter and tears and the kind of sweet and funny story that has thankfully survived through the ages, Craig’s achievements together underpinned major league baseball for the past 111 years. Shined as the central cog in a group of men. .
Craig started the final game for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1957 and then the Mets in the first game of the expansion franchise in 1962. Mets manager, the indescribable Casey Stengel, made his Brooklyn debut in 1912. Craig was a successful pitching coach and manager, most notably mentoring current San Diego Padres manager Bob Melvin.
Melvin, who has been Craig’s catcher for three seasons, said this weekend when he led the Padres against Tampa Bay. “Roger forced me to watch the game as manager.”
From Stengel to Craig to Melvin, 1912 to 2023. Perhaps it doesn’t pack the literary punch of the famous line “Tinker to Evers to Chance” from the poem “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon.” But there is an undeniable richness in the hardball relay.
“Can I get a ‘Hum Baby!’?” From everyone? ” asked Mark Grant, a former Giants pitcher and now Padres television analyst, at the beginning of his memorial service speech. The congregation at the outdoor ceremony responded loudly, shouting Craig’s delightfully universal cliché, “Hmm, baby.” It served as an exhortation, an exclamation, an explanation. It was appropriate and encouraged in every case.
Craig was a teammate, husband, father and teacher. He excelled in split-finger fastballs and relationships. With terse grace, he eased the tension and disarmed the entrenched players.
“He was the world to me,” said Hall of Fame shortstop Alan Trammell, one of the afternoon’s speakers.
Trammell spent all five of Craig’s seasons in Detroit as Sparky Anderson’s pitching coach, culminating in the Tigers’ 1984 World Series victory. When fellow Hall of Famer Jack Morris was pitching, the affable Trammell was highly praised by Craig.
Morris, who started his career with Craig teaching him how to play the splitter, ran hot on the mound. When things got tough, Anderson dispatched Craig to give him some words of wisdom. Craig knew Volcano Morris didn’t want a part of it, so he dutifully followed. As such, pitching coaches often ignored Morris entirely and simply chatted with Trammell instead. Eventually Morris loses patience and orders them off the mound.
Craig returned to the dugout and assured Sparky that the match would go ahead because he had a good ace.
Such a character has been forged by many battles won and not a few lost. As a member of the expanded Mets staff, Craig led the league in losses in 1962 with a record of 10-24. He then went on to top the majors in 1963 with another 22 losses.
Ten years ago, when I spent an afternoon with Mr. and Mrs. Craig at their San Diego condo, Roger and I talked about it and he grinned. Writers still call him and ask if he’s “ashamed” of his performance with the Mets, he said. He will be happy to point out that he pitched 27 complete games in those two seasons.
His major league debut came under happier circumstances in 1955 when Brooklyn called him up from Montreal in the AAA class as a spot start. He pitched a three-hit complete game against Cincinnati, so much so that coach Walter Alston asked him to move his family from Montreal to Brooklyn for a few days. Sensing Craig’s worried expression, a veteran teammate offered to take him to the airport.
It was Jackie Robinson.
“It was my first day in the big leagues,” Craig said. “Jackie Robinson will drive me to the airport.
“He never said a word about what he went through. And I saw a lot of it. He just said to me, ‘Boy, you’re going to be a great pitcher.’ hand.”
That fall, Craig was the winning pitcher in Game 5 of the World Series, as the Dodgers defeated the Yankees in seven games for their only championship in New York.
After seven seasons with the Dodgers (including the team’s move to Los Angeles), Craig found himself in a very different situation. The Mets thought his familiar face would help them sell tickets in New York and made the calculated decision to pick him with the sixth overall pick in the expansion draft.
He was 32 by then, and Stengel was happy to call him “Mr. Craig.” After all, he was the eldest politician in a rotation of twenty-somethings. As the Mets set a modern-day record of 40-120, Stengel often asked Craig to skip pitching practice between starts.
“Mr. Craig,” Stengel would say. “I know you pitch nine innings today and you won’t pitch again for four days, but please don’t pitch between starts.” to make sure we are ahead. You may need to get him to pitch an inning or two in relief. “
Half a century later, Craig was still laughing. Was there a rare moment when the Mets were winning? Sure enough, Stengel hunched over the bench until Craig caught his eye. And Craig will start warming up. He started 33 games that season and was a reliever in nine others.
One night in New York City after a losing streak with the Mets, Craig ran into old owner Bill Veek. He told him that after going through all this he would one day be a good pitching coach or manager.
“He was right,” said Craig. “I’ve never forgotten that. Every time I’ve seen him since then, I’ve thanked him. You learn a lot from losing because you keep thinking, ‘How can I fix that?’ It’s from.”
After a successful pitching coaching career, Craig was named manager of the 62-100 Giants in 1985. Mr. Fixit turned the Giants into National League West champions in 1987 with a 90-72 record. Two years later, Craig led the team to its second pennant in San Francisco.
Craig, who won three World Series rings as a player (Dodgers in 1955 and 1959, Cardinals in 1964) and once as a pitching coach (Tigers in 1984), won another former catcher in 2001. When Brenley called out to me, I was still ready for action. .
Brenley, who was the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, invited Craig as a guest coach to that spring camp and asked Craig for his ring size after the Diamondbacks beat the Yankees in the World Series. The manager told an old coach that he persuaded the team’s owner to give Craig the ring.
“It’s not that big of a deal what you did last year,” Brenley told Craig. “It’s for what you’ve done for me as a player, coach and manager.”
Then Melvin, who was on the staff of the Diamondbacks, told Craig another story. “I shouldn’t say this, but Bob paid for that ring himself.”
Melvin smiled and nodded when the story was told at Petco Park over the weekend.
“That’s how much Roger meant to him,” Melvin said. “And he felt like he should know that.”
Family ties have always existed for Craig, both inside and outside the clubhouse. He and Carolyn raised four children, seven grandchildren and his 14 great-grandchildren. One of her granddaughters, Chelsea Willingham, concluded Saturday’s service with a scripture reading, Psalm 23, and her kind request.
“In the spirit of Ham Baby, hum along as I sing ‘Amazing Grace,'” she said. Her heart was pounding, her horses frolicking, and the chorus was instantly powerful, perhaps somewhere Stengel was asking Craig to warm up. to make sure.