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Two Words, One Rally Cry, Remembering Humm Baby—Roger Craig

The death of a great athlete or coach prompts personal, local, communal, and for some— a national response. Tributes recall their accomplishments and achievements, greatest wins and toughest losses. For others, it's a laundry list of stats, what they did first...or last. For all, it's the sharing of stories or speeches, a replay of the highlight reels, memories and more. And for the late San Francisco Giants manager Roger Craig, it's two words: Humm Baby.

For those seeking "Inside Baseball," Roger Craig was a Durham, N.C., native who joined the Giants in 1985—in what was the final weeks of a 62-100 season. He immediately endeared himself to fans with his folksy charm, Southern accent and "Humm Baby." 

In the article, Roger Craig, beloved former Giants manager, dies at 93
The Athletic reports

The “Humm baby” nickname he gave to a third-string catcher, Brad Gulden, became a beloved phrase to a generation of Bay Area baseball fans.

“It symbolizes to me something special because he didn’t have a lot of talent, but he gave you 180 percent,” Craig told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2006. “That’s the way Brad (was). Humm-baby.”

The phrase later came to apply to the entire team, and especially, to Craig himself. 

His catchphrase, “Humm baby,” caught on and became a rallying cry for the team and the fans, who were desperate for something, anything to get excited about. His style of managing was unorthodox, with suicide squeezes becoming the norm and the deadly split-finger fastball taking over the staff. 

It was fun. Fun! Imagine that, the Giants playing a fun brand of baseball. In 1987, he managed the first NL West winner since 1971, and in 1989, he was the skipper for the pennant-winning team in the earthquake World Series.  

What might be just as important about Craig's unorthodox managing style is the way that Humm Baby was implemented off the field. 

If you only believe that games are won on the field, then pay no mind. If, however, you think there's more—here's a story for you.

In late September, 1989, I got my Dad to take me to the 'Stick to not only go to a Giants game but to secure the giveaway. A poster. The Pacific Sock Exchange. Two men, one black, one white wore suits in the locker room with baseball bats on their respective shoulders. This dynamic duo, first baseman Will Clark and left fielder Kevin Mitchell though different, made Humm Baby work. I loved both players. 
With their offensive ability at the plate, the Giants stock was rising.

Kevin Mitchell was the National League MVP in 1989. Though he arrived in 1987, he made an indelible mark on April 4, 1989 with his barehanded grab in left on Ozzie Smith's pop fly. (If you've never seen it, stop reading and watch now).With Clark batting three and Mitch in the clean up spot, the Pacific Stock Exchange led the orange and black to the World Series.

But, none of this would have happened without Humm Baby. In her book Intangibles: Unlocking the Science and Soul of Team Chemistry, Joan Ryan offers a story of what that means in the clubhouse..and not on the diamond between the Craig— the manager and Mitchell, his star player.

One day Mitch was checking the daily lineup card Craig had just posted in the clubhouse. “How come Skip [Craig] puts my name up there without knowing how I feel?” he asked Krukow. The question was a bizarre one. It was not the practice of managers to check with players on their availability to play. If a player was hurt or sick, the trainer would let the manager know. Otherwise it was assumed he was good to go. Krukow could have explained this to Mitch. Instead, he took it to Craig. 

Good managers have partners in the clubhouse. Over a long season, players know other players in ways a manager never can. (“We’d joke that you can sit down in the shitter and look at the feet next to you in the stall and know who it is,” Krukow said.) He knew Mitch wasn’t looking for an answer from him. He needed something only Craig could give. 

Before the lineup was posted the next day, Krukow watched Craig stop at Mitch’s locker and ask how he felt. He did this every game from then on. “I was up late last night,” Mitch would answer. Or, “My legs are really aching, Skip.” To which Craig unfailingly replied, “Mitch, we need you.” And Mitch would play, as Craig knew he would. 

This was a guy who once dislocated his finger taking grounders in batting practice, yanked it back in place, and took more grounders. Craig knew Mitch just needed to know he cared. The gesture took a minute of the manager’s day. 

Some players grumbled that Craig coddled Mitch. But if the so-called coddling made him a better player, it wasn’t coddling. It was smart managing. “I did some special things for Mitch,” Craig told me a few years ago when I visited him at his home in Borrego Springs, east of San Diego.

“He was so important to us. And such a sweet kid. I just loved him. If you don’t handle him right, he’s going to crawl into his shell.” Craig was tending his garden. The proof was in the numbers. In sixty-two games with the Padres and manager Larry Bowa in the first half of the season, Mitch hit .245 with seven home runs and twenty-six RBIs. In sixty-nine games with the Giants and Craig in the second half, he hit .306 with fifteen home runs and forty-four RBIs. And the best was yet to come.

Smart managing. Tending a garden. Showing care. THAT'S HUMM BABY. That's the legacy of Roger Craig, who brought much more than an NL Pennant to San Francisco. He brought two unlikely words that when paired together, meant much more. It's not only what we do front stage that matters, it's how we operate back stage, too. It's what we see in other people and how we treat them, what we think is possible and what we can give that makes things go...that catches fire...that prompts and creates something entirely new..and fun.

In 1990, the San Francisco Giants motto was "Humm Baby! Let's do it again..."  Let's....

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May they rest in peace. Humm Baby. Amen.

Photo Credits
Pacific Sock
Humm Baby Kid

Ryan, Joan. Intangibles (pp. 193-194). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition. 




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