Humm Baby: Remembering former Giants manager Roger Craig originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
Coming of age in the late 1980s as a sportswriter in the Bay Area meant breathing rarified air. There were no dogs. The Warriors were wildly entertaining, the Athletics were making annual trips to the World Series, the 49ers were owning Super Bowls and the Giants were winning their first pennant in 27 years.
The leaders of the four teams were men of such respect that three would be enshrined in the Hall of Fame: 49ers coach Bill Walsh, A’s manager Tony La Russa, Warriors coach Don Nelson.
The fourth was Giants manager Roger Craig. He died on Sunday. He was 93.
Walsh, La Russa and Nelson are towering figures. I came to appreciate Craig more than the other three.
Promoted from high schools and occasionally assigned to cover Giants home games, my antenna was up the first time I joined regular beat writers in the manager’s office adjacent to the clubhouse at Candlestick Park. Craig was a rangy North Carolina native whose oblong mug seemed gently carved from sandstone. Upon speaking, there was no missing his roots. Hmm. Middle-age white southerners with a pronounced drawl, you see, need time and study to earn the comfort of a Black man from the city.
It didn’t take long for Craig to cross that bridge. As the room cleared, beat writers bound for the clubhouse, Craig asked if I had a minute. Sure. He asked for my name, introduced himself, extended his hand and offered a seat. He joked that it was nice to see someone from the Oakland Tribune other than my veteran colleague Nick Peters, the indefatigable beat writer. Craig inquired about my background and chose career path. Hometown, schools, favorite sports etc.
Craig’s eye contact was steady, his manner folksy. He asked more questions than I did. He was, from then on, Roger.
“Good to meet you and hope to see you at a few more games,” he said. “Welcome in my office anytime.”
Each time I covered a Giants game, I noticed that Roger would address reporters by name. All of them. If a beat writer was missing, he’d probably make a crack, followed by a wink.
Visits over time revealed Roger as less pedantic and patronizing than La Russa, whose company I shared maybe twice as often. Never once did he try to mimic Nelson’s overt transparent attempts to gain allegiance. What little time I had around Walsh was just enough to realize he didn’t suffer fools gladly and was a football savant.
Though I wasn’t around him as much as La Russa and Nelson, Roger invited me into his home. When he and the Giants parted ways after the 1992 season, he told me I was welcome to visit whenever I was in the San Diego area.
I did not believe him, figuring it was just a polite gesture.
So, I tested his authenticity.
Before going to San Diego in the mid-1990s for a football game -- Raiders-Chargers, I believe -- I reached out to the Giants’ media relations staff to see if they could get a message to Roger. The reply came with his phone number.
Shortly after arriving in San Diego, I phoned Roger and asked if he might have a few minutes for a visitor.
“I was expecting you,” he said. “Sure. Come on by.”
I wrote down his address -- no cell phone or GPS -- grabbed a map and hopped in my rental car. The drive from San Diego to Roger’s home in the nether regions northeast of the city got quieter and more remote with each passing mile. I soon found myself among hills and trees and, I was sure, wildlife, until I came upon proof that I was in the right place.
“Humm Baby Lane,” said the sign.
Roger Craig lived on a street he could name as he pleased.
“Humm Baby” was an old baseball phrase, its origin being dugout chatter aimed at supporting the pitcher. Roger repurposed it and popularized it. It became a rally cry for the entire team and a slogan the team’s marketing and promotions folks would slurp till the last drop.
I pulled up, got out of the car, knocked on the door and was greeted by Roger’s wife, Carolyn. She offered a drink, lemonade as best I recall, and left the room as Roger and I chatted for about 90 minutes.
Roger talked about his 40-plus years in baseball. About why the Craigs lived where they lived. About whether he wanted to manage again. About the great job his former hitting coach, Dusty Baker, was doing in succeeding him as Giants manager.
Roger also believed Barry Bonds was the best player in baseball.
Roger Craig was the same man he had been a few years earlier.
When I said it was time to leave, he said I didn’t have to hurry. I told him I appreciated the time and the hospitality, but I had some driving to do -- and plenty of writing, too.
I learned some things. The drive back was wonderful.
Thank you, Roger, for crossing that bridge. For being kind when you weren’t obligated. You strolled a great stroll. Rest easy.