April 19, 1915|
|Died: August 3, 1995
|September 19, 1937 for the Cincinnati Reds|
Last MLB appearance
|July 14, 1942 for the Cincinnati Reds|
|Runs batted in||267|
Harry Francis Craft (April 19, 1915 – August 3, 1995) was an American Major League Baseball player and manager. Born in Ellisville, Mississippi, he was a center fielder for the Cincinnati Reds from 1937 to 1942. Craft attended Mississippi College, threw and batted right-handed, stood 6 feet 1 inch (1.85 m) tall and weighed 185 pounds (84 kg). He was the first manager in Houston Major League history as skipper of the expansion Houston Colt .45s, later the Astros.
A well-praised defensive center fielder, Craft was an average hitter in his short career. His best season came, basically, as a rookie (he had 42 at bats the previous season) in 1938. On June 15 of that year, Craft caught the ninth-inning pop fly (batted by Leo Durocher) to make the final out in the historic game that gave Johnny Vander Meer his second consecutive no-hitter. That same season, Craft batted a solid .270 as the Reds' everyday center fielder with 15 home runs and 83 RBIs in 151 games. He had 165 hits that season in 612 at bats. All those numbers ended up being career-highs. The next two years were Cincinnati's best seasons as they went to the World Series in both, winning in 1940 against the Detroit Tigers. However, Craft did not play a large part in the victory, having only 1 at bat. He ended up with just one postseason hit, which came the year before.
On June 8, 1940, he hit for the cycle in a 23–2 win over the Brooklyn Dodgers. Craft joined the Navy in 1942. By the time he returned to baseball his skills had deteriorated and he never made it back to the major leagues as a player.
Craft began his managing career in the farm system of the New York Yankees. He was Mickey Mantle’s first manager in professional baseball — in 1949 with Independence of the Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri League. In 1950, Craft would manage Mantle again with the Joplin Miners in the Western Association. Eventually, Craft progressed to the AAA level with the Kansas City Blues of the American Association in 1953–1954.
"I was lucky to have Harry as skipper my first two years," Mantle said years later. "He started me out right."  Craft would also manage Roger Maris at the Major League level in 1958–1959 with the Kansas City Athletics, just before the young right fielder was traded to the Yankees. Maris credited Craft with helping him with his hitting.
During his time with the Chicago Cubs, Craft briefly returned to managing at the Minor League level for the Triple-A affiliate Houston Buffs of the American Association in 1961. He would be the last manager for the Houston Buffs, before being promoted to become the first manager of the big league club when that city officially began its National League Houston Colt .45s in 1962.
Kansas City Athletics
Craft went from the minor league Blues to the Major League Athletics in 1955, their first year in Kansas City after transferring from Philadelphia, when he was named a coach on the staff of Lou Boudreau. After over 2½ losing seasons, Boudreau was released on August 6, 1957, and Craft was named his successor. Craft's Athletics went 23–27 to finish the 1957 season. He then lasted two more full campaigns, 1958 and 1959, before his firing. Craft finished with a 162–196 record at Kansas City. His best finish was seventh place in the eight-team American League.
In 1961, Craft was a member of Chicago Cubs owner Phil Wrigley's ill-fated College of Coaches. From 1961 to 1965, the team had no permanent manager, and rotated the "head coach" job among its coaching staff. Craft led the Bruins for 16 games in 1961, coming out 7–9, as one of four head coaches that year. He spent the latter half of the year managing the Buffs, then the Cubs' top farm team.
Houston Colt .45s
Craft became the first skipper in the history of the expansion Houston Colt .45s the following year. He managed them from 1962 to 1964, before his replacement by Lum Harris in the closing days of the '64 season. He ended 191–280 with the Colt .45s, never having managed an above .500 team in all or parts of seven seasons as a big league manager. He remained in the game, however, as a scout and farm system official for the Baltimore Orioles, San Francisco Giants and the Yankees, retiring in 1991.
Craft ended his managing career with a 360–485 record in 849 games, a .426 winning percentage. His best finish was seventh place. The authors of The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book, Brendan C. Boyd & Fred C. Harris, Little Brown & Co, 1973, had this to say about Craft's career on p. 52, perhaps unfairly given what little he had to work with on those clubs: "Of course, if you are really lousy at what you do, there's always a chance you can work your way into management, that being the American Way... Harry Craft managed three teams in a seven year span... They finished 7th, 7th, 7th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 9th. Do I detect a trend in there somewhere?"
He died after a long illness in Conroe, Texas (approximately forty miles north of Houston), at the age of 80 on Thursday, August 3, 1995. He had two children, a son, Thomas H. Craft, and a daughter, Carole Ann.
- Van Blair, Rick (1994). Dugout to Foxhole: Interviews with Baseball Players Whose Careers Were Affected by World War II. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company Publishers.
- Baseball-Reference.com - career managing record and playing statistics