Roger Craig, who pitched or managed in five World Series and changed the face of pitching in the 1980s as the guru of the split-fingered fastball, died on Sunday. He was 93.
His family said the death came after a short illness, according to a spokesman for The San Francisco Giants, a team Craig managed for eight seasons, leading them to the National League pennant in 1989. A family member said Craig died in San Diego, a team spokesman told The Associated Press.
For some, Craig was a figure in baseball trivia: He was the starting pitcher for the Dodgers in their final game before moving from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, and five years later, in 1962, he threw the first pitch in the Mets’ history. He was the loser both times. He lost 24 games and then 22 for the dreadful Mets in their first two seasons, including 18 in a row in 1963. But he had his moments when backed by good-hitting lineups.
A lanky 6-foot-4 right-hander who, it was often noted, bore a remarkable resemblance to President Lyndon B. Johnson, Craig pitched in three World Series for the Dodgers in the 1950s and another with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964. In managing the Giants to the 1989 N.L. pennant, he implored his players to hustle with the mantra “Humm baby” and taught his pitchers to throw the split-fingered fastball.
Craig spread the gospel of the split, thrown with the same motion as a traditional fastball but able to confound batters because the pitcher gripped the baseball with his index and middle finger spread widely apart, and parallel to the seams instead of across them.
“The split finger is, simply, a fastball that you put an extra spin on so that it drops down in front of the batter so fast that he don’t know where it’s goin’,” Craig explained in a 1988 interview with Playboy. “Every pitcher with brains who wants to stick around wants to learn it.”
As the pitching coach for the Detroit Tigers, Craig taught the delivery to the right-hander Jack Morris, who helped propel the team to the 1984 World Series championship and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2018.
After leaving the Tigers when his salary demands were unmet, Craig taught the split-fingered fastball to the Houston Astros’ right-hander Mike Scott, who had sought his advice. Scott went on to win the 1986 N.L. Cy Young Award. As Scott once put it, “God bless Roger Craig.”
“Everyone was throwing that pitch,” Mike Scioscia, who caught for the Dodgers in the 1980s and later managed the Angels, told The Associated Press in 2011. “It was the pitch of the ’80s just like the pitch of the ’60s was a slider.”
Roger Lee Craig was born on Feb. 17, 1930, in Durham, N.C., 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, then signed by the team out of North Carolina State University in 1950. After pitching in the Dodgers’ minor league system and serving in the Army, Craig made his debut with Brooklyn in July 1955.
He had a 5-3 record over 21 games, 10 of them starts, then beat the Yankees in Game 5 of what became the only World Series a Brooklyn team would win. He pitched for the Dodgers again in the 1956 World Series, taking the loss in Game 3 of the seven-game series win for the Yankees.
A fastball pitcher early in his career, Craig developed arm problems that he attributed to throwing in cold and damp weather as the starter on Sept. 29, 1957, at the Philadelphia Phillies’ Connie Mack Stadium, in the final game the Dodgers played before moving to Los Angeles.
Craig was back in the minors for much of 1958 and for part of the 1959 season while rehabilitating from his injury. He never regained the speed on his fastball but when he returned to the Dodgers for good in 1959 he concentrated on getting ahead of batters in the count. That year, he revived his career as a control pitcher and had his best major league season, posting an 11-5 record while leading the N.L. in shutouts, with four, as the Dodgers won their first pennant in Los Angeles. He started twice 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 Series in six games.
Craig pitched mostly in relief before he was chosen by the Mets as their No. 3 selection in the October 1961 expansion draft, after catcher Hobie Landrith and infielder Elio Chacon. He was the sixth pick overall since the Mets alternated with Houston, the other new team, in the draft order.
The Mets traded Craig to the Cardinals before the 1964 season, and he won Game 4 of the World Series in relief as St. Louis beat the Yankees in seven games. He later pitched for the Cincinnati Reds and the Phillies and finished his career with a record of 74-98.
Craig began teaching the split-fingered fastball, a variation on a lower-velocity delivery called the forkball, when he managed the San Diego Padres in 1978 and ’79. The future Hall of Fame reliever Bruce Sutter had been using the pitch for several years with the Chicago Cubs, having learned it from their roving instructor, Fred Martin, when he was in the minors. While Craig did not “discover” the split finger, he proved especially adept at teaching it.
After five years as a Tigers coach, Craig became the Giants’ manager with 18 games left in the 1985 season and remained with the team for seven more years. The highlight of his tenure came in was 1989, when the Giants won an N.L. pennant for the first time since 1962, although they were swept by the Oakland Athletics in an earthquake-delayed World Series. He retired after the 1992 season and had spent time on his Southern California ranch in Borrego Springs in his later years.
The split-fingered fastball remained a part of pitchers’ arsenals in the years that followed Craig’s retirement, but it gradually declined in popularity over concerns that it can put undue stress on a pitcher’s arm.
“We have lost a legendary member of our Giants family,” Larry Baer, the Giants’ chief executive, 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.”
He is survived by his wife, Carolyn; three daughters, Sherri Paschelke, Teresa Hanvey and Vikki Dancan; a son, Roger Jr.; seven grandchildren; and 14 great-grandchildren, the Giants said.
In looking back on his career, Craig shared wry memories of pitching for Casey Stengel’s Mets.
As he related it to CBS Sports in 2013, Stengel would tell him more or less the following: “Mr. Craig, 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.”
Interview: Patrick Stewart
“I acted Macbeth for exactly 365 days,” says the actor, whose new memoir is “Making It So.” “The role got into me so deeply it dominated my life at the time and caused me to drink too much alcohol after the performance was over. No other role I have played has affected me so profoundly.”
Can You Connect These Memorable Characters With Their Novels?
Welcome to Lit Trivia, the Book Review’s multiple-choice quiz designed to test your knowledge of books and their authors. This week’s installment asks you to identify memorable characters from mid-20th-century novels. After the last question, you’ll find a list of books highlighted in the quiz.
The Book Review Quiz Bowl appears on the Books page every week with a new topic. Click here for the archive of past quizzes.
Modern Masculinity Is Broken. She Knows How to Fix It.
With the arrival of her part memoir, part manifesto “How to Be a Woman” in 2011, Caitlin Moran established herself as one of her generation’s funniest and most fearless feminist voices. Moran, who is 48 and who first made her mark in the early 1990s as a wunderkind music journalist for British publications, has published four ribald and emotionally honest books of nonfiction and two novels since then and has continued to work as a columnist at The Times of London. Now, with her new book, “What About Men?” Moran turns her eye to what she sees as the limited and limiting discussions around modern masculinity. It’s a book she felt duty-bound to write. “All the women that I know on similar platforms,” Moran says, speaking about fellow writers, “we’re out there mentoring young girls and signing petitions and looking after the younglings. The men of my generation with the same platforms have not done that. They are not having a conversation about young men. So given that none of them have written a book that addresses this, muggins here is going to do it.”
There’s a lot of generalizing in your book when it comes to men: They’re obsessed with band T-shirts and emotionally inarticulate and constantly talking about their balls. Is it possible that relying so heavily on those kinds of jokey stereotypes and clichés risks undercutting the deeper points you’re trying to make about the need to open up possibilities for how we think and talk about masculinity? I’m a mainstream writer. If I’m going to start talking about a difficult idea, I want to approach it in the most successful way possible. You need to start with a generalization that is going to get people to go either, “Yes, I recognize myself in that,” or, “No, I don’t agree.” Maybe a lot of people are going, “Men are emotionally literate, they can talk to each other,” but I sat down to watch “The Bear,” which has been lauded everywhere, and it’s about men who can’t talk about their emotions. I see that as a far more clichéd depiction than anything that I’ve done in this book.
Part of the framing of your book is that there’s not enough discussion about young men’s struggling to adapt to changing ideas about masculinity. I feel as if that’s a big topic of conversation these days. So what is the fresh thinking that you’re bringing to it? Feminism has a stated objective, which is the political, social, sexual and economic equality of women. With men, there isn’t an objective or an aim. Because there isn’t, what I have observed is that the stuff that is getting the most currency is on the conservative side. Men going: “Our lives have gotten materially worse since women started asking for equality. We need to reset the clock. We need to have power over women again.” We are talking about the problems of women and girls at a much higher level than we are about boys and men. We need to identify the problems and work out what we want the future to look like for men in a way that women have already done for themselves.
You used to write a lot of celebrity profiles. Can you tell me a good anecdote about a famous person that you’ve never told before? The New York Times would never publish it. Absolutely filthy.
Try me. [Moran tells an epically filthy story about a British one-hit wonder from the 1990s.] You’re not printing that, are you?
How do you think the public discussion of feminism has changed since “How to Be a Woman”? I think the younger generation of feminists are even more open-minded and openhearted and sincere in what they do. But the downside is that a lot of the humor and the lightheartedness and the ability to ask a question about an idea has gone. The thing that I observe in younger women and activists is that they’re scared of going online and using the wrong word or asking the wrong question. As a result, we’re not having the free flow of ideas and questions that makes a movement optimal. We appear to have reinvented religion to a certain extent: the idea that there is a sentient thing watching you and that if you do something wrong, it will punish you. God is very much there in social media. I feel that having been born in an era before social media, I grew up godless, and it made me a lot freer than my daughters’ generation.
What’s an idea that people are afraid to talk about more openly? Trans issues. In the U.K., you are seen to be on one of two sides. It’s the idea that you could be a centrist and talk about it in a relaxed, humorous, humane way that didn’t involve two groups of adults tearing each other to pieces on the internet.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity from two conversations.
David Marchese is a staff writer for the magazine and the columnist for Talk. He recently interviewed Alok Vaid-Menon about transgender ordinariness, Joyce Carol Oates about immortality and Robert Downey Jr. about life after Marvel.
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