Blog #36 (Tug McGraw)

By Richard J. Decker on October 3, 2012 7:00 AM

This week there is no legal section of the blog.

Now for the Opening Day memory:

During the Mets' 1973 stretch run, which ultimately led to their World Series appearance, either the Daily News or the New York Post ran a series of caricatures. My most vivid recollection of Frank Edwin "Tug" McGraw is the one of him in a Fireman's cap with "You gotta believe!"-- the Mets' catch phrase that he coined during that exciting National League East pennant race where no team finished with a winning record except his Mets--in a cartoon bubble. Although Tug now is probably more well known for being the father of country music superstar Tim, he was a rather big deal in New York from 1969 when the Miracle Mets shocked the baseball world by upsetting the powerful Baltimore Orioles in the World Series, until his trade to the Philadelphia Phillies after the 1974 season. He was also a big deal in Philadelphia from 1975-1984 when he retired. Tug played 10 years with the Mets and 10 years with the Phillies, winning one World Championship with each (1969 with the Mets and 1980 with the Phillies).

His career highlights included earning the first Mets' victory over Dodgers' great Sandy Koufax; winning 8 games and saving 12 in 1969, with one win being the notorious game where Steve Carlton struck out 19 Mets but was victimized by two Ron Swoboda two run homers; pitching 5 scoreless innings against the Big Red Machine in the victorious 1973 playoffs; pitching in 5 of the 7 1973 World Series games against the Oakland A's; saving 20 games and posting a 1.46 ERA for the 1980 World Champion Phillies resulting in his receiving both Cy Young and MVP consideration; pitching in all 5 games of the 1980 playoffs versus the Houston Astros and pitching in 4 of the 6 1980 World Series games against the Kansas City Royals including striking out Willie Wilson for the final out of that World Series (which he alludes to below).

Tug was a left-handed reliever (although he began his career as a starter) and he exemplified the independent personality traits that were attributed to many left-handed pitchers and particularly relievers of his era. I remember watching a lot of him and he always seemed to be up and enjoying himself; no matter the situation. When Tug, unfortunately, passed away from brain cancer in 2004, baseball lost one of its true characters. Having the privilege to talk to him on the phone for a few moments with his multiple grandchildren yelling in the background (he was enthusiastic and patient the entire time) is something I will never forget and was one of my most cherished player interactions. Here are his Opening Day memories.

McGraw.JPG"A good story. In 1980, the Phillies won the World Championship. It had been a glorious season. It was the first time in the Phillies 97 year history that they had won a championship. During the last month of the season, I had come into pitch 17 out of the last 25 games and in a lot of bases-loaded situations, lots of drama as we made our drive to the pennant. I pitched out of quite a few bases-loaded jams and was cruising along having a great season. We made it to the Series, which ended in a bases-loaded situation. I struck out Willie Wilson of the Royals with the bases loaded to win the Series. So over the winter we celebrated, and then began preparing for the '81 season. All in the hopes that we'd repeat. It was a fun spring because everyone was still excited about our winning the previous year.

The season opened in Cincinnati. It's always an honor to open in Cincy in that - that was always the first game. So here we are in Cincinnati against the Big Red Machine. It's fantastic. This is where professional baseball was born. It came down to the last inning, and we're tied 2-2. A very dramatic Opening Day. I'm in the bullpen hoping to get in the game, if needed. I came in and walked Tony Perez on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded and we lose! It didn't turn out the way it was supposed to turn out. I was really upset. You could give up a hit, a grand slam, make a good pitch and give the batter credit for hitting it, but when you walk somebody, well, that's just not supposed to happen. You're not supposed to walk in the winning run, especially on Opening Day.

I was really upset and I walked into the clubhouse and sat down in front of my locker, Scott Palmer, a local TV reporter said, 'Funny how things change. Last time you pitched, you were a hero -- now you're an Opening Day bum! How does it feel?' I looked up at him and he expected me to be real angry, but I remembered a book that I had read and I told him he had to apply the Frozen Snowball theory. And he looked puzzled and asked, 'What's the Frozen Snowball theory?' I said, 'Somebody explain to this guy what the Frozen Snowball theory is.' And everyone looked around and said, 'YOU explain the Frozen Snowball theory!' So I said, 'Science has proven that in 50 billion years the sun will exhaust all its energy and when that day comes, the earth will take on the appearance of a snowball, and when that day comes, nobody is going to give a shit what Tug McGraw did today!' So they all left, walking away shaking their heads thinking I lost more than just the game that day!

I also remember Opening Day in 1974. I was with the Mets and I relieved in the eighth against the Phillies. I struck out the side in the eighth, and in the ninth with one out, I gave up a single, and then Mike Schmidt hit a home run. Yup, I launched Schmidty on his Hall of Fame career."

Thanks Tug--you made baseball more colorful and interesting. See you in two. Richie