Citi Field about Nos. 37, 38 on Wednesday
Craig, visiting for 50th anniversary, wowed by Strasburg
NEW YORK -- Fifty years later to the day, Roger Craig wore Mets uniform No. 38 again and threw -- not the first pitch, as he had done in St. Louis in 1962, but the First Ball. Fifty years ago on Wednesday, he stood on the mound. He stood on ceremony this time as the Mets celebrated the golden anniversary of their first game, at Citi Field.
It was something of a come-as-you-were party for Craig before the Mets engaged the Nationals in the third game of their series. His visit enabled him to complete a ballpark hat trick. He had pitched at the Polo Grounds and at Shea Stadium -- though never as a Met -- and now the Mets' first starter has graced the Big Citi as well. Nostalgia has its place.
This baseball afternoon was about a different uniform number, a number one less than the one Craig wore with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Mets. This was about No. 37.
Casey Stengel wore the Mets' No. 37 from April 11, 1962, through July 24, 1965, the day he broke his hip, an injury that ended his career. Number 37 has been in mothballs ever since. The club retired it in his honor on Sept. 2 of that year -- it had done so for no other at the point -- and it now hangs beyond the new wall in left field at Citi.
From that vantage point, another 37 might have been visible on Wednesday. Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals' Tom Seaver-in-the-making, made his Citi Field debut and his second appearance against the Mets.
The old No. 38 was wowed by the young No. 37.
"He's a once-in-a-lifetime talent," Craig said after watching Strasburg paralyze the Mets' diffused batting order for three innings. "He throws four pitches for strikes, real good strikes. And I've been watching him -- and [Johan] Santana, too. Neither one of them is favoring their injury."
Craig knows of what he speaks. He was a successful and influential pitching coach with the Tigers from 1980 to 1984 -- the Jack Morris years -- and managed the Giants and Padres for the better part of 10 years. Bruce Sutter and his coach with the Cubs, Mike Roarke, developed the split-finger fastball. Craig, during his time with the Tigers, refined it and made it popular.
Craig chuckled on Wednesday as Santana struggled and Strasburg struggled less, neither of them throwing a splitter.
"Those guys don't need to," he said.
The number 37 has a distinctive place in baseball, not only because of Stengel and the Nationals' bright pitcher. Consider who else has worn it and what they accomplished.
Stu Miller wore it with the Orioles and Giants while he was using his offspeed repertoire to flummox batters. Miller threw three speeds -- slow, slower and slowest. And he wasn't really blown off the mound in Candlestick Park in the second All-Star Game of 1961. The infamous 'Stick wind did cause him to balk, though.
Bobby Thigpen was No. 37 with the White Sox in 1990 when he established the single-season record for saves (57, since exceeded). ... Reliever Rick Camp wore the Braves' No. 37 when he hit his only career home run to tie the score in the 18th inning of what became a 19-inning Mets victory in Atlanta in 1985. Camp retired at the end of that season with 10 hits in 167 at-bats. ... Dave Stieb was the Blue Jays' No. 1 starter and, with Roy Halladay, one of the best two pitchers ever with the Expos or Jays. ... Here's a good one: Ryan Sandberg wore No. 37 with Phillies in 1981.
Hank Aguirre wore No. 37 with the Tigers when he batted .082 in 352 at-bats from 1958 through 1967. ... Sixto Lezcano, No. 37 with the Brewers, hit a home run of Catfish Hunter, who had lost a toe in a hunting accident. So after the game, Hunter said, "Old Sixto got old four toe." ... The Seattle Pilots didn't assign No. 37 in their one season.
Bill Lee wore No. 37 with the Red Sox and Expos, but he wanted No. 337, so that if he wore his shirt upside down, the inverted number would have read "Lee." ... Hall of Famers Dennis Eckersley, remembered as No. 43, and Larry Doby, most readily recognized as No. 14, wore No. 37 with the Indians. ... The late Donnie Moore wore No. 37 when he surrendered the playoff home run to Dave Henderson in 1986.
The best names of players who wore No. 37: Boots Day (he wasn't a giveaway event), Scipio Spinks (he owned a monkey), Dooley Womack (what else need be said?) and Roric Harrison (uncommon).
Pat Dobson was No. 37 with the Orioles and one of the four starters to win at least 20 games in 1971. ... Jimmy Piersall was 37 with the Indians and Red Sox, and he was, well, Jimmy Piersall. ... Frenchy Bordagaray was No. 37 and a Triple-A player even when he was in the big leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Kelly Downs is not a racetrack in Ireland but a former pitcher who wore No. 37 with the Giants in the 1980s. ... A fan of Mickey Mantle, Keith Hernandez wanted to wear No. 7 after he established himself with the Cardinals in 1975, but the number as assigned to veteran Reggie Smith. Hernandez inquired about No. 17; retired for Dizzy Dean, he was told. And No. 27 was assigned to pitching prospect Mike Barlow. Hernandez settled for 37. He hoped to wear 37 when he was traded to the Mets in 1983, but the number had been retired for Stengel.
Finally, the Cardinals of 1949 had a pitcher named Clarence Beers who briefly wore No. 37. He was gone by 1952, when their 37 was worn by Peanuts Lowrey. And the St Louis Browns assigned their No. 37 to a pitcher of modest skills in 1948. Name: Ray Shore. Nickname: Snacks.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.