On the perimeter of a quiet golf course within the foothills exterior San Diego, music from the Highwaymen galloped from the sound system. Family and baseball, inextricably intertwined, had gathered to say one last goodbye to Roger Craig. Horses and golf, two different staples on this North Carolina nation boy’s life, gracefully crammed the inexperienced pastures and dusty trails of the creativeness because the songs rang out.
I used to be a highwayman
Along the coach roads, I did experience
Craig was 93 when he died this month. He was married to his beloved Carolyn for 71 of these years. And at a memorial on Saturday full of laughter, tears and the type of candy and humorous tales that, fortunately, outlive eras, Craig’s legacy gleamed because the central cog of a group of three males who collectively spanned the previous 111 years of Major League Baseball.
Craig had been the beginning pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers’ last recreation in 1957 after which was the starter for the Mets within the growth franchise’s first recreation in 1962. His supervisor with the Mets, the ineffable Casey Stengel, made his debut with Brooklyn in 1912. Craig, who went on to success as each a pitching coach and a supervisor, was a mentor for, amongst others, Bob Melvin, the present supervisor of the San Diego Padres.
“I wouldn’t be managing today had I not played for him,” Melvin, who was a catcher underneath Craig for three seasons, stated over the weekend as he led his Padres towards Tampa Bay. “Roger forced me to watch the game as a manager.”
From 1912 to 2023, Stengel to Craig to Melvin. Maybe it doesn’t pack the literary punch of, say, “Tinker to Evers to Chance,” the well-known line from the poem “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon.” But there may be an simple richness within the hardball relay.
“Can I get a ‘Humm baby!’ from everybody?” Mark Grant, the previous Giants pitcher and present Padres tv analyst, requested at first of his remarks through the memorial. The congregation on the outside ceremony loudly obliged, shouting, “Humm baby,” Craig’s joyful and common go-to phrase, which served as an exhortation, an exclamation and a descriptor. It was acceptable, and inspired, for all events.
Craig was a teammate and a husband, a father and a trainer. He excelled in split-fingered fastballs and relationships. With laconic grace, he simply defused pressure and disarmed tightly wired gamers.
“He meant the world to me,” stated Alan Trammell, the Hall of Fame shortstop who was one of the afternoon’s audio system.
Trammell was in Detroit for all 5 of Craig’s seasons because the pitching coach for Sparky Anderson — a run that culminated with the Tigers’ 1984 World Series title. The easygoing Trammell was appreciated by Craig when Jack Morris, one other Hall of Famer, was pitching.
Morris, whose profession took off when Craig taught him the splitter, ran scorching on the mound. When issues received tight, Anderson would ship Craig out to dispense phrases of knowledge. Craig dutifully obeyed, realizing the volcanic Morris wished no half of it. So the pitching coach typically would merely chat with Trammell as a substitute, utterly ignoring Morris. Eventually, Morris would lose persistence and organize them off his mound.
Craig would return to the dugout, guarantee Sparky that his ace was good and the sport would proceed.
That form of character was solid by many battles gained, and greater than a few that had been misplaced. As a member of the growth Mets employees, Craig went 10-24 in 1962, main the majors in losses. Then he led the majors with one other 22 losses in 1963.
During a day with Craig and his spouse at their San Diego condominium a decade in the past, Roger and I mentioned that, and he grinned. Writers would nonetheless name, he stated, and ask him whether or not he was “ashamed” of his report with the Mets. He would fortunately level out that he had thrown 27 full video games over these two seasons.
His main league debut had come underneath happier circumstances again in 1955, when Brooklyn referred to as him up from Class AAA Montreal for a spot begin. He did so effectively, throwing a complete-game three-hitter towards Cincinnati, that Manager Walter Alston informed him to take a couple of days and transfer his household from Montreal to Brooklyn. Reading the uncertainty on Craig’s face, a veteran teammate provided, “Come on, kid, I’ll give you a ride to the airport.”
It was Jackie Robinson.
“It was my first day in the big leagues,” Craig stated. “And Jackie Robinson is taking me to the airport.
“He never said one word about what he went through. And I saw a lot of it. He just told me, ‘Kid, you’re going to be a great pitcher.’”
That autumn, Craig was the profitable pitcher in Game 5 of the World Series because the Dodgers defeated the Yankees in seven video games for their solely championship in New York.
After seven seasons with the Dodgers, which included the crew’s transfer to Los Angeles, Craig was thrust into a far completely different state of affairs. The Mets, figuring a acquainted face would assist promote tickets in New York, made a calculated choice to pick him with the sixth choose within the growth draft.
He was 32 by then, and Stengel delighted in calling him MISTER Craig. He was, in any case, the elder statesman in a rotation of twenty-somethings. As the Mets set a trendy report for futility by ending 40-120, Stengel would typically ask Craig to skip his between-starts throwing session.
“MISTER Craig,” Stengel would say. “I know you pitched nine innings today and won’t pitch again for four days, but don’t throw between starts just in case we’re ahead. I may need you to pitch an inning or two in relief.”
A half-century later, Craig was nonetheless laughing. On these uncommon events when the Mets had been profitable? Sure sufficient, Stengel would lean ahead and look down the bench till he caught Craig’s eye. And Craig would start to heat up. He began 33 video games that season, and relieved in 9 others.
One night time in New York, throughout these dropping years with the Mets, Craig ran into the previous proprietor, Bill Veeck, who informed him that, in any case he had gone by means of, he would make a good pitching coach or supervisor in the future.
“He was right,” Craig stated. “I never forgot that. Every time I’d see him after that, I’d thank him. You learn so much from losing. Because you keep thinking, ‘How can we fix that?’”
Following his profitable stint as a pitching coach, Craig was named supervisor of the Giants, a crew that had gone 62-100 in 1985. Mr. Fix-It turned them into N.L. West champions in 1987, with a report of 90-72. Two years later, Craig led the crew to its second pennant in San Francisco.
Craig, who earned three World Series rings as a participant (1955 and 1959 Dodgers, 1964 Cardinals) and one as a pitching coach (1984 Tigers), was nonetheless prepared for motion when one other of his former catchers, Bob Brenly, got here calling in 2001.
Brenly, who was managing the Arizona Diamondbacks, invited Craig to camp that spring as a visitor coach and, after the Diamondbacks had defeated the Yankees within the World Series, requested Craig for his ring dimension. The supervisor informed his previous mentor that he had talked the crew’s proprietor into giving Craig a ring.
“It’s not so much for what you did last year,” Brenly informed Craig. “It’s for what you did for me as a player, coach and manager.”
Later, Melvin, who was on that Diamondbacks employees, informed Craig a completely different story: “I’m not supposed to tell you this, but Bob paid for that ring himself.”
At Petco Park over the weekend, Melvin smiled and nodded when the story was recounted.
“That’s how much Roger meant to him,” Melvin stated. “And I felt he should know that.”
Familial ties had been ever-present for Craig, each inside and out of doors the clubhouse. He and Carolyn raised 4 youngsters, who gave them seven grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. One of the granddaughters, Chelsea Willingham, closed Saturday’s service with a scripture studying, Psalm 23, and a candy request.
“In the spirit of Humm Baby, please hum along as I sing ‘Amazing Grace,’” she stated. The refrain was fast, and strong, as hearts soared and horses performed and, someplace, in all probability, Stengel was asking Craig to heat up. Just in case.