Yesterday we profiled the ” King Of The Hotfoot“, Roger McDowell, and his career as a Mets reliever. But in all honesty he couldn’t touch number the next player on this countdown, the man who is quite possibly the best – and possibly most lovable reliever to ever wear number 45 for the Mets. That’s right number 23 on this countdown is none other than the late Tug McGraw.
Tug was born Frank Edwin McGraw Jr in Martinez, California on August 30th 1944. He would earn the nickname “Tug” from his mother because as she put it , he would tug aggressively at her brest when she would feed him. Tug would attend in Solano Community College. Upon his graduating college in 1964, Tug would sign as a amateur free agent with the Mets.
While pitching for the Mets single A affiliate, Tug was used as both a starter as well as a reliever. He would spend Just one season in the minors ( he totally bypassed double and triple A), Tug would make the Mets major league roster out of spring training in 1965.
Tug was utilized as a reliever. But midway through the season, he would make a rare start in the second game of a doubleheader against the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field. Tug was pummeled in the start, lasting only a two thirds of a inning, giving up three earned runs. The Mets would lose the game by the lopsided score of 9-0. Tug has the distinction of being the first Mets pitcher to ever beat the Mets killer, ( and future Hall of Famer) Sandy Kofax ! Tug would remain in the Metsstarting rotation for the remainder of the season. He would finish the season with a record of 2–7 and a ERA of 3.32 with no saves.
In 1966 , the Mets once again used Tug as a starting pitcher. He would end the season with a dreadful record of 2–9 with a 5.52 ERA
Tug made a handful of starts for the Mets in 1967, going 0-4 with a ERA of 7.79. He would be demoted to the Mets farm team, the Jacksonville Suns. He would spend the entire season there in 1968 to hone his skills.
In 1969, Tug would make it back to the majors, but there wasn’t any room in the starting rotation. He would primarily be used out of the bullpen that season, but he would step in for a injured Jerry Koosman that May.Tug would go 1–1 with a 5.23 ERA while filling in for Koosman.
Tug would finish the ’69 regular season with a record of 9-3 with a ERA of 2.24 and 12 saves.
Tug’s only post season appearance would be in game two of the 1969 NLCS against the Atlanta Braves. Both Tug along with fellow reliever , Ron Taylor would help bail out the struggling Jerry Koosman , after he was lit up for six runs in 4 and two thirds of a inning.They would hold the Braves scoreless for the rest of the game , and the Mets would come back to win it by the score of 11–6 .
Tug would not make a appearance in the 1969 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles.
In the early ’70′s Tug established himself as one of the better reliever in the National League. From 1970-1972, Tug would have 45 saves, and he was quickly emerging as one of the top closers in the National League .
In 1972, Tug would be elected to his first All-Star team. He was dominant. In two innings he struck out four batters while giving up one hit to earn the win. The National League would end up winning the game by the score of 4–3 .
During the first few months of the 1973 season, Tug was hardly effective. At one point he was banished from game action because he was so hittable when he came into the game. By the middle of the season, the Mets had fallen into the NL East cellar, where it looked like they were destined to end the season. In late August, Mets President M.Donald Grant called a team meeting, where he was said to have gave a impassioned motivational speech. As legend goes, Tug jumped up from the bench in front of his locker and started shouting “YA GOTTA BELIEVE !! YA GOTTA BELIEVE!!” and in that very moment the most famous rallying cry of all time was born. That next day, Tug was the winning pitcher in a extra inning game against the St Louis Cardinals.
The Mets would go on a tear, winning twenty of their last twenty-eight games, clinching the ’73 National East division title on the last day of the season. Tug went 3-0 with a ERA of 0.57 ERA and ten saves down that stretch.
McGraw was dominant in the ’73 post season.He pitched five innings in two games in the NLCS against the Cincinnati Reds. He did not give up a single run. He appeared in five of the seven games of the 1973 World Series against the Oakland Athletics. He would blow the save in game two of the World Series, but he ended up getting the win after pitching three scoreless innings in extra innings to earn the win in the game.
On December 3, 1974, the Mets shocked and angered the Mets faithful when they traded McGraw along with outfielders Don Hahn and Dave Schneck to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Mac Scarce, outfielder Del Unser and catcher John Stearns. The Mets claimed the reason why they traded Tug was because he had developed shoulder problems during the 1974 season, and they thought he would never be a effective pitcher ever again. Well as we know , the Mets front office at the time was incompetent as the recently fired front office. After the trade, Tug was diagnosed with cyst on his pitching shoulder. He would have surgery to remove it, and his career was reborn in Philadelphia.
Tug would spend nine years with the Phillies before retiring from baseball in 1984. He won his second World Series title in 1980 when the Phillies beat the Kansas City Royals.
After retiring, Tug would become a reporter for the ABC affiliate found on channel 6 in Philadelphia. He primarily did sports stories and the occasional out of left field feature.
During spring training in March of ’03 , while working as a roving instructor for the Phillies,Tug was hospitalized with a brain tumor. He would have surgery to remove the tumor but it was found to be inoperable. Tug was told by his doctors that he had just weeks to live . Tug battled hard and he held on for nine months. During this time he attended the twenty-fifth anniverseary ceremonies of the Mets Miracle of ’69. His head was shaven bald , yet he came across as upbeat. He gave his farewell speech to the Mets faithful telling the fans how much they meant to him. He was given the honors of throwing out the first pitch that day in front of a packed crowd at Shea Stadium. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Sadly , Tug would lose his fight against cancer on January 5, 2004. The Mets would pay tribute the their fallen elder statesman by wearing a embroidered patch that was emblazoned with his ’73 rally cry “Ya gotta Believe” on their left shoulders for the entire ’04 season..
In 2003,Tug would establish the Tug McGraw Foundation. Their mission statement is to enhance the quality of life of children and adults with brain tumors. Sharon Chapman, a rabid Mets fan and reader of this blog ran the NYC marathon this past October to raise money for this charity, because like all of us she was touched by Tug McGraw, one of the greatest Mets to ever play the game. All i can say while I wipe away my tears writing this piece is how much I miss Tug. I may never have met him, but he made me understand that to be a Mets fan – You Just GOTTA BELIEVE !!!
In his nine years with the Mets, Tug compiled a record of 47-55 with 85 saves and a ERA of 3.17.
Tomorrow we will reveal number 22 on the countdown. All I will say is that he is quite possibly one of the most charitable men to ever play the game.
And with that said…. HERE COMES THE INFAMY !!!
Mets alumni celebrating birthdays today include:
Mets reserve catcher from ’94-’95 and again in ’06,Kelly Stinnett is 41 (1970) .
The New York Mets signed free agent pitcher, José Lima on February 14, 2006. Lima was definitely a personality in the clubhouse during his brief stint with the Mets. Unfortunately that didn’t translate to his pitching where he had a record of 0-4 witha ERA of9.87 in four starts with the Mets
The Baltimore Orioles signed Steve Trachsel of the New York Mets as a free agent on February 14, 2007. Most Mets fans didn’t shed a tear. I hated it when he signed in ’01 and I hated him more when he wimped out of game five in the NLCS playoffs.
The New York Mets signed free agent Livan Hernandez of the Colorado Rockies on February 14, 2009. Livan would pitch surprisingly well for most of the season, but he was released that August when he was about to acheive the performance goals in his contract.
And while you pace back and forth looking at your calender every five minutes ,waiting for pitchers and catchers to commence, just remember that there are just 46 Ollie Perez ( sorry) days until the Mets open the 2011 season against the Florida Marlins in Miami and only 53 until the Mets 2011 home opener against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field.
Mo Vaughn feels like a nut !!