The San Francisco Giants of the early 1980’s were a pitiful bunch with losing seasons stretching longer and longer into the summer night. The bottom fell out in 1985 when they lost 100 games, the epitome of a tremendous loser in the major leagues. When Roger Craig took over as manager towards the end of that disastrous season, he built the team into a contender by the end of the decade. This is his story.
Roger Lee Craig was born on February 17, 1930 in Durham, North Carolina. After high school, Craig was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950. He made his major league debut in 1955 when he won five games and lost three as a pitcher. He started and won one game in the World Series against the Yankees, posting a 3.00 ERA. The Dodgers won their first World Series that year and spent two more years in Brooklyn before moving to Los Angeles. In their final two years in New York, Craig won 18 games and lost 20.
In the Dodger’s second season in Los Angeles, Roger Craig won 11 games and the team went to the World Series. Craig was abysmal in his lone game against the Chicago White Sox, recording an 8.68 ERA in an 11-0 loss. Despite his misfortune on the mound, the Dodgers overcame their poor start to win the 1959 World Series. Roger Craig spent two more years in Los Angeles, winning 13 games, and left for the New York Mets in 1962.
He led the league with 24 losses in 1962 and 22 losses in 1963 for a pitiful Mets team. Craig signed with the Saint Louis Cardinals in 1964 and made it to his fourth World Series (the Dodgers had lost in 1956). He pitched in relief for five innings where he kept the Yankees at bay. The Cardinals won the World Series in seven games. It would be Roger Craig’s last championship. Two years later, he retired as a Philadelphia Philly.
After his retirement as a player, Roger Craig was hired by the Dodgers as a scout in 1967. He was promoted to manager of their Albuquerque Double-A affiliate in the Texas League in 1968. He spent time as a pitching coach with San Diego and Houston before being named the Padre’s manager in 1978.
It was a rough two years for Craig as the Padres finished fourth and fifth respectively in their division. He was fired after the 1979 season but it proved to be a blessing in disguise as he was hired to be the Detroit Tigers pitching coach, quickly becoming one of the best teachers of the split-finger fastball in the game. By 1984, the Tigers were world champions after starting the season 35-5, the best 40 game start ever in the major leagues.
Led by pitchers Jack Morris and Dan Petry, the Tigers defeated the San Diego Padres in five games to claim the World Series title. After the Tiger’s World Series triumph, Roger Craig asked for a salary increase but was denied. Incensed, he retired to his ranch in San Diego. But his baseball career was far from over.
The Giants took notice of his ability to get the best out of his players and hired Craig to be their manager towards the end of the 1985 season. The Giants finished sixth in their division in 1985 but by 1987 had won their division. The Giants were revitalized that season, not only by Craig’s leadership but by a unique phrase that he had come up with “Humm Baby”. Using “Humm Baby” as a rallying cry, the Giants refused to lose and marched on to the playoffs. That 90 win season ended in heartbreak to the Cardinals in the NLCS in seven hard fought games, but the Giants ended the season knowing what they could accomplish.
Two years later, the Giants were again marching toward the playoffs. Led by Craig Leffert’s 20 saves, Rick Reuschel’s 17 wins and Scott Garrelt’s 2.28 ERA, the Giants won 92 games and reached the NLCS. This time, they defeated the Chicago Cubs in five games to clinch a long awaited spot in the World Series.
The World Series didn’t start off well for the Giants, with the Oakland A’s winning the first two games in relatively easy fashion. Shortly before Game 3 was to begin, a massive 7.9 earthquake struck the Bay Area and forced a 10 day delay in the World Series. When the Fall Classic resumed, both teams wanted badly to win for their cities which were both so heavily impacted by the disaster. The Bay Area began to heal as the two clubs combined for 11 home runs in a 13-7 Oakland triumph. Down 3-0 in the series, Roger Craig tried desperately to rally his players. The players responded to the very best of their ability but ultimately lost 9-6 to end the World Series.
After the World Series loss, the Giants tried their best to repeat their championship ways the following year but something was missing and they only won 85 games in 1990. The magic was gone. Two losing seasons later and in the midst of an ownership change, Roger Craig was fired after the 1992 season. He finished his managerial career with 738 wins, 737 losses, two division championships and one NL Pennant.