I was going to give some fairly gloomy, brief remarks about baseball here, but instead I think I’ll tell you the story of a ballplayer, an old pitcher some of you might remember, named Roger Craig. He pitched for the Dodgers in the 1950s. A pretty good pitcher, one of the pitchers with the brand-new terrible Mets, and the best pitcher they had. He lost twenty-four games the first year and twenty-two the next year, which wasn’t easy to do. This is going to take a little more than ninety seconds, but baseball does drag on, as you know.

Then Roger Craig did something even more amazing: He became a baseball coach. A pitching coach. And in the off season once, when he was working for the Tigers, working with some teenagers, he discovered a new pitch. He learned that if you take the regular fork ball, push it deeper, deeper into your fingers and throw it like a fastball, it becomes the split-finger fastball, which saved a lot of careers for old pitchers, made careers for some younger pitchers, and made a pretty good career for Roger Craig.

He is a tall North Carolinian, with a funny nose and very close-together eyes, and a great talker. When I learned this story about the split-finger pitch I had been spending a lot of time with him. He later became a manager with the Padres and then the Giants, and I spent a lot of time with him because he talked and talked and I wrote and wrote down.

One year I went back to Scottsdale and he was there in left field and I walked out and we shook hands. There was another writer out there who said to Craig, “Roger”—meaning me—“has a new book out this year, did you know that, have you read it?” And Craig said, “Read it? Hell, I wrote half of it!”

And this is my way of expressing my thanks to all the dozens and dozens of pitchers, and catchers, and hitters, and sluggers, and hall-of-famers, and rookies, and coaches, and fans, and owners—yes, owners—who’ve filled up more than half of my stuff, and shared with me an obsession with this extremely beautiful and extremely difficult game, which turned out most of the time to be about losing. It’s been a great beat and a lovely ride.


Home Run (nouns, verbs):

Homer, round-tripper, four-bagger, four-ply blow, clout, circuit clout, blast, dinger, downtowner, tater, long tater, shot, moon shot, slam (on occasion), grand slam, park one, lose one, crank one, clean the bases, gone, goner, outta here, going deep, took him (take him/took me) deep, Chinese homer, Ruthian wallop, Ballantine Blast, 800 number, Dial 8, day-tripper, still circling the airport, had a full crew and stewardesses (etc.), Federal Express, Domedong (Kingdome HR), Chicken on the Hill (Stargell HR at Three Rivers Stadium), street piece (out of the park, in Dennis Eckersley’s language), walk-off piece (also Eckersleyesque, meaning pitcher has nothing else to do but walk off the field)…