Each week during the off-season, I will be selecting a random, former Met to highlight. This will be taking place of our usual Friday segment, Rising Apple Player of the Week, until the regular season starts back up in April. If you have a former Met that you’d like me to highlight, please contact me at [email protected] and title your email: Rising Apple Off-Season Player of the Week suggestion.
Although today’s Rising Apple Player of the Week seems to be more well-known for what he said than how he played, Tug McGraw had a very successful 19 year career with both the Phillies and the Mets. Most fans in New York remember him for starting the now famous phrase “Ya Gotta Believe!” on their way to winning the division in 1973 and riding that to the World Series against the Athletics, but he was a dominant closer for New York throughout the 1970s.
Born in Martinez, California, McGraw’s professional career started when the Mets signed him as an amateur free agent in 1964. That next year, Tug was in the Big Leagues, and by the time his career was finished, he was the last active Major Leaguer to play under legendary manager Casey Stengel. During the beginning years of his career, McGraw was trained as a rifleman in the Marine Corps and said he became a “trained killer” when he reported to camp. It was a tough situation in his family, as his brother was an anti-war protester, and they often bumped heads about the Vietnam War.
What I didn’t realize was that McGraw was a part of the 1969 Miracle Mets, as he captured one of his two World Series rings, and was an important piece of the puzzle as he went 9-3 with a 2.24 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and 92 strikeouts in 100.1 innings pitched. He would go on to play for nine seasons with the Mets, and his best two-year span with the Amazins came during 1971-72, as he went a combined 19-10 with a 1.70 ERA, 35 saves, 81 games finished, and 201 strikeouts in 217 innings pitched. It was his performance in 1972 (8-6 record, 1.70 ERA in 54 appearances) that earned him his first of two All-Star appearances, and he placed 25th in NL MVP voting.
The 1974 season was a tough one for Tug, as he went 6-11 with a 4.16 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, and only 54 strikeouts in 88.2 innings pitched. After the season was through, he was included in a trade with the Phillies, which also involved Don Hahn and Dave Schneck going to Philadelphia in exchange for Mac Scarce, Del Unser, and John Stearns. McGraw was having some issues with his shoulder, but after he got traded to Philly, he had surgery to remove a cyst that had formed, and he recovered fully to pitch for 10 more seasons.
His first year for the Phillies was a successful one, as he appeared in his second and final All-Star game while compiling a 9-6 record, 2.98 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 37 games finished (14 saves), and 55 strikeouts in 102.2 innings pitched. He placed fifth in NL Cy Young voting and 16th in MVP voting as he helped Philadelphia secure their first ever World Series championship in 1980 (5-4 record, 1.46 ERA, 57 games finished). When his career was all said and done in 1984, McGraw compiled a 96-92 record, 3.14 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 180 saves, 541 games finished, and 1,109 strikeouts in 1,514.2 innings pitched. Before John Franco came around, he was also the Mets all-time leader in saves, games pitched, and games finished.
Tug kept himself busy after his playing career was done and he was watching his son Tim become a Country music star; he did some news reporting for WPVI, a local affiliate in Philadelphia, and appeared on an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. He then worked as an instructor with the Phillies in 2003 when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The surgery was performed successfully and Tug was expected to have a full recovery, but the doctors weren’t able to remove the entire tumor, which eventually led to his death nine months later. He was cremated and Tim McGraw took some of his ashes and spread them around the pitcher’s mound before Game 3 of the 2008 World Series at Citizen’s Bank Park. He’s remembered not only for his good play, but his good personality, and is enshrined in both the Mets and Phillies Hall of Fame.
So, here’s to you, Mr. McGraw. I’m sorry your life was cut way to short at the age of 59, but I thank you for all that you did while you were on this Earth, and coining a phrase us Mets fans will use for the rest of our days.