Roger Craig: Pitcher Who Started the First Game In Mets History & Teacher of the Split Finger Fastball (1962 - 1963)

Roger Lee Craig was born February 17, 1930, in Durham, North Carolina. He was one of ten children to John & Irene Craig.

The tall six-foot four right hander was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950. He spent two seasons in the minors winning 14 games each year & then went off for two years of Military Service during the Korean Way. 

MLB Career: Craig arrived at Ebbett's Field in Brooklyn in July 1955 earning a complete game win in his debut against the Reds. He started out 3-0 that month with two complete games. 

Overall, for 1955 Dodgers championship team he was 5-3 with two saves, posting a 2.78 ERA pitching in 21 games. 

1955 World Series: In the 1955 World Series he got the win in Game #3 at Ebbett's Field, pitching six innings allowing two runs on four hits while striking out four. He gave up a 4th inning RBI single to Billy Martin & a 7th inning lead off HR to Bob Cerv. That year Brooklyn went wild as the Dodgers won their only World Series title while playing in the borough.

The night of his World Seres win he was on a TV show with boxer Floyd Patterson. He ate at Jack Dempsey's Restaurant & Dempsey came out to talk with them. His brother pointed out Roger's name in lights on Broadway for his win.

Craig came back & had a good start to the 1956 season, going 8-2 by July 1st with a 3.06 ERA. By the end of the month, he was a ten-game winner but the rest of the year he struggled finishing at 12-11 with a 3.71 ERA, striking out 109 batters in 199 innings pitched, tossing eight complete games with two shut outs. 

1956 World Series: The Dodgers won another pennant that year & Craig got two starts in the World Series. On October 3rd, he got the start in the Bronx for Game #3, where he took a 5-3 loss to Whitey Ford. Craig gave up HRs to Billy Martin & Enos Slaughter.

He came in relief in the Game #7 at Ebbett's Field with the Dodgers down 5-0. He gave up a grand slam HR to Moose Skowron in the 9-0 loss.

After the Pennants: He dropped to a losing record during the Dodgers last season in Brooklyn in 1957, going 6-9 making 19 appearances in relief while starting just 13 games. 

Move To the Wes Coast: As the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958, Craig got the start in the sixth game of their first long, 19 game home stand. He allowed seven earned runs & spent most of the year at AAA St. Paul where he went 5-17 returning to L.A. that September. 

In 1959 he began the year at AAA Spokane joining the Dodgers in mid June. He won his first four decisions & in the fourth win pitched 11 shutout innings of three hit ball against Milwaukee Braves. 

Craig was 6-2 with a 1.82 ERA by the end of July & would have his best season, going 11-5 with a 2.06 ERA, while leading the league with four shut outs. 

1959 World Series:
The Dodgers won the team's first pennant while playing in Los Angeles, as Craig got to pitch in his third World Series that year, facing off against the Chicago “Go Go” Sox. 

In Game #1 Craig was the losing pitcher, not getting past the 3rd inning allowing five runs, including a HR to two run to Ted Kluszewski.

He had another rough outing in Game #4, in front of a record 92,000 fans at the L.A. Coliseum. Craig allowed four runs on ten hits, in seven innings of work, getting no decision. The Dodgers did go on to win the Series and earn their first Championship in Los Angeles. 

Craig spent two more seasons in L.A. pitching in both relief & as a starter. 

Mets Career: In the 1961 expansion draft, Craig was the sixth player chosen going to the New York Mets. 

Although he was an original Met, it wasn't all pretty, in fact Craig spent two seasons with the Mets and lost twenty games in each season, leading the league in losses both times. 

Two days before the first game in Mets history, Craig was warming up & twisted his ankle. He kept it a secret from his manager Casey Stengel but confided in his roommate Hobie Landrith. 

Quotes- Roger Craig: He looked back on the 50th Anniversary of the 1962 team in 2012: “I told Hobie, ‘I’m not going to tell anybody, because I want to pitch that first game.’ The trainer taped it up and it didn’t bother me too much. I remember thinking, ‘I waited a long time and worked too hard to be an Opening Day pitcher and now I might lose it.’ If Casey would have known, he wouldn’t have let me pitch.”

First Game in Mets History: But Craig was the starting pitcher in the very first game in Mets history on April 11, 1962, at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. He never reached the 4th inning & allowed five runs on eight hits as the Mets lost their first game 11-4. In his second game he allowed five earned runs to the Pittsburgh Pirates taking loss number two. 

On April 27th he finished off a 8-6 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, allowing three runs, taking another loss. The next day he came in to pitch three innings of relief against Philadelphia, earning his first Mets win when Jim Hickman hit an 8th inning HR. 

 On May 15th he pitched in relief of an extra inning game against the Chicago Cubs, earning a win when Hobie Landrith drew a walk off bases loaded walk from Cal Koonce. 

On June 6th, he pitched eight innings allowing just two runs to the Phillies but earned no decision as Cal McLish shut out the Mets 2-0. 

In his next start on June 10th, he pitched into the 9th inning, allowing just one run to the Cubs at Wrigley Field, earning the win over Dick Ellsworth 2-1. 

On June 19th, he pitched a complete game at Shea Stadium beating the Milwaukee Braves 6-5 striking out five allowing a HR to Eddie Mathews. 

Craig went 1-7 in July although he allowed three runs or less four times. His only victory came at the Polo Grounds on July 6th when he beat Ray Sadecki & the Cardinals. 

On August 4th he pitched a complete game one run victory over the Cincinnati Reds, striking out seven batters. In his next start he pitched another complete game, a two-run performance against the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park.  In his next two starts he gave up a season high seven runs in both outings falling to 7-19.

On August 21st, he came in relief in the 9th inning with the Mets ahead 6-4. He inherited two runners, then after an error at third base by Felix Mantilla that allowed three runs to score, he walked Bill Mazeroski intentionally then he gave up an RBI to Diomedes Olivo taking a loss, to reach twenty on the season.
In September he actually won three straight decisions, including another complete game on September 16th. It must be noted that Craig actually led the 1962 Mets team in most pitching categories. 

He led the staff in wins (10) strike outs (118) innings (233) complete games (13) as well as losses, 24- which also led the N.L. He gave up 35 HRs 261 hits & allowed 117 earned runs posting a 4.51 ERA. 

1963: The next season he started out 0-2 with a save and then pitched two consecutive complete game victories at the end of April. But they would be last two wins he would have for the next four months as he would begin a record setting losing streak.

On May 4th he gave up nine runs (six earned) & lost to the San Francisco Giants. Things just got worse from there, as he lost an incredible 18 straight decisions. He did not win another game until August 8th. Manager Casey Stengel gave him strange words of encouragement telling Craig; “You gotta be good to lose that many”. 

#13: Craig kept his sense of humor throughout the streak, changing his uniform number from 38 to 13. 

His worst month was July as he went 0-7, beginning with a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to the Cubs in Chicago. On the next home stand, he lost a nine-inning outing to Bob Miller & the Los Angeles Dodgers allowing just two earned runs. 

He then a horrible day where he allowed five runs to the Astros in Houston, where he exited the game before the 1st inning ended allowing five runs. 

On the road he lost #17 in San Francisco, one where he started getting knocked out in the 2nd inning after giving up seven runs (four earned) & one in relief. 

On July 27th he allowed just one run in Houston, on a HR to John Bateman but he lost the game 1-0 as Bob Bruce shut out the Mets & Hal Woodeshick closed the door.

On August 4th he allowed just one earned run to the Braves in six innings on Eddie Mathews HR, the Mets offense couldn't help him again & he took his twentieth loss of the season, his 18th losing decision in a row. 

The woeful Mets team went 4-20 during Craig’s losing streak, but again in his defense his personal ERA was just at 3.90 at the end of the streak. He had only gone above an ERA of four one time in the stretch. 

Victory! On Augsut 9th, the streak finally ended. The Mets scored seven runs for him as he took a 7-3 victory over the Cubs at the Polo Grounds.

He wouldn’t get another decision until the end of the month when he beat the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the final two months of the season, he pitched mostly out of the bullpen and although he blew one save on September 1st, he earned three straight wins after he broke the famous losing streak. 

Craig finished the season at 5-22 with two saves & a 3.78 ERA. He pitched fourteen complete games allowing 99 runs in 236 innings pitched. To his credit Craig pitched 27 complete games in his two Mets seasons, but only won 15 of them, losing eleven of them by shut out. 

Traded: On November 4, 1963, he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for George Altman and Bill Wakefield.

Quotes- Roger Craig in 2012: “Some reporter asked me this year, ‘Are you proud of your

(Mets pitching) record?’ I said, ‘No, I’m not proud, but I’m not ashamed of it.’ Losing a lot, it really helped me when I was a pitching coach and a manager,” says Craig. “It really helped me relate to people that were in slumps and pitchers who were having trouble. 

We had a lot of great players; we had Richie Ashburn & Frank Thomas who could still hit a few home runs (he hit 34). We had Gil Hodges; on paper we had a decent pitching staff and a decent ball club. It just didn’t work out that way.”

Post Mets Career: He went from the worst team in baseball to the best team, as the 1964 Cardinals went on to win the World Series. Craig was 7-9 with five saves posting a 3.19 ERA. 

1964 World Series: He saw action in two games of the 1964 World Series win over the AL New York club. In Game #2 at St. Louis, he came in relief in the 9th inning, striking out Mel Stottlemyre for the final out of a four run inning. The Cards lost the game 8-3.

In Game #4 he came in relief of Ray Sadecki & pitched 4.2 scoreless innings earning the win over Al Downing.

World Series Career: Craig played in four different World Series (winning three of them)
pitching in seven Series games going 2-2 with 6.49 ERA. 

Craig was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 1965, where he pitched 40 games going 1-4 with three saves. He was released & signed with the Philadelphia Phillies for the 1966 season going 2-1 with a 5.56 ERA in 14 relief appearances, finishing out his pitching career. 

Career Stats: Over 12 seasons Craig was 74-98 with 19 saves, striking out 803 batters walking 522 in 1536 innings pitched. He pitched 368 games making 186 starts & finishing off 79 games. He threw 58 complete games with seven shut outs posting a 3.83 ERA. 

Retirement- Managing Career: After his playing days Craig became a very successful pitching coach & manager. 

Split Finger Fastball: Although Craig says Bruce Sutter invented the split finger fastball, it was Roger Craig who taught it to many successful pitchers. He is credited with perfecting it as well.

The pitch is a cousin to the forkball which is thrown closer to the fingertips as the split finger is thrown from the back of the hands near the webbing. 

Quotes- Roger Craig: "the key to it is you throw it like a fastball. You don't try to turn it over or cut it."

He taught if first to Milt Wilcox, then Hall of Famer Jack Morris & Mike Scott. Many of the pitchers on his Giants staff, as well as Tigers staff also threw it.

He began his successful run as one of baseball’s best pitching coaches in San Diego with the Padres from 1969 through 1972. 

He moved on to the Houston Astros from 1974-1976 & then was named the San Diego Padres manager, serving two seasons (1978-1979). He then went to the Detroit Tigers as the team’s pitching coach from 1980–1984, with his staff winning the 1984 World Series. 

In 1985 he left to coach the San Francisco Giants, later that year with only 15 games left in the season he replaced Jim Davenport as manager. From 1986-1990 the Giants never had a losing record under Craig. 

In 1987 his team went 90-72 getting to the NLCS where they lost to the Cardinals in seven games. Two years later they won the NL West again with a 92-70 record.
His favorite expression “hum baby” became the teams rally cry.

1989 World Series: In 1989 the Giants won the N.L. pennant, beating the Chicago Cubs, whose manager was his old Mets & Dodger teammate Dom Zimmer.  The Giants went up against their cross-Bay rivals, the mighty Oakland A’s. The 1989 World Series will forever be remembered for the devastating earthquake which rocked the Bay area. The Athletics beat the Giants in four straight games when the Series resumed. 

Crag remained the Giants manager through the 1992 season, after the new ownership took over, he was dismissed as manager. In his time with the Giants, he posted a 586-566 record with two divisional titles & one pennantsOverall, in his managerial career he is 738-737.

 He & his wife Carolyn were married in 1951. They have five children & celebrated 70 years together in 2021.

Honors: He has had many honors with his Brooklyn Dodger & San Francisco Giants pasts. But in 2012 the Mets brought him back to Citi Field to throw a ceremonial first pitch commemorating him being the starter in the first game in Mets history.

Passing: Roger passed away in June 2023 at age 93.


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