Not that he’s going into this job blind, but new San Francisco manager Roger Craig had to ask a Giant clubhouse attendant to direct him to the field for batting practice. Upon arrival, he was greeted by a gust, and still said: “What a great ballpark. What more could you want?”
How about a baseball team? The Giants are so bad, they use Little League baseballs for batting practice. That’s right, it says “Little League” right on the ball. The Giants do this, of course, to save money, considering Little League baseball balls cost a whole $2.25 less than major- league baseball.
Nonetheless, Craig led the Giants to a victory in his debut as San Francisco defeated the Padres, his former employer, 9-6 Wednesday night in Candlestick Park. He probably winced at the 11 walks allowed by Giant pitchers, but Bob Brenly and Rob Deer hit home runs, the Padres committed two run-scoring errors and Joe Youngblood’s pinch-hit, two-run double in the seventh to seal it.
“I’ll teach them how to win,” Craig had said earlier in the day. “I’m a winner. I have four World Series rings in four different cities (Brooklyn in 1955, Los Angeles in 1959, St. Louis in 1964 and Detroit in 1984). You know, that might be a good trivia question. But if they can go out every night and bust their butts for three hours, that’s all I can ask. Listen, I’ll try to win all 18 games remaining.”
Unfortunately, San Francisco probably needs a new team more than new attitude. But you must start somewhere, and this is what team owner Bob Lurie has done, hiring Craig as his manager and Al Rosen as his general manager. Former Manager Jim Davenport sat cleaning out his office as Wednesday’s press conference progressed upstairs, as Lurie was telling the media how glad he was to see them, that he liked full houses and hadn’t had many this year.
Then, Rosen stood and said: “I’m tired of seeing major league baseball players hit a ground ball to a second baseman and run 45 feet. If they can’t run 90 feet, they can’t run 45 for me.”
At just about that moment, Davenport had to watch a special report on his office television: Giants Manager Jim Davenport has been replaced with former San Diego manager Roger Craig. He said: “Guess that makes it official.”
And the average San Franciscan had to be saying: “What? Doesn’t Roger Craig play running back for the 49ers?”
Funny, they both wear No. 33, too. The elder Craig, though, is a “baseball lifer,” as they say, a former pitcher who is a master of the split-fingered fastball. He taught himself that pitch at the age of 50 (“I was just messing around with it”), and has since taught it to guys such as Houston’s Mike Scott. It must be a tough pitch to learn, because he teaches it to 14 and 15-year olds at the “San Diego School of Baseball.”
“Tomorrow, I’m going to have a pitcher come out who hasn’t thrown it, and show him how,” Craig said. “The others will see how easy it is.”
And Craig already has made a good first impression with most of the Giants, most of whom he met for the first time at a pregame meeting. He told them there’d be no drinking on team flights (“I like to have a beer like anybody, but if you can’t wait three, four hours for a drink, you’ve got a problem”). Also, he told them to be on time and told them how to wear their uniforms. For instance, Jeff Leonard, who has a fascination with wearing his hat turned backwards, can’t do it any longer. Only catchers can do that now.
Still, when the meeting was over, he shook each of their hands one by one and spoke to them, too.
They went out and won for him, too.
Basically, he’s a player’s manager, who has enough sense to install rules. He managed the Padres for the first time in 1978, replacing Alvin Dark in spring training that year. He led them to an 84-78 season, their best ever at the time. Tim Flannery remembers that Craig was the one who brought him up from the minors, but he wouldn’t let Flannery play his guitar at a Yuma, Ariz., nightclub. Kurt Bevacqua played for him and remembered Craig hopping in a van with seven or eight players, guzzling beers and buying them all dinner.
“I never had thought about managing,” Craig said Wednesday. “I enjoyed coaching, and I still do. When Bob Fontaine (then Padre GM) called me and asked, I almost had a heart attack. But, I’m better prepared now. I’ve learned from Sparky (Anderson, Detroit manager), and I’ve matured. I will do a good job. I know I will.”
In 1979, however, Rollie Fingers, who had saved 37 games the previous year, saved just 12. Middle relief failed. He was fired the next to last day of the season (in San Francisco, of all places) and was replaced by broadcaster Jerry Coleman. He’d essentially been ruined by such a great season the year before.
Off he went to Detroit, where he was pitching coach until this season. He left (A) because of a contract squabble (B) because he wanted to get closer to home.
“I got tired of being away from California,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s San Francisco or Chula Vista, it’s a good place to live.”
He was ready to help Padre minor leaguers this year in his spare time, but Detroit called and asked if he’d work with theirs. Out of loyalty, he accepted. But he’s basically spent his time building a log cabin on a 41-acre spread between Julian and Warner Springs and riding horses.
When the Giants called, he accepted only because they were so enthusiastic about him. They told him he was their only choice to replace Davenport. “Al (Rosen) told me: ‘I would’ve walked to San Francisco (from Houston) to get you,”’ Craig said. “I’m so enthused. It’s the happiest day of my life.”
Still, he walked out of that dugout Wednesday to an empty Candlestick Park, and, eventually, only 2,668 would show up.
“I’m going to be their leader,” he said. “I know how to win. And I’ll show them how . . . Excuse me, I’ve got to go talk to my catcher (Bob Brenly).”
The loss dropped the Padres (72-73) below the .500 mark for the first time since opening day.