Cranker: While I was attending Wadley High School I played 3 sports a year. Baseball, Football, and Basketball. I was a very gifted athlete that had tons of ability so I tried to capitalize on it. I actually lettered 5 straight years on the basketball team. Our high school did not have a baseball team, until our senior year where I convinced the coach to have a team.
We were the smallest school in the state with 252 students grades 1 through 12. We won 17 games straight with our football team my senior and junior year.
This is a photo of the Cranker when he joined Steele's after the all the great years with Ken Sanders, Elite, and Jerry's Caterers. As you might be able to read down at the bottom of the poster.
It reads "I've tried all the rest, now I use the best-- Steelebats"
Steele's made a softball bat after Crankin Craig and it was called the "Elliott".
Craig was one of the few franchise players.
A franchise player was one where other people would play on that team just to play
with him because the player was that good. He was a proven winner and those are hard to come by. There was a select number of players that had that type of reputation. Bruce Meade, Rick Scherr, Mighty Joe Young, Jim Galloway, Steve Loya could be considered franchise players.
Big Cat: By looking at you in some of the pictures from over the years a person would guess football not basketball. But if they ever got a chance to see you play and see just how fast you were they would understand a whole lot better.
Cranker: Yes I could run for a big man. When I was a sophomore I was 5' 5" 125 lb.. When I graduated I was 6'3" and weighed 235 lb.. I was big enough then that I went to Southern Union Junior College to play baseball. You don't remember Mike but in 1977 at the nationals in Cleveland I tagged from second base on a fly ball and scored.
Big Cat: No I don't remember you doing that because I kept watching you circle the bases. I kept saying to myself back then who were these guys? Craig in your opinion what are some of the key elements in a softball swing?
Cranker: The most important element would be pitch selection. Different hitters can hit certain pitches. When I go to the plate I liked to use a boxed area that if the ball doesn't come through that boxed area or zone then I won't swing. A man has got to know his limitations.. I don't care how fluid your swing is if you hit bad pitches you are going to have bad results in a hurry .
Big Cat: When did you first start playing softball and how old were you?
Cranker: I started playing softball at the age of 12 and hit my first home run when I was 15 and the fences were 275. That was with wood bats and cork balls. At the age of 15 I weighed 155 lb.. .
Big Cat: Cranker, as we all know softball is an amateur sport and you are not supposed to get paid to play. How and when did you start making money playing softball?
Craig: I was 19 years old and I was still going to Auburn University where I walked on to play football. I lived in a trailer with no heat on a trailer lot because football was an 8 hour a day job. I then started driving 10 miles to Opelika to play in the softball league games at night. The team was paying me 10 bucks a game and we played double headers twice a week. I was using the money for gas. Gas wasn't but 35 cent a gallon back then so I liked having some money in my pocket.
Big Cat: So you played some tourneys with this team on the weekends. Did you do anything out of the ordinary back then when you first started playing with these guys.
Craig: I would lose the first or second game on purpose just so we would play more games and I would make more money. The bottom line was I knew we were going to win. That's the difference. Back in 1983 we lost 9 games total and 6 of those were the first games on Sunday and we would come back to win. Don't ask me how that happened.
Big Cat: What did your mom and dad think about you playing softball for money during the week back then?
Craig: My dad told me nobody got paid to play softball. I told him not only was I going to get paid but I would get paid more than anybody else to play the game .
Big Cat: So would you say that you and your dad didn't see eye to eye on you playing softball? You've told me before about the time in 1977 at the worlds in Parma about your dad not being there. How did you feel about him not being there.?
Craig: I was close with my dad and wanted to prove to him that I was going to do what I set out to. I was the MVP that weekend in Cleveland and I told my dad that we would fly him there for the tournament but he wouldn't go. Believe it or not but that really hurt me back then.
Big Cat: That was the first time I had ever heard or saw you play. In Parma, Ohio in 1977 at State Road Park. You were playing with a team called Ken Sanders Ford out of Phoenix City, Alabama. How did you end up with that team?
Craig: I was on a team out of Columbus, Georgia called Toms. Tom's manager Donut Favors couldn't field a team in 75 so I went with Ken Sanders. I was also being recruited by the Warren brothers for the Warren Motors team. Ken sanctioned his team out of Phoenix City , Alabama and basically took Tom's team. We had players like Sidney Cooper, Greg Smith, Charlie Wright and some other Georgia boys. I used to room with H.T. Waller. Now that was a person you could learn from. A very knowledgeable person of the game.
Big Cat: Did you ever learn anything from H.T. yourself?
Craig: I couldn't have asked for a better room mate at this time in my life. He taught me a lot about how to spin the bat in my swing. The more wrist action you had the farther the ball would go. He would help keep me loose all the time. It's not good to go through life uptight. You need to be loose to play any sport.
Big Cat: Were there any other players that you looked up to or thought was the best?
Craig: The one thing about softball is the friendships you make. Because I was friends with H.T. I also became good friends with Don Arndt and Stan Harvey. The reason being was because of H.T. They kind of took me under their wing. You know, taught me things about the game. H.T, said not to hold the bat too tight. He was always concentrating on how to spin the bat when he swung. Don once said "don't worry about how you hold the bat. When you swing you will grip the bat naturally."
Big Cat: What are your thoughts about the Smoky Mountain Classic. Why was it so special to you?
Craig: Best tourney of the year because all of the best teams are there and the crowds are there. I always liked to play in front of the big crowd. That is why this tournament means so much to me because this is where the people come to see the best. If I am not mistaken I am the only 3 time MVP of that one. In 1980 with Jerry's, in 1982 for York-Sanders and 1983 with Elite Coatings.
Big Cat: Craig you held the record for most home runs by an individual at the Smoky Mountain Classic for the past 17 years. You hit 26 in six games in 1981 with a rf-80 softball. How does it feel that Rusty Baumgardner has broken your record with 30 home runs in 10 games in the tourney.
Craig: I learned a long time ago that records were made to be broken. With the record I set 17 years ago you had something to chase. So I just want to congratulate Rusty on a great tournament and also a great career. I know how hot it can be at the Smoky and once again "great job".
Big Cat: You have been MVP 6 times in your illustrious career in national tournament play. This is a record that you hold also. Do any of them stand out more then the others.?
Craig. All of them stand out because that is what I played for . I played to be the best.
Big Cat: Now that your son is 19 years old and you have been playing softball with him how does that make you feel? That has to be a special feeling. I remember when John boy was shagging bats for our teams years ago. It doesn't seem that long ago.
Happy and proud. Happy that I am able to play with him and proud of him to see all the hard work that he has put into the game pay off for him. He really can hit the ball a long way.
Big Cat: You never know Craig maybe he will do you like you did someday and lead the world in home runs!
Craig: I hope so.
Big Cat: When did you feel like you were starting to accomplish some of the things that you wanted to do. When did you get your first real offer in softball?
Craig: It was in the year 1975 that Ken Sanders had made me an offer to come play with him that I felt I might be headed in the right direction. He offered me $15,600 and a new car. I would get a brand new one every 3000 miles. I was actually living with Ken for awhile. That year I out homered and out hit H.T. for the entire season.
Big Cat: Can you give the people a little bit of info on some of the old times staying at hotels.
Craig: One time I was rooming with Charlie Wright and the door to our hotel room didn't even lock or close. It's funny today but it wasn't back then. The name of the hotel happened to be the Dew Drop Inn. Charlie and I slept with our green Bombats in our beds. Somebody would have been in trouble if they would have tried to get in our room. Needless to say it was a small time tournament but you had to play in some of those back then to get to where we are today.
Big Cat: Craig, you like myself have played with a number of great ball players over the years. Can you name some of the ones that stood out in your mind when you played?
Craig: As I said before I was a big fan of H.T. Waller and nobody had a sweeter swing than Stan Harvey. I really enjoyed playing with Ronnie Ford, Charles Wright, Bill Pollock, Stevie Williams. I really enjoyed playing ball with everyone that was a team mate of mine. James Washington of Jerry's was a lot of fun. I had a good time playing with you too Mike.
Big Cat: What about all the great teams that you played for. What one stands out the most or which ones did you like the best?
Craig: I would say that our Elite Coatings team from 1983. We had as much fun as any other team that I had ever played for. I say we had more with this team probably because of the owner Gary Hargis. He loved to win and took the game to heart. We we won the USSSA crown in 1984 he cried like a baby he was so happy. I mean after games we would have food fights and dump drinks on one another just as if we were brothers back home fighting with one another. We were family and when you have family in softball there just about isn't anything that can keep you from winning. We had a saying that year in 83 that I won't forget. That was every time we would be in a tournament with Howard's we would say "give us two scoops of Howard's to go!"
Big Cat: Whether you know it or not Craig but you were one of the original franchise players in softball. Meade, Joe Young, Rick Scherr, Mike Nye and Ronnie Ford. Back in the late 70's and early 80's it seem that any team you played for they were right in the thick of things the very next year. If a team could get you to play they could get other great players also. That has to be good feeling to know that?
Craig: I appreciate that Mike. I just like to win. That's what the game is all about. I use to go to the ball park and ask how many teams were in the tournament and the director would say 42 teams. I would say good, now there is 41 fighting for second place. Because we already got 1st place locked up. I guess you could say I was very confident. But that will make or break a player. That mental edge is very important in any sport. I like to use that mental edge in the game of softball.
Big Cat: Didn't your teammate Bill Pollock like to bug you during the game and ask you if we were going to win or not?
Craig: Yes. He would say "Craig are we gonna win?" And I would say "yes Billy, we are going to win. Don't worry we won't lose." He would be so nervous during the game. He would be playing first base and with his feet he would figure out his batting average in the dirt during the game.
Big Cat: After playing softball all these years is there a team that you played against that was the best that you played against?
Craig: Back in 1974 Howard's had won the ASA back to back. 1973 and 1974. In 1974 in Eden N.C. Stan Harvey was 13 for 14 with 12 home runs and 9 walks. I thought then that this has to be the best team I ever saw. What I really couldn't believe was Stan Harvey. At that time he was the best hitter I had ever seen. The next year they went to Cleveland, Ohio to make it 3 in a row but got upset and finished 3rd. I felt like they really dominated the game.
Big Cat: You told me one time about how when you were playing with Ken Sanders back in 1975 how you never made it to the world tournament that year because you got beat out in the regionals. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Cranker: Back in 1975 we lost out in the regionals to Tom's Peanuts out of Columbus, Georgia. We played the regionals on opens fields. The park was Grant Park in Atlanta. That was one of the two years that we had unlimited arc. In 1976 and in 1976 we had the unlimited arc and buddy if you knew how to throw it high you were very valuable to a team back then.
Big Cat: What are the best teams that you played for in your career?
Craig: Our 1987 Steele's team and the 1983 Elite Coatings team. Those two teams just dominated like the 74 Howard's teams. It was a lot fun playing with such great players and competition.
Big Cat: Are there any disappointments in your career? Something where you though this should have happened or that should have happened?
Craig: I really can't complain about anything. There was a couple of times where I thought that I should have been the MVP and somebody else got it. I would be upset because inside I felt like I deserved it but that is human instinct to think that way. The bottom line was that we won. So how can I complain? The one thing that I wish Steele's would have done back in 1986 was when they put my name on the bat, I wanted them to put your name on the other side of the bat. Elliott and Macenko. I think we would have sold more bats like that.
Big Cat: One last question Craig. What about all your years playing with Mr. Neale at Steele's. How were those years on the road traveling and playing softball everyday?
Craig: I enjoyed playing for Mr. Neale all those years. We had a great team a number of years. Mike you ought to know better than anybody that I could get up in the morning and go to bed playing softball. I loved the game! I am still playing today with my son and having a blast. There was nothing better than pulling up to the ball parks all across the country with the people waiting on you to perform. And boy did we perform. Ha! Ha!
Big Cat: Craig all the softball people are probably wondering what the Great American Home Run Machine is all about?
Cranker: It was Ronnie Ford and Gary Hargis that stated one time that all you had to do was put a quarter in me and watch me go. "I was a machine when you think about it. Ha! Ha!"