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SAN FRANCISCO – There was a time in baseball when there was a simple solution to Tim Lincecum’s case of the Goldschmidts:
A fastball to the ribs.
There are still a few pitchers who take matters into their own hands, if not for outright (and childish, really) retribution, then to back a hot hitter off the plate. It’s not something Lincecum is considering, nor is it a suggestion that Giants manager Bruce Bochy would make.
But a special visitor to the ballpark on Thursday reminded us that times used to be different. It was Roger Craig, the “Humm Baby” himself, who stopped by AT&T Park along with several Giants and 49ers greats as the team held pregame ceremonies to say goodbye to Candlestick Park.
“You’ve got to pitch inside more,” said Craig, who popularized the split-fingered fastball during his decorated career and taught it to Mike Scott, who became one of its foremost practitioners. “It’s tough to teach young pitchers to pitch inside. They don’t want to hit the batter and put him on base.”
Some pitchers forget that getting hit is more of an occupational hazard for the batter than the guy standing on the mound.
As for Goldschmidt?
“You don’t want to hurt anybody,” Craig said. “But better you hit him than he hits a home run off you.”
Craig didn’t hit anyone out of dented pride, though. He remembered that Hank Aaron “used to wear me out,” and his memory is spot-on. Aaron hit .347 with 10 home runs in 95 at-bats against him. Craig never plunked him. He never hit the Braves’ Eddie Mathews, either, even though he hit .376 with 11 home runs in 85 at-bats.
It wasn’t always up to Craig, though. He recalled a series in May, 1962, when the Mets and Giants got in an epic brawl. It began with an order from Mets manager Casey Stengel before the first game started. The Giants were cuffing around Mets pitchers, and Stengel wanted a few messages sent.
So Craig threw inside while walking Willie Mays, then he hit Orlando Cepeda with a pitch to the ribs. When Mays and Mets shortstop Elio Chacon became entangled at second base on a pickoff throw, the punches started flying. Cepeda threw a champion left hook that connected with Craig.
In the broadcast booth, Russ Hodges called it the best baseball brawl he’d ever seen.
“There was no kidding around about this,” Hodges said. “They were really throwing uppercuts and a lot of them were landing … And I don’t think the Giants lost a single fracas.”
Many years later, it’s not such a big deal for Craig to say goodbye to Candlestick 14 years after the Giants played their final game there. Craig, now 84, pitched at Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds, after all. He’s spent a lifetime saying goodbye.
He’s heartened at what he sees now, and a legacy he’s left – especially when it comes to his former players who became managers. Bob Brenly won a World Series ring as a manager. Bob Melvin is winning accolades with the A’s. And now Matt Williams is running the Washington Nationals.
All of them knew what it was like to freeze amid the flying hot dog wrappers at Candlestick Park.
“It benefited us,” Craig said. “People didn’t want to come here.”