Our tribute to the 1973 Mets continues with recognition of the team’s closer, Frank Edwin “Tug” McGraw. McGraw was by far the most colorful personality on the team. In fact, McGraw gets the credit for the phrase “Ya Gotta Believe”. In late August of 1973, the Mets were in last place in the NL East, and were seemingly dead and buried. M.Donald Grant, the team’s GM, called a meeting with the players, to try to convince them that they still had a chance. During that meeting, McGraw jumped up and shouted, “Ya Gotta Believe!”, and the phrase became the team’s rallying cry as they continued their improbable run the a division title.
McGraw broke in with the Mets in 1965 as a starting pitcher. He didn’t last long in that role, and by 1966, was used almost exclusively in relief. McGraw featured the screwball, a reverse curve from a left-handed pitcher that breaks away from right-handed hitters and in on left-handed hitters. McGraw did not have his best year in 1973, posting a 5-6 record with a 3.87 ERA. He had 25 saves, and a WHIP of 1.35. However, he came up big in the post season, recording a save in both the NLCS and World Series, as well as a win in the World Series. In his 19-year career, McGraw had a record of 96-92, notched 180 saves, and had a lifetime ERA of 3.14 (WHIP of 1.25). McGraw played 9 years as a Met, recording 94 saves in Queens. After the 1974 season, he was traded to the Phillies, along with Dave Schneck and Don Hahn, for Del Unser, John Stearns, and Mac Scarce. McGraw played in Philadelphia through the 1984 season, after which he retired. He is often seen in footage of the 1980 World Series, when he recorded the last out against the Royals’ Willie Wilson.
In the spring of 2003, McGraw was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He valiantly fought cancer for 10 months, before passing away on January 5, 2004. McGraw was 59 years old when he died, far too young for a man whose vibrant personality transcended the game he played. My favorite McGraw quote came from an interview he did after playing in his first game on artificial turf (at the Astrodome). He was asked if he preferred grass or turf. McGraw responded, “I don’t know, I’ve never smoked turf.” It was that kind of wit and charisma that made McGraw so special. Here’s a Rising Apple hat tip to a fallen member for the 1973 Mets, closer Tug McGraw.