You can picture the scene.
You can picture the scene.
The minor-league manager, a former big-leaguer himself and a baseball guy to the core, calls the young pitcher into his cramped, dingy office.
The kid steps over and around used towels, his cleats clicking on the cement. There's a stench. Dirt and sweat, mold and mildew, too familiar to notice right now. Maybe something else. A hint of fear, perhaps. After all, the skipper wants to see him.
Roger Craig was a rangy right-hander trying to come back from a shoulder injury. He'd already helped the Brooklyn Dodgers to their only World Series championship, but that mattered little now. Max Macon ran this team, and he had other, younger prospects in need of innings.
The surroundings weren't fresh, but the memory is.
"He said, 'Son, you should think about going back to college,'" Craig recalls. "'You're never going to get back to the major leagues.'"
Macon had been told to send Craig to the mound every four days, build his arm strength. The manager tried. Now there were these other kids, with live arms and big promise.
"I was losing some games, but I felt like I was on the right track," says Craig. "I was only 26 or 27. I said, 'You've got a couple doubleheaders coming up, why don't you let me pitch them?' "
Two turns and two shutouts later, the Dodgers called Craig back to The Show.
That was 1958, the first of another nine years for him in the bigs.
"That was the turning point in my career," he says. "That was the most motivational speech I ever had."
Craig is 78 now. He spent three decades as a pitcher, coach and manager in the majors and has been around the diamond most of his life. If anyone knows baseball's spectrum, it's him.
With the Dodgers, there were Hall of Fame teammates at nearly every position. Then it was on to the expansion New York Mets, who would become metaphors for malady, footnotes of folly.
One season Craig came within a few outs of winning the National League ERA crown. Another, he set records for losing.
From posed photographs and grainy, black-and-white highlight-reel footage — Technicolor was tech-nowhere — to ESPN, interleague play and wild cards.
"It was a great career," says Craig. "I always tell people I did something I would have done for nothing and got paid for it."
Craig is several years removed from the game, having most recently served as a consultant for former players Bob Brenly and Alan Trammell as they took on managerial roles in recent years with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Detroit Tigers, respectively.
He lives in San Diego with Carolyn, his wife of nearly 57 years, and fills the baseball void with family and golf.
But he has plenty of stories and lots of mementos, not the least of which are World Series championship rings from five cities: as a player from the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, '59 Los Angeles Dodgers and '64 St. Louis Cardinals; as a pitching coach from the '84 Tigers; and as a consultant from the 2001 Diamondbacks.
Brenly gave him the latter, and Craig protested, especially after he learned his former catcher from the San Francisco Giants, who Craig managed from 1985-92, had shelled out the $9,000 himself.
"I said, 'You're crazy,'" says Craig, "and he said it's not so much what I did that year but how I trained him to become a major league manager."
Craig's own learning process began years earlier.
CRAIG GREW UP in Durham, N.C., the heart of basketball country, and was recruited to North Carolina State for that sport. But he liked baseball more and, after one year, dropped out of school to play professionally.
He landed in the Dodgers' organization in an era when it boasted some of the game's greatest players. He was first called up in July 1955, just weeks after teenage phenom Sandy Koufax.
In their clubhouse they had Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine and Johnny Podres.
"It was quite a thrill just to walk in there," says Craig. "I said to myself, 'What am I doing here?' "
He was pitching.
The first time he saw a big-league game, he was the starter at old Ebbets Field. He beat the Cincinnati Reds 6-2 to kick-start a doubleheader sweep.
That season, Craig appeared in 21 games, starting 10 and posting an ERA of 2.78.
One of his career highlights came when he started and went six innings in the fifth game of the World Series to beat the Mickey Mantle-led New York Yankees. The Dodgers won the series in seven games.
The next two seasons he started 45 games, but in the 1957 finale on a cold, sleeting night in Philadelphia, he felt something pop in his right shoulder.
"Back in those days, we didn't know about rotator cuffs," he says, "but I'm sure that's what it was."
It was a 2-1 loss, in which Koufax relieved Craig, and it marked the team's last game as a Brooklyn franchise before moving to Los Angeles.
Craig told only his wife of the injury, figuring he'd heal by the time spring training rolled around.
But it was an arduous road to recovery, marked by stints in the minors and Macon's lack of faith that Craig would regain form. The pitcher did make it back to the majors for nine games in '58, and that served as a prelude to what would be his best season.
CRAIG BEGAN 1959 in the minors, but when Erskine retired in midseason, he was called up. The move is now hailed as among the most important ones during what would be another championship season.
"They don't win that championship without Roger," says Mark Langill, the Dodgers' team historian. "He's the one who got them to the World Series. He was the unsung hero who came out of nowhere to save that pitching staff."
Craig won his last five games. He went the route in each of his last three, giving up only two runs.
His 7-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs in the last game put the Dodgers in a best-of-three playoff against the Milwaukee Braves.
"I really had a good streak there," says Craig. "We were playing in the (Los Angeles Memorial) Coliseum, and I learned how to pitch differently and pitch well there. The best sequence of pitching I ever had was the last 15 or 20 days that season."
The Coliseum had a short left-field fence — 251 feet, protected by a 42-foot high screen — and was a deep 440 feet to right.
Despite the short porch, Craig went 11-5, tied for the National League lead with four shutouts and narrowly missed out on the ERA title, only because the Dodgers dispatched the Braves in two games.
Manager Walter Alston had asked him to pitch a potential Game 3 on two days' rest.
Craig had thrown 153 innings and had an ERA of 2.06. He needed 154 to qualify for the crown, and a playoff outing would have counted.
"Sad Sam" Jones of the San Francisco Giants won the ERA crown at 2.83.
If that concerned Craig, he no doubt was consoled when the Dodgers won the World Series in six games over the Chicago White Sox.
After two more seasons with the Dodgers, Craig was snapped up by the New York Mets in the 1961 expansion draft that also included the Houston Colt .45s.
Craig was the ace of a team that went 40-120 in 1962. He was 10-24 in '62 and 5-22 in '63. He became the first NL pitcher to lead the league in losses two straight years and tied the league mark with 18 straight losses.
He started 64 games for the Mets and completed 27.
Because of those seasons, says Langill, "people are sort of dismissive of what he did his first six seasons."
Craig was noted for his upbeat attitude — "Humm Baby" was his catch phrase — and never grew bitter over his time with New York.
"Even with all the setbacks and losses and all," he says, "I turned it into a positive when I was a pitching coach and manager. Because I had been through all the things that go with losing, I learned how to cope with it and what you had to do to get out of those situations."
Craig finished his playing career with one-year stints in St. Louis, Cincinnati and Philadelphia.
He had a career record of 74-98 and a 3.83 ERA.
CRAIG ALTERNATED between managing and coaching when his playing days were through. He skippered the San Diego Padres in 1978 and '79 and served as Sparky Anderson's pitching coach on the champion '84 Tigers.
Renowned as the master of the split-finger fastball, he taught that pitch to Mike Scott of the Houston Astros, who used it to win a Cy Young Award, and to the Tigers' Jack Morris.
Craig's most rewarding managerial job was with the San Francisco Giants, the Dodgers' arch-rivals. He guided them to the 1987 NL West title and two years later into the World Series that became known as the "Earthquake Series."
Facing the Oakland Athletics, the Giants lost the first two games and had just finished batting practice for Game 3 at their own Candlestick Park when the quake struck.
Craig was in his office and felt the building shake.
"I ran into the clubhouse and told everyone to get in the parking lot," says Craig. "Someone said my family was stuck in an elevator, so I ran up the steps and found it, but no one was there."
He later met with A's manager Tony LaRussa and Commissioner Fay Vincent, and all agreed the game had to be postponed. The series was delayed 10 days.
"We'd been playing really well in Candlestick, but it was not the same when we came back," says Craig. "We tried to play simulated games, and physically we were OK, but mentally, everything that happened, the devastation in the city and the lives lost, it was tough to get guys motivated to come back and play."
NOWADAYS, CRAIG'S play is reserved for the golf course, where he recently shot his age with the help of an eagle on a par-4 hole.
He'll visit Medford to do what he loves. He'll talk baseball at a town-hall-type session Friday, then play golf in a benefit tournament at Rogue Valley Country Club.
Speeches aren't necessarily his thing, but the subject matter is.
"I like to talk about something I know a little something about," says Craig. "I always said I did go to college, but to improve my education, I dropped out of school and signed a professional baseball contract."
And he made a point of never going back.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail email@example.com