Happy New Year, Humm Baby

In February, Humm-Baby will turn 81. I don’t want 2010, the year of the San Francisco Giants, to end without a tribute to Roger Craig who piloted the team from 1986 to 1992.

Under Craig’s direction and propelled by Will Clark (.333, 23 HRs and 111 RBIs) and Kevin Mitchell (.291, 47, 125), the 1989 Giants won the National League pennant.

But despite his managerial achievements, Craig is best remembered as a pitcher—particularly a pitcher for the early, pathetic New York Mets.

In the original expansion draft held on October 10 1961, Craig was a first pool, $75,000 pick. Despite being called “first pool,” the best players available were actually the “premium” level which cost the new franchises $125,000.

But since Craig had posted two decent seasons with Los Angeles in 1959 and 1960 (11-5, 2.06; 8-3, 3.27) by relying on the pitch he developed, the split fingered fastball, the Mets’ felt he was worth a shot.

In a sense, the Mets’ gamble paid off. During the Mets’ first two seasons Craig, as the staff’s “ace,” gave his team plenty of innings. In 1962 and 1963, Craig started 64 games and relieved in another 24 for a total of 469 innings pitched.

Unfortunately, since Craig toiled for the Mets’, he also racked up back to back seasons of 10-24 and 5-22. Craig became the first National League pitcher to lose 20 games in back to back seasons since Paul Derringer in 1933 and 1934 and the first New York hurler to have the same misfortune since Brooklyn’s Harry McIntyre in 1905 and 1906.

In 1963, Craig lost 22 consecutive games. On April 29, Craig beat the Dodgers for his second win of the young season. Craig didn’t win again until August 9 against the Chicago Cubs.

Sadly, despite trying everything including changing his uniform number from 38 to 13, Craig couldn’t catch a break. Of Craig’s 22 losses, five came by 1-0 scores. Finally, Craig got lucky. With the Cubs game tied at 3-3, a bottom of the ninth grand slam home run by Mets’ third baseman Jim Hickman took Craig out of his misery and put his record at 3-20.

Immediately, Craig’s sour luck returned. To put his season total at 22 losses, Craig was out dueled in his next two starts by the Houston Colt .45s’ Don Nottebart and the Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax by scores of—you guessed it—1-0.

When last heard from, Craig had retired to his horses at the Humm Baby Ranch in the Laguna Mountains northeast of San Diego. If you’re looking for Craig, just drive to the intersection of Humm Baby Way and Roger and Carolyn Place. Who knows? When you find him, maybe Craig will show you how to throw a split fingered fast ball.

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