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HomeBaseballRemembering Roger Craig, Guru of the Break up-Fingered Fastball (1930–2023)

Remembering Roger Craig, Guru of the Break up-Fingered Fastball (1930–2023)

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Throughout a profession in baseball that spanned over 40 years, Roger Craig was at varied factors a hotshot rookie who helped the Dodgers win their solely championship in Brooklyn, the primary and finest pitcher on an traditionally terrible Mets crew, the reply to a trivia query linking the Dodgers and Mets, a well-traveled pitching coach who formed a championship-winning Tigers workers, and a culture-changing, pennant-winning supervisor of the Giants. He was significantly beloved throughout the Giants household for his optimistic demeanor and the best way he shook the franchise out of the doldrums, although it was through his function as a trainer and evangelist of the split-fingered fastball — the pitch of the Nineteen Eighties, as Sports activities Illustrated and others usually referred to as it — that he left his biggest mark on the sport.

Craig didn’t invent the splitter, which owed its lineage to the forkball, a pitch that was standard within the Forties and ’50s, however he proved exceptionally adept at instructing it to anybody wanting to study, no matter crew. For the pitch, a pitcher splits his index and center fingers parallel to the seams, as in a forkball grip, however holds the ball additional away from the palm, and throws with the arm motion of a fastball. The ensuing pitch “drops down in entrance of the batter so quick he don’t know the place it’s goin’,” Craig advised Playboy in 1988. “To place it in layman’s phrases, it’s a fastball that’s additionally obtained the additional spin of a curveball.”

Given its sudden drop, the pitch was usually mistaken for a spitball, a lot in order that it was generally known as “a dry spitter.” It baffled hitters and helped flip journeymen into stars, and stars into superstars. After pioneering reliever Bruce Sutter rode the pitch to the NL Cy Younger Award in 1979, pitchers corresponding to Mike Scott, Mark Davis, Orel Hershiser, and Bob Welch both realized the pitch immediately from Craig, or from somebody Craig taught, and themselves took dwelling Cy Youngs within the Nineteen Eighties. Jack Morris, Ron Darling, and Dave Stewart received championships with the pitch, as did Hershiser. Years later, the likes of Roger Clemens, David Cone, Curt Schilling, and John Smoltz would discover related success with the pitch, although it will definitely fell out of vogue attributable to a perception that it triggered arm issues, an allegation that Craig hotly refuted.

Not that Craig was a hothead. Certainly, he was even-keeled, revered throughout the recreation for his positivity. Such traits have been mirrored within the tributes paid to him after he died on Sunday on the age of 93, after what his household stated was a brief sickness. “We’ve misplaced a legendary member of our Giants household.” Giants CEO Larry Baer stated in an announcement. “Roger was beloved by gamers, coaches, front-office workers and followers. He was a father determine to many and his optimism and knowledge resulted in among the most memorable seasons in our historical past.”

Will Clark, who debuted with the Giants in 1986, Craig’s first full season on the helm, and starred in the course of the the rest of his managerial run, paid tribute on Twitter:

Craig turned a pitching guru after a 12-year main league profession (1955–66) that included championships with the Dodgers in ’55 and ’59, expansion-driven agony with the Mets, and one other World Collection ring with the Cardinals in ’64 as he bounced across the league. For his profession, he went an unremarkable 74–98 with a 3.83 ERA (105 ERA+), his won-loss report weighed down by a mixed 15–46 mark in his two years with the Mets. At one level he set a report (since damaged) by dropping 18 selections in a row.

“Dropping was an incredible affect in shaping my pitching philosophy,” Craig wrote in Inside Pitch, an account of his championship-winning 1984 season with the Tigers. “I realized the worth of being aggressive, whatever the circumstances. I realized the worth of optimistic considering and the facility of vanity.”

Craig handed alongside these classes whereas serving as a pitching coach for the Padres, Astros, and Tigers from 1969 to ’84, a stretch that was interrupted by a two-year stint managing in San Diego. Although he didn’t anticipate to educate or handle once more after stepping down from his Tigers submit, he discovered himself piloting the Giants lower than a 12 months later, establishing a seven-year run that put the crew again on the baseball map.

Roger Lee Craig was born on February 17, 1930 in Durham, North Carolina, the eighth of 10 kids of John Thompson Craig, a touring shoe salesman, and his spouse Mamie Irene Craig, who labored because the housemother of a nursing dwelling. At Durham Excessive College, he performed shortstop — an anomaly as he grew to his full top of 6-foot-4 — and pitched. In 1949, throughout his senior 12 months of highschool, his mound work got here to the eye of Frank Rickey, a fowl canine scout whose extra well-known brother, Department Rickey, was the president and normal supervisor of the Dodgers. Although Craig initially headed to North Carolina State on a basketball scholarship, within the spring of 1950 he stop to signal with the Dodgers.

Craig started his profession with Newport Information of the Class B Piedmont League in 1950, however after strolling 23 batters in 19 innings, supervisor Al Campanis despatched him right down to Valdosta of the Class D Georgia-Florida League, the place he went 14–7 with a 3.13 ERA. He returned to Newport Information with higher success the next 12 months, overcoming an astronomical 7.1 walks per 9 to go 14–11 with a 3.67 ERA. Whereas spending 1952 and ’53 fulfilling his army service obligation at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, future main league catchers Ed Bailey, Frank Home, and Haywood Sullivan advised him his stuff was adequate for the majors.

Crossing paths with Campanis in 1954 triggered him one other setback. The day earlier than spring coaching, Craig fell and broke his left elbow whereas enjoying basketball. He hid the damage, merely sporting an ace bandage for a few weeks. Whereas he was doing one-handed pushups, a curious Campanis seen and provides his left arm a squeeze, exacerbating the fracture and placing him out of motion for awhile. After a disjointed season cut up between three groups, he moved as much as Triple-A Montreal of the Worldwide League in 1955, the place he went 10–2 with a 3.54 ERA in 117 innings. In July, the Dodgers referred to as him as much as be part of a workers that had helped the crew construct a commanding lead within the NL pennant race however was all of the sudden filled with sore arms; Carl Erskine, Billy Loes, Johnny Podres, and Karl Spooner have been all ailing.

Debuting within the opener of a doubleheader in opposition to the Reds on July 17, Craig pitched a complete-game three-hitter. Thereafter, supervisor Walter Alston moved Craig backwards and forwards between the rotation and bullpen, and he ranked among the many crew’s prime three in innings in July, August, and September. In 10 begins and 11 aid appearances, he went 5–3 with two saves and a 2.78 ERA in 90.2 innings.

The Dodgers received the pennant by 13 1/2 video games and as soon as once more confronted the Yankees within the World Collection, having misplaced to them 4 occasions within the earlier 14 seasons. In Recreation 5, with the groups tied at two video games apiece, Craig pitched six robust innings, permitting simply two runs; he departed with a 4–2 lead within the seventh after Bob Cerv homered and Elston Howard walked, with Clem Labine escaping the jam and ending the sport. The Dodgers received in seven video games behind Podres’ 2–0 shutout, giving them their solely championship whereas primarily based in Brooklyn.

Craig helped the Dodgers to a different pennant in 1956, going 12–11 with a 3.71 ERA (108 ERA+) in 199 innings. Dealing with the Yankees once more in Recreation 3 of the World Collection, he carried a 2–1 lead into the sixth however served up a three-run homer to Enos Slaughter and took the loss. In Recreation 7, he got here in out of the bullpen however didn’t retire any of the 5 batters he confronted because the Yankees blew the sport open.

Craig didn’t pitch effectively or usually in 1957, posting a 4.61 ERA in 13 begins and 19 aid appearances totaling 111.1 innings. Essentially the most notable second of his season — one for the trivia books — was his September 29 begin, which was not solely the ultimate recreation of the season, but additionally the final Brooklyn Dodgers recreation ever. It was additionally a turning level in Craig’s profession. On a chilly, damp day at Philadelphia’s Connie Mack Stadium, Craig threw seven innings of two-run ball, however skilled a pointy sensation in his shoulder. “One thing went ‘snap’ in there and I felt quite a lot of ache,” he later advised author Invoice Conlin. “I gritted my enamel and saved on pitching. I do know now it was the rotator cuff. However there was no such factor as a rotator cuff in 1957, no such factor as an arthroscope… I went out and pitched eight extra seasons within the huge leagues. And each pitch I threw harm like hell.”

With an ailing shoulder and a lacking fastball, Craig spent most of 1958 and a very good chunk of ’59 within the minors. He was sensible upon returning to the now Los Angeles-based Dodgers in mid-June of the latter season, going 11–5 with a 2.06 ERA in 152.2 innings and arising significantly huge in September because the Dodgers have been embroiled in a decent three-way race in opposition to the Braves and Giants. Over his last three begins, he received three consecutive full video games and allowed a complete of two runs, beating the Giants on September 19, shutting out the Cardinals 4 days later, and stifling the Cubs on the ultimate scheduled day of the common season, forcing a best-of-three playoff in opposition to the Braves that the Dodgers swept. His 4 shutouts (not together with a aid effort of 11 scoreless innings) tied for the NL lead, and he would have led in ERA as effectively had he thrown one other 1.1 innings to fulfill the qualification threshold. Within the World Collection in opposition to the White Sox, Craig began twice, getting chased early in Recreation 1 however throwing six scoreless innings in Recreation 4 earlier than getting tagged for 4 runs within the seventh. The Dodgers eked out a win nonetheless and took the collection in six.

Accidents and ineffectiveness restricted Craig to a complete of 228.1 innings in 1960 and ’61, and when the Dodgers left him unprotected within the growth draft, the Mets selected him. Supervisor Casey Stengel tabbed him because the crew’s Opening Day starter, and so forth April 11, 1962, he threw the primary pitch in franchise historical past, thus offering a bridge from the crew’s Brooklyn predecessors. He didn’t final lengthy that day, getting chased after permitting 5 runs in three innings to the Cardinals.

These Mets have been totally hapless, going 40–120 to set a modern-day report for losses in a season. Craig did what he may to maintain the crew from whole embarrassment as soon as each 4 or 5 days, going 10–24 with a 4.51 ERA (92 ERA+) in 233.1 innings. He led the NL in losses however was the one pitcher on the crew to submit a double-digit win whole; by bWAR, he tied Al Jackson for the crew lead with 3.0.

In Jimmy Breslin’s ebook on the 1962 season, Can’t Anyone Right here Play This Recreation?, Breslin described a Could 27 recreation in opposition to the Giants wherein Craig twice picked off Orlando Cepeda solely to have first baseman Ed Bouchee drop each throws. Earlier than the second, Craig knocked Willie Mays down, then hit Cepeda within the ribs with a pitch. As Craig failed to choose Mays off second, Mays spiked second baseman Elio Chacon, opening a wound that may require 10 stitches. Chacon punched Mays and was body-slammed to the bottom, and Cepeda and Craig brawled as effectively. Chacon was the one one to exit; after play ensued, Bouchee’s second dropped pickoff try led to 2 unearned runs, breaking the sport open. “You possibly can’t win the sport,” Craig later advised Breslin. “You go on the market figuring out that. So that you strive more durable. Attempt too onerous, it normally seems. You’re on the market concentrating so onerous that the very first thing you do is make a mistake.”

The losses continued for Craig and the Mets, as he led the NL once more in 1963, going 5–22 with a 3.78 ERA. From Could 4 via August 4, he went 0–18 with a 4.16 ERA; in 5 of the losses, the Mets have been shut out, whereas in 5 extra, they scored only one run. Mercifully, in November, Craig was traded to St. Louis for outfielder George Altman and righty Invoice Wakefield. Splitting his time between the bullpen and the rotation, he went 7–9 with 5 saves and a 3.25 ERA in 166 innings, serving to the Cardinals win the pennant. Within the extra notable of his two World Collection appearances in opposition to the Yankees, he entered Recreation 4 within the first inning, after starter Ray Sadecki surrendered hits to the primary 4 batters and fell behind 2–0. Although Craig allowed one of many two inherited runners to attain, he pitched 4.2 innings with out permitting one other run. Changed by a pinch-hitter within the prime of the sixth, he was nonetheless the pitcher of report when Ken Boyer’s ensuing grand slam supplied all of the scoring the Cardinals wanted to even the collection at two video games apiece. The Cardinals received in seven.

Craig spent two extra years within the majors, one with the Reds (to whom he was traded in December 1964) and one with the Phillies, however he was hardly finished with baseball. After he spent 1967 scouting for the Dodgers, the crew employed the 38-year-old to handle their Double-A Albuquerque crew the next 12 months. Overseeing a pitching workers that included longtime huge leaguers Charlie Hough and Fred Norman, he led the crew to a 70–69 report and a second-place end within the West Division of the Texas League.

Craig returned to the majors in 1969, starting a decade-and-a-half lengthy odyssey as a coach and supervisor. He spent 1969–72 because the pitching coach of the growth Padres beneath managers Preston Gomez and Don Zimmer, although he was supplanted by Podres, who was shut with the latter. After spending 1973 as a minor league pitching coach for the Dodgers, he rejoined Gomez, who was managing the Astros, in ’74–75, then returned to the Padres for ’76–77 beneath managers John McNamara and Al Darkish.

In 1978, Craig took the reins himself after the overly controlling Darkish — who banned alcohol on crew flights and arrange Bible examine for the gamers — was fired throughout spring coaching. Overseeing a squad that featured future Corridor of Famers Dave Winfield, Ozzie Smith (then a 23-year-old rookie), Gaylord Perry (who would win that 12 months’s NL Cy Younger at age 39), and Rollie Fingers, plus 1976 NL Cy Younger winner Randy Jones, Craig guided the crew to an 84–78 report, its first end above .500. However when the crew backslid to 68–93 the next 12 months, he obtained the axe.

Whereas with the Padres, Craig crossed paths with Sutter and Cubs roving minor league pitching teacher Fred Martin. It was Martin, who spent three of his 20-some skilled seasons within the majors, who had taught Sutter the split-fingered fastball in 1973, when he was on the verge of being launched by the crew’s Class A affiliate. Throwing the splitter 90% of the time, Sutter went on to turn into one of many recreation’s prime relievers upon reaching the majors in 1976, making six All-Star groups, profitable the NL Cy Younger award in ’79 (and ending among the many prime 5 three different occasions), serving to the Cardinals win the World Collection in ’82, and getting inducted into the Corridor of Fame in 2006.

In Roger Kahn’s 2000 ebook Head Video games, Sutter advised Kahn that he and Martin taught Craig the pitch:

“I used to be the man who confirmed Roger Craig methods to throw a splitter… Craig was pitching coach for San Diego. Fred Martin was there with me on the main league membership that day, and on the sideline there I confirmed Roger methods to throw it. Then Fred spent a while speaking to him about it. I’m positive Roger got here up with modifications, but it surely was Fred Martin and I who confirmed him the pitch.”

If Sutter’s recollection is right, the assembly should have dated to 1976 or extra seemingly ’77, when Craig was nonetheless a pitching coach and Sutter within the midst of his first All-Star season, that includes a 1.34 ERA and 31 saves. That timeline jibes with reporting that Craig taught the pitch to a number of Padres pitchers whereas he was managing (although Perry was stated to have been throwing a splitter in addition to a forkball within the early Nineteen Seventies, each of which mimicked the unpredictable dives of his signature spitballs). Craig himself supplied an alternate historical past to Sports activities Illustrated’s Ron Fimrite in 1986. In that account, within the winter of 1979–80 whereas teaching youngsters on the San Diego College of Baseball, the 50-year-old Craig realized to throw the pitch himself. “I used to be looking for a breaking pitch that these children may throw that wouldn’t put a pressure on their arms… I remembered that on the finish of my very own profession I’d tried all the pieces, together with a forkball.”

Wrote Fimrite: “In his college, Craig discovered that if he used a variation of the forkball grip, holding the ball farther away from the palm, and threw with a fastball movement, unusual and great issues occurred.” Extra:

Craig defines three phases within the improvement of the split-finger. Within the first, the pitch turns into extra of a straight change-up, which, since it’s thrown with fastball arm pace, makes it complicated sufficient. Within the second, the pitch develops a knuckle-ball or forkball flutter — efficient actually, however not as lethal because the crash-dive impact it achieves within the last stage when it tumbles from the cut up fingers searching for all of the world like a fastball down the center.

Throughout the 1979–80 offseason, Craig was employed to be the Tigers’ pitching coach, thus reuniting him with supervisor Sparky Anderson, who had coached the 1969 Padres earlier than being employed to handle the Reds, whom he led to 4 pennants and two championships in a nine-year run. Anderson claimed to not like or perceive pitchers, however in Craig, he had a sidekick who did. Craig taught the splitter first to righty Milt Wilcox in 1981; Morris took up the pitch after receiving a grip tip from Wilcox within the bullpen in ’82. All of a sudden all of it clicked into place. “So I threw about three extra and the fourth one was simply — whomp, straight down,” Morris advised Tyler Kepner for his ebook Okay: A Historical past of Baseball in Ten Pitches. “And instantly I’m going, ‘Holy shit, that is like dishonest. If I get this down, there ain’t no one alive gonna hit it.’ And two begins later, I used to be throwing it in video games.” Rotation-mates Dan Petry and Juan Berenguer picked up the pitch as effectively, and in 1984, they helped the Tigers to 104 wins and a World Collection victory over the Padres, of all groups. Morris and Wilcox mixed for 3 of the 4 wins.

The Tigers’ success with the pitch prompted Astros supervisor Bob Lillis to ship Scott to Craig. Scott, a 29-year-old righty, was coming off a season wherein he’d gone 5–11 with a 4.68 ERA (71 ERA+) for the Astros, and had been beneath substitute degree for his six-year profession. For a price, he spent eight days with Craig, realized the splitter, and revitalized his profession. He went 18–8 with a 3.29 ERA (105 ERA+) in 1985, which helped internet him a three-year, $2 million contract. The next 12 months, he went 18–10 with a 2.22 ERA and 306 strikeouts in 275.1 innings; these final three stats all led the NL, and he narrowly beat out Fernando Valenzuela for the Cy Younger. He helped the Astros to the NL West title and befuddled the Mets (his former crew) to such an extent in the course of the 1986 NLCS (when he walked one, allowed one run and struck out 19 in two complete-game victories) that they accused him of scuffing baseballs. A 12 months later, Craig echoed the cost, saying, “I do know the place he hides his sandpaper.”

Scott was removed from the one high-profile practitioner of the splitter within the 1986 postseason. Each starters of the World Collection opener, the Mets’ Darling and Boston’s Bruce Hurst, featured the pitch; the latter would have been the World Collection MVP if not for Invoice Buckner’s notorious error in Recreation 6. Talking of October heartbreak: Angels nearer Donnie Moore, whose life took a tragic flip within the wake of his failure to safe what would have been the pennant-clinching out in ALCS Recreation 5, realized the pitch from Martin whereas within the Cubs’ system.

At a 30-year reunion of the Dodgers’ 1955 champions, Craig confirmed the split-finger grip to Ron Perranoski, who wasn’t a part of that squad however was the Dodgers’ present pitching coach. He taught the pitch to Hershiser, Welch, Tom Niedenfuer and Jerry Reuss. Hershiser went on to win the 1988 NL Cy Younger and led the Dodgers to a championship; Welch received the 1990 AL Cy Younger for the World Collection-winning A’s.

As Craig shared his knowledge with the likes of Scott and Perranoski, little did he know that he’d be creating issues for himself. The Tigers’ 1984 victory gave Craig his fourth World Collection ring. Weary of the touring that teaching entailed, he retired because the crew’s pitching coach and declined a proposal to return to San Diego in that capability. He spent most of 1985 scouting NL groups for the Tigers however in September accepted a proposal to handle the Giants, who have been en path to a 100-loss season and fired each normal supervisor Tom Haller and supervisor Jim Davenport. The Giants went 6–12 beneath Craig, who together with new normal supervisor Al Rosen acknowledged the necessity for a cultural change on a crew that had virtually institutionalized a defeatist angle in direction of chilly Candlestick Park and its personal aggressive possibilities — comprehensible given sub-.500 finishes in 10 of the earlier 12 seasons and an absence from the playoffs since 1971. Craig “advised his gamers to zipper up their jackets and zipper up their mouths. No complaining about frosty circumstances, he stated,” wrote United Press Worldwide’s Mike Barnes.

With a signature line that turned each a rallying cry and a nickname — “Humm Child” — Craig’s everlasting optimism received the Giants over, and a proficient youth motion didn’t harm both. With a pair of rookies, first baseman Clark and second baseman Robby Thompson, becoming a member of the lineup in 1986, and with Craig instructing the splitter to his pitching workers, the crew went 83–79, a 21-game enchancment. The following 12 months, Clark emerged as a famous person, Kevin Mitchell arrived through a blockbuster commerce with the Padres (who acquired Davis, who would blossom right into a Cy Younger-winning reliever), and the pitching workers allowed the fewest runs within the league. The Giants received 90 video games and the NL West flag however misplaced a seven-game NLCS to the Cardinals.

San Francisco dipped to 83 wins in 1988 however rebounded to 92 wins in ’89, with Mitchell clouting 47 homers, Clark delivering an MVP-caliber season, and Rick Reuschel and NL ERA chief Scott Garrelts anchoring the the rotation. The Giants beat the Cubs in a five-game NLCS, sending them to their first World Collection since 1962. Alas, they have been swept by the A’s in a collection that was interrupted by the Loma Prieta earthquake, which registered 6.9 on the Richter scale, killed 67 folks, and triggered over $5 billion in injury. It struck simply half an hour earlier than Recreation 3 was to start out and delayed the collection by 10 days.

Earlier than the quake, Sports activities Illustrated’s Peter Gammons wrote, “With each pitching staffs mixing the split-finger closely into their repertoires, the Battle of the Bay rapidly turned the Fracas of the Forkball,” referring as a lot to a semantic beef between Craig and A’s pitching coach Dave Duncan, who had taught starters Stewart and Mike Moore the splitter however referred to it because the forkball. By any title, the pair every received two video games, so environment friendly that Welch and Storm Davis, their different two splitter-throwing starters, by no means even pitched.

Craig spent three extra years on the helm with diminishing returns. He retired following the 1992 season, as Giants proprietor Bob Lurie offered to the Peter Magowan group, which saved the crew in San Francisco after a Tampa Bay group was poised to purchase the franchise and relocate it. Hitting coach Dusty Baker took over as supervisor, and the crew signed free agent Barry Bonds, ushering in a brand new period of Giants baseball, one which owed an awesome debt to the transformation wrought by Craig.

In retirement, Craig stayed away from baseball till 2001, when Bob Brenly, who had succeeded Buck Showalter as supervisor of the Diamondbacks, invited him to spring coaching; Brenly had caught for the Giants in the course of the first a part of Craig’s tenure (1985–88) and served as his first base coach in his last 12 months. Craig supplied to show the splitter to the Arizona pitchers save for Randy Johnson, who was within the midst of a run of 4 straight Cy Youngs. “Him, I advised to not study it,” he joked. When the Diamondbacks received the World Collection that 12 months, Brenly gave Craig one other ring.

Within the years after Craig’s last hurrah, the split-fingered fastball declined in recognition due partly to the assumption that it triggered arm accidents; within the pitch-tracking period, it has accounted for lower than 2% of all choices, and even one of many pitch’s most profitable practitioners, Shohei Ohtani, downplayed it in favor of a cutter. A number of pitchers reported that the repeated spreading of the fingers triggered them elbow and forearm ache. Darling, for one, expressed the assumption that the pitch shortened his profession, however different practitioners corresponding to Clemens, Morris, Schilling, Stewart, and Chuck Finley pushed their careers to the sting of 40 or previous it. Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Glenn Fleisig, who has made a profession of learning arm accidents in pitchers, advised Kepner there was no scientific knowledge to counsel that the splitter was inherently harmful. Craig believed that forkballers “put [the ball] so deep they put some stress in your arm. However the split-finger, if you happen to throw it proper, the best way I taught it, you would possibly harm your arm — however you would possibly harm your arm throwing a rock,” he advised Kepner.

Nonetheless, the pitch has its acolytes, and as long as it stays part of pitchers’ arsenals, the title Roger Craig, and the historical past of the providing’s rise — and sudden drop — will probably be remembered.



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