Roger Craig, who pitched or officiated at five World Series and changed the face of pitching in the 1980s as a guru of the split-finger fastball, died Sunday. He was 93 years old.
The death came after a short illness, his family said, according to a spokesperson for the San Francisco Giants, a team that Craig managed for eight seasons, leading them to the National League pennant in 1989. Craig died in San Diego, a family member said. The team told the Associated Press.
To some, Craig was a figure in baseball trivia: He was the starting pitcher for the Dodgers in their last game before moving from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, and five years later, in 1962, he threw the first pitch in Mets history. He was the loser both times. He lost 24 and then 22 games with the feared Mets in his first two seasons, including an 18-game winning streak in 1963. But he had his moments when he was backed by good lineups.
The lanky 6-foot-4 right-hander who was often noted for bearing a remarkable resemblance to President Lyndon B. Johnson, Craig was to three World Series championships for the Dodgers in the 1950s and another with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964 In the Giants’ running of the 1989 NL pennant, he appealed to his players to clamor with the slogan “Ham Baby” and taught his pitchers to throw his split-finger fastball.
Craig Angel posted the split, thrown with the same motion as a traditional fastball but able to confuse batters because the pitcher caught the baseball with his index and middle fingers widely spaced, and parallel to the seams rather than across them.
“A split finger is, quite simply, a fastball that you spin extra so that it falls in front of the batter so quickly that he doesn’t know where to go,” Craig explained in a 1988 Playboy magazine interview. “Every archer has brains that he wants to learn.”
As coach of the Detroit Tigers, Craig taught handoffs to Jack Morris, who helped propel the team to the 1984 World Series and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2018.
After leaving the Tigers when his salary demands were not met, Craig taught a split-finger fastball to Houston Astros right fielder Mike Scott, who sought his advice. Scott is gone on winning the 1986 NL Cy Young Award. As Scott once said, “God bless Roger Craig.”
“Everybody was throwing a pitch,” Mike Sciocia, who caught for the Dodgers in the 1980s and later managed the Angels, told the Associated Press in 2011. sliding. “
Roger Lee Craig was born on February 17, 1930, in Durham, North Carolina, one of 10 children of John and Mamie Craig. His father was a shoe salesman. He was spotted by a part-time scout for the Dodgers while pitching in high school, and then signed by the team out of North Carolina State University in 1950. He debuted with Brooklyn in July 1955.
He had a 5-3 record in 21 games, 10 of them started, and then beat the Yankees in Game 5 for what became the only World Series a Brooklyn team would ever win. He pitched for the Dodgers again in the 1956 World Series, losing in Game Three of the seven-game series that the Yankees won.
A fastball player early in his career, Craig developed arm problems that he attributed to being thrown in cold, wet weather as a starter on September 29, 1957, at Philadelphia’s Connie Mack Stadium, in the final game the Dodgers played before the transition. to Los Angeles.
Craig returned to the minors for most of 1958 and for part of the 1959 season while he was rehabilitating from his injury. He never regained the pace in his fastball, but when he returned to the Dodgers for good in 1959, he focused on outselling hitters in the count. That year, he revived his career as an outfielder and had his best major league season, posting He posted an 11-5 record while leading the NL in shutouts, with four, as the Dodgers won their first pennant in Los Angeles. He made two starts in the World Series against the Chicago White Sox, with one loss and one no-decision in a game won by the Dodgers, who took the championship in six games.
Craig pitched mostly in relief before he was selected by the Mets as the No. 3 pick in the October 1961 expansion draft, following catcher Hobie Landrith and player Elio Chacon. He was the sixth pick overall since the Mets rotated with Houston, the other freshman team, in the draft order.
The Mets traded Craig to the Cardinals before the 1964 season, and won Game 4 of the World Series comfortably as St. Louis beat the Yankees in seven games. He later joined the Cincinnati Reds and Phillies and finished his career with a record of 74-98.
Craig began teaching the split-finger fastball, a variation on a low-speed delivery called the forkball, when he took over the San Diego Padres in 1978 and 1979. Future Hall of Fame inductee Bruce Sutter had been using the ballpark for several years with the Chicago Cubs, having learned it from their running coach, Fred Martin, when he was in the minors. While Craig did not “discover” the split finger, he proved particularly adept at teaching it.
After five years as the Tigers’ coach, Craig became the Giants’ head coach with 18 games remaining in the 1985 season and remained with the team for another seven years. The highlight of his tenure came in 1989, when the Giants won the NL pennant for the first time since 1962, though they were swept by the Oakland Athletics in the delayed World Series. He retired after the 1992 season and spent time at his Southern California ranch in Borrego Springs in his later years.
The split-finger fastball remained a part of pitchers’ arsenals in the years after Craig’s retirement, but gradually declined in popularity due to concerns that it could put undue stress on a pitcher’s arm.
“We have lost a legendary member of the Giants family,” Giants CEO Larry Bayer said in a statement. “Roger was beloved by the players, coaches, front office staff, and fans. He was a father figure to many, and his optimism and wisdom led to some of the most memorable chapters in our history.”
He is survived by his wife, Caroline. three daughters, Sherry Paschelky, Teresa Hanvey and Vicki Duncan; a son, Roger Jr.; Seven grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren, the Giants said.
Back in his career, Craig shared wry recollections of pitching for the Mets’ Casey Stengel.
As he hooked it up with CBS Sports in 2013, Stengel more or less told him the following: “Mr. Craig, I know you had nine runs today and you won’t pitch again for four days, but don’t throw in between starts just in case we’re ahead. I need you to advance a round or two.”
“Alcohol enthusiast. Twitter ninja. Tv lover. Falls down a lot. Hipster-friendly coffee geek.”