Former manager, pitcher Roger Craig passes away

June 5th, 2023

Roger Craig, a right-handed pitcher for the Dodgers and Mets who became synonymous with the split-finger fastball during his successful career as a pitching coach and manager, has died at age 93.

Craig pitched in the Major Leagues for 12 seasons from 1955-66, logging a 3.83 ERA over 368 career appearances between the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers, Mets, Cardinals, Reds and Phillies. He helped the Dodgers win the World Series in 1955 and '59 and added a third ring with the Cardinals in '64. Craig also was the pitching coach for the 1984 World Series champion Tigers under Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson.

After his playing career ended, Craig developed a reputation as a pitching guru and became a well-known proselytizer of the split-finger fastball, which he taught to Hall of Famer Jack Morris in Detroit. He was appointed the first pitching coach in Padres history in 1969 and later replaced Alvin Dark as San Diego’s manager in 1978.

Craig had a 152-171 record over his two seasons as the Padres’ skipper, but his most successful managerial run came with the Giants, who hired him near the end of their 100-loss season in 1985. Craig instantly engineered an incredible turnaround in San Francisco, transforming the Giants into winners and introducing the iconic catchphrase “Humm Baby” into the Bay Area baseball lexicon.

With standout rookies Will Clark and Robby Thompson debuting in 1986, the Giants enjoyed a 21-game improvement from the previous year and won the National League West title, their first division crown in 16 years, in '87. The Giants captured the NL pennant in '89 and made their first World Series appearance since 1962, though ultimately they were swept by the A’s.

Craig managed the Giants from 1985-92, compiling a 586-566 mark. At the time of his departure, he held San Francisco records for most games managed (1,152) and wins (586), though those marks have since been surpassed by Dusty Baker and Bruce Bochy.

"We have lost a legendary member of our Giants family.” Larry Baer, Giants president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “Roger was beloved by players, coaches, front office staff and fans. He was a father figure to many and his optimism and wisdom resulted in some of the most memorable seasons in our history. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his wife, Carolyn, his four children, Sherri Paschelke, Roger Craig Jr, Teresa Hanvey and Vikki Dancan, his seven grandchildren, his 14 great grandchildren as well as his extended family and friends.”

Roger Lee Craig was born on Feb. 17, 1930, in Durham, N.C. He was one of 10 children raised by John Thompson and Mamie Irene Craig. Craig’s professional baseball career began in 1950, when Brooklyn Dodgers scout Frank Rickey -- brother of Hall of Fame executive Branch Rickey -- signed the 6-foot-4, 190-pound right-hander to a contract as an amateur free agent.

Craig spent his first three seasons in Brooklyn’s farm system, though he missed the 1952 and 1953 campaigns while serving two years in the Army during the Korean War. He broke into the Majors with the Dodgers in 1955, going 5-3 with a 2.78 ERA in 21 appearances to help Brooklyn win the NL pennant. The 25-year-old Craig was tapped to start Game 5 of the 1955 World Series against the Yankees and delivered six solid innings to earn the win.

The Dodgers went on to defeat the Yankees in seven games, capturing the first and only World Series title in Brooklyn history. Craig spent seven seasons with the Dodgers and won a second World Series ring in Los Angeles in 1959, when he went 11-5 with a career-best 2.06 ERA over 29 appearances.

Craig became an original Met when he was taken by them in the expansion draft preceding the 1962 season. He was the club’s Opening Day starter, losing the first game in Mets history after allowing five runs over three innings against the Cardinals. More defeats would follow, as Craig went 15-46 over his two years with the hapless Mets, going 10-24 for the 40-120 team in '62 and losing 18 straight decisions in '63. "You've got to be good to lose that many," said Casey Stengel, his manager.

Craig was acquired by the Cardinals ahead of the 1964 season and earned a third World Series title in his lone season in St. Louis, throwing 4 2/3 shutout innings and getting the win in Game 4, a 4-3 victory. He spent the final two years of his playing career as a reliever for the Reds and Phillies.

Craig returned to the Dodgers as a scout in 1967 and managed the organization’s Double-A affiliate in Albuquerque, N.M., in '68. He joined the expansion Padres in '69 and was their pitching coach for four seasons before being replaced by ex-teammate Johnny Podres, a close friend of newly hired manager Don Zimmer.

Craig resurfaced with the Astros in 1974 and was their pitching coach for two seasons before reclaiming his old job in San Diego. In '78, the Padres fired Al Dark over communication issues and elevated Craig from pitching coach to manager. Craig took over the team a mere two weeks before Opening Day, but he quickly restored order and guided the Padres to their first winning season with an 84-78 record. But they regressed to 68-93 in 1979, leading to Craig’s dismissal at the end of the season.

In 1980, Craig received a call from Anderson, who asked Craig to join his coaching staff in Detroit. He soon drew national exposure for his success teaching the split-finger fastball, an off-speed pitch that looks like a fastball before abruptly bottoming out as it reaches the plate.

The pitch was invented by Fred Martin and perfected by Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter, but Craig is credited with popularizing the split-finger fastball through his work with Morris, Milt Wilcox, Dan Petry, Mike Scott and dozens of other pupils in the 1980s.

Under Craig’s tutelage, the Tigers led the American League in staff ERA en route to winning the 1984 World Series. Still, Craig’s tenure in Detroit came to an end after the front office refused his request for a raise. He stepped down from his post and announced his retirement, though his time away from baseball didn’t last long.

In 1985, Giants general manager Al Rosen hired Craig to replace Jim Davenport as manager, breathing life into a club that was coming off the only 100-loss season in franchise history. In his first five full seasons as manager, the Giants never finished below .500, posting a .590 winning percentage (239-166) and reaching the postseason twice.

The magic began to fade following the Giants’ loss in the 1989 World Series. After a 72-90 finish in '92, the Giants were sold to a new ownership group led by Peter Magowan, who dismissed Craig and hired Baker to be manager. Craig formally retired at that time.