They pitched for the Mets in different centuries – Jacob deGrom at the start of his career, Roger Craig near the end of his.
They both won over the fans – deGrom for his long-haired exuberance in his early years: Craig for his gnarly perseverance near the end.
DeGrom was shut down this week, at 35, facing perhaps two years after Tommy John surgery; Craig died at 93.
In deGrom’s final years with the Mets, I always felt I was watching his last game.
The Mets never hit for him; that flaw was not of his making. He had so many injuries, yet he gritted himself through five, six, seven innings before trudging off the mound, leaving behind a streak of strikeouts but not so many victories (82-57 record in nine truncated seasons with the Mets.)
In a time of gigantic bullpen staffs and strangely influential analytic types, deGrom seemed temporary, vulnerable, doomed in a professional sense, despite the pitches that curved and slid and sizzled.
It was pure baseball joy to watch him – fielding like the shortstop he once had been in college, swinging the bat like the daily hitter he could have been (and who is to say, maybe still could be?) He was a complete ball player, except for the flaws.
Then he was gone, like a main figure in one of baseball’s strange layer of supernaturalism in “The Natural” or “Damn Yankees,” or “Field of Dreams.” Flash. Bang. Gone.
Why did Jake go?
Without getting into the dollars, it seems to me that the Cohen Mets made a respectful, calculated offer, based on the belief that deGrom’s apparatus would fall apart one day soon. The Mets front office seemed to be waiting for a sucker franchise whose officials did not read the papers or listen to talk radio or consult the available analytics.
I have a parallel theory: As the Mets fell apart at home in the post-season last year, fans booed Chris Bassitt as he trudged off the field. “Shame!” I yelled at the TV. Fans in grand old franchises like St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, would not boo, even as a season was going down the drain.
At the time, I wondered what Jacob deGrom, from central Florida, felt about that display of venom from Big Town? Was my question answered when deGrom took all that money from Texas and departed without one overt farewell or explanation or thank-you to Mets fans, at least one that crossed my consciousness?
Whaever. I hope Jacob deGrom comes back -- in some vestige of that floppy youthful mop of hair and that nasty arsenal of pitches. Life owes him a few breaks.
Roger Craig had a different kind of career. He turned up with the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, tall and slender, ahead of that lefty from Brooklyn, Sandy Koufax. He helped win the World Series – in 1955, “This Is Next Year” -- and then he went west with the Dodgers and helped win the 1959 World Series.
In 1962, Craig was part of the expansion team in New York that had to fill the awful Dark Ages void left by the Dodgers and Giants.
Craig’s mellow North Carolina accent and kind disposition helped influence a clubhouse after too many losses.
In 1963, on a losing streak of 18 games, Craig switched from his No. 38 to No. 13 and was the winner when Jim Hickman hit a grand-slam home run against the looming left-field stands.
In those two epic formative years in the Polo Grounds, Craig left his mark on the club – as did Richie Ashburn formerly of the Phillies and Gil Hodges formerly of the Dodgers. Never underestimate experience and leadership.
Let me say this about the Dodger presence, commemorated in Roger Kahn’s classic book, “The Boys of Summer,” about the Bums of Ebbets Field. That team had many strong personalities and mature leaders, including Pee Wee Reese from border-state Kentucky, who set a tone in the clubhouse.
In the last months of Ebbets Field, Cap’n Pee Wee noticed a young outfielder, Gino Cimoli, showered and dressed and heading for the door, in the still-promising late afternoon.
“Gino,” Reese drawled. “If you’re in a hurry to get out of the clubhouse, you’re in a hurry to get out of baseball.” Cimoli sat down, maybe had a beer, maybe chatted with Dodgers around him. The Brooklyn Dodgers were a true team. Roger Craig came along in that milieu, and he passed it along to a motley squad of “Amazing Mets.” He pitched and he often lost and talked baseball and looked the writers in the eye and answered questions.
In 1964 Craig was liberated, helping the Cardinals win a World Series. Later, as a coach, he taught a generation of pitchers to throw a split-finger fastball.
Later, Craig managed the San Francisco Giants to a championship -- courtly, wise, always remembering familiar faces from those epic 1962-63 season in the rusty old Polo Grounds.
When Roger Craig passed, Ross Newhan, long-time baseball writer for the Los Angeles Times, wrote this on Facebook:
“Roger Craig, the original Humm Baby, died Sunday at 93, and I couldn't be sadder. There was no manager's office I more enjoyed walking into, no spinner of stories I more enjoyed inscribing. He won two World Series as a pitcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers, moved to L.A, and eventually became manager of the dreaded Giants, who never seemed quite as dreaded with Humm at the Helm. He was quite the guy, and I know my sadness is shared by Corona's Marshall family, Michelle being his granddaughter and Riley his great granddaughter, both frequent visitors to his San Diego Counthome. RIP Roger, you were one of a kind.”
I think I can speak for the writers from those years: Ross Newhan got it right about Roger Craig.
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.