Former Tigers pitching coach and Giants’ manager Roger Craig dies at age 93

Bless You Boys

Roger Craig, whose 12 year major league career led into a long and storied career most notably as pitching coach for the Detroit Tigers and then as manager of the San Francisco Giants, died on Sunday at age 93 after a short illness, according to Giants spokesman.

Craig won three World Series rings as a player, and later became Sparky Anderson’s pitching coach in Detroit from 1980 to 1984, guiding the likes of Jack Morris, Dan Petry, and Guillermo “Willie” Hernandez to the club’s World Series title in 1984. He then went on to a successful managerial career with the San Francisco Giants.

Craig was a Durham, North Carolina native and became a multi-sport star in high school. He attended North Carolina State University on a basketball scholarship for one year before signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950 on a six-thousand dollar contract.

Craig was in the Dodgers’ farm system for two years before serving in the Army during the Korean War and missing the 1952 and 1953 seasons. The young right-hander returned in 1954 and reached the major leagues with a midseason call-up in 1955, debuting against the Cincinnati Redlegs at Ebbets Field. Craig posted a 2.78 ERA working as both a starter and a reliever that year, and pitched Game 5 of the 1955 World Series en route to the Dodgers winning their only title in Brooklyn.

The Dodgers famously left Brooklyn for Los Angeles for the 1958 season and Craig remained in the organization until 1962, winning another ring in 1959 before joining the New York Mets in 1962. He was the first pitcher to throw a pitch for the Mets in a major league game. In 1964, as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, Craig would win his third World Series ring.

Craig made 186 starts in his 12 year career, working as both a starter and a reliever. He compiled a record of 74-98 in that span, finishing with a career ERA of 3.83. Most notable in his repertoire was his split-fingered fastball. His mastery of that pitch became a notable element of his later career as a pitching coach.

After he retired following the 1966 season, Craig worked in the Dodgers organization until in 1969, he was hired as the first pitching coach for the new San Diego Padres organization. A second stint with the Dodgers organization was followed by years as the Houston Astros pitching coach in 1974-1975, and then again as the Padres pitching coach in 1976-1977.

In 1978, the Padres fired manager Alvin Dark, replacing him with Craig. That tenure lasted only two years until he too was fired, and new Detroit Tigers’ manager, Sparky Anderson, tapped Craig to become his pitching coach from 1980-1984.

Those years of course correspond to the development of one of the great baseball teams of all-time, the 1984 Detroit Tigers. Craig was instrumental in teaching Jack Morris his split-fingered fastball, and turned that group of pitchers into the force that helped bring the title to Detroit in ‘84. In the process he was instrumental in spreading the gospel of the splitter, which enjoyed a lot of popularity in the 80’s before concerns about arm health dialed back some of the enthusiasm. Presumably Mr. Craig was pleased by its recent renaissance.

Following the World Series run, Craig’s request for a raise was denied by Tigers’ owner Tom Monaghan, and he temporarily retired. That retirement didn’t last a full year, as he was hired to take over as manager of the San Francisco Giants late in the 1985 season.

The 1989 season was the most notable of his tenure, as the Giants won the National League pennant for the first time since 1962. The World Series was famously interrupted by the devastating Loma Prieta earthquake right before Game 3, tragically killing 63 people and injuring thousands more. The series was delayed for ten days, and the Giants were ultimately swept by the Oakland Athletics.

Craig held that position until 1992, when the Giants were sold and the new owners replaced him with Dusty Baker. Craig retired at that point, finishing his managerial career with a 738-737 record.

Tigers fans should consider offering a toast to one of the architects of the magical 1984 season.

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