Thanks to all my readers for helping me get back into the Latest Leaders List at number 45! In keeping with the tradition started by Jimmy at Baseball, The Yankees, and Life.. I am dedicating this entry to one of my very favorite Phillies. With no more than a moment’s thought, I knew it would be Tug McGraw.
Frank Edwin McGraw, Jr. was born August 30, 1944 in Martinez, California. He was christened with the nickname Tug as a child, supposedly by his mother for his aggressive style of breast-feeding (seriously, this is what the book Phillies Essential says!). He was signed in 1964 as an amateur free agent by the New York Mets.
Tug pitched for the Mets from 1965 to 1974. In December of 1974, he was traded, along with Don Hahn and Dave Schneck, to the Phillies, in exchange for Del Unser, John Stearns, and Mac Scarce. He pitched for the Phillies from 1975 through 1984. Twice in his career he was named to the All-Star team, in 1972 and 1975.
With the Phillies, Tug had a record of 49-37, with 94 saves and an ERA of 3.10. His overall career record was 96-92, with 180 saves and an ERA of 3.14.
Tug made the postseason twice with the Mets (1969 and 1973), and he coined the phrase “Ya Gotta Believe” while with the ’73 Mets. He made the postseason four times with the Phillies (1976, 1977, 1978, 1980), and of course clinched the final game of the 1980 Series for the Phillies.
This is the image of McGraw that is forever etched into the minds of Phillies fans, after he struck out Kansas City’s Willie Wilson for the final out of the 1980 World Series:
Tug was also well-known for his colorful quotes and fun-loving antics. When asked if he preferred artificial turf to natural grass, he replied “I don’t know. I never smoked AstroTurf.” On another occasion, he asked Phils starter Larry Christenson if he was pitching that day. When Christenson replied that he was, Tug said, “Then, so am I.”
On St. Patrick’s Day, the Phillies wear not just green caps for their spring training game, but green uniforms. Blame McGraw for this tradition, who appeared at a spring training game on St. Patrick’s day wearing a uniform that had been dyed green.
Tug also named his pitches. His fastball was “John Jameson”, because “I like my Irish Whiskey hard and straight.” His change-up was “Peggy Lee”, because a hitter would swing and say, “Is that all there is?” [this is the title of a song by the singer Peggy Lee, for you young’uns out there] His sinker was the “Titanic”, the “Bo Derek” “had a nice little tail on it”, the “Cutty Sark” sailed, and a ball hit for a home run was the “Sinatra ball”, symbolic of the song “Fly Me To The Moon.”
Following his retirement from the game, Tug became a sportscaster, and wrote a children’s book. He would also attend Phillies spring training as a special instructor. In 2002, I was fortunate enough to be at spring training, and witnessed the way Tug enjoyed interacting and joking with the fans. In this photo, someone has handed Tug a baseball card to sign, though it is from his Mets days. He showed the fans, and jokingly asked if he should sign it or not (he did).
During this same spring training, Tug signed the only thing I had with me, a nasty old batting practice ball I had managed to get. Tug almost always signed his name with a little smiley-face next to it (though this one only seems to have one eye):
Yep, he’s left his mark for posterity between Marlon Anderson and an upside-down Doug Glanville.
Tug was again in the Phillies’ training camp the next spring, 2003, when he unexpectedly became ill, and was diagnosed with a brain tumor, which turned out to be malignant. At the time, he was only given a few weeks to live, but he fought his disease and was able to appear at the final game at Veterans Stadium on September 28, to re-enact his most memorable moment. Tug lost his battle with cancer on January 5, 2004.
Prior to his death, Tug established The Tug McGraw Foundation, to raise funds to enhance the quality of life of children and adults with brain tumors and their families.
On October 25, 2008, Tug’s son Tim McGraw spread some of his father’s ashes on the pitcher’s mound at Citizen’s Bank Park, prior to Game 3 of the World Series.
One of Tim McGraw’s biggest hits is “Live Like You Were Dying”. Towards the end of the song is a little clip of Tug’s final out of that 1980 series.