Saturday, May 16, 2009

40 Years Later: The 1969 NY Mets - Tug McGraw

This season we will celebrate and chronicle the players of the 1969 NY Mets.

Tug McGraw, the eccentric, enigmatic, and electrifying southpaw was signed as an Amateur Free Agent by the Mets June 12, 1964.
Frank Edwin "Tug" McGraw Jr was born August 30, 1944 in Martinez, California. Tug was one of three boys born to Frank and Mable McGraw. Tug was the second oldest. McGraw though born in Martinez, spent time growing up in Vallejo, California. His father worked many different jobs, and the family tended to move a lot.

McGraw graduated from St. Vincents High School in Vallejo in 1962. One story had him enrolling in barber school after high school.

Tug got his nickname from his mother, who called him "Tugger" when referring to his aggressive behavior when she nursed him. Talk about a tough nickname to live down!

Another claim is that he received his nickname when he was in barber school, and due to his poor scissor work, was nicknamed Tug. This legend is not factual. Tug tells the story of his mother naming him after his aggressive eating habits as a newborn.

Tug's debut with the Mets came on April 18, 1965 when he was summoned in the seventh inning, pitched 2/3 of the inning of a game started by Al Jackson. McGraw gave up 0 Runs, 0 Hits, 0 BB, and 1 K. The Mets lost to the SF Giants, 4-1.

That same year, McGraw became the first Mets pitcher to defeat the Legendary Sandy Koufax, on August 26th. McGraw, getting the start, pitched 7.2 innings, giving up 8 hits and two runs, while striking out five Dodgers.

In 1969, this character, who became known as 'Scroogie' because of the screwball he threw, went 9-3 (W/L), 2.24 (ERA), 12 (Saves) 101.1 (IP), 47 (BB) 92 (K’s), 1.355 (WHIP).

In the early part of his career, McGraw would start and relieve, before becoming a closer.

In the 1969 NL play-offs, the first year of play-offs in MLB history (this was the first year of an East and West Division in baseball), Tug pitched in the Championship Series against the Braves, which the Mets won in three straight games (in a best of five series). McGraw earned a save for Jerry Koosman in the second game, beating Atlanta 11-6.

When the Mets went to the World Series to face the highly favored Baltimore Orioles, Tug never got the opportunity to pitch. Nolan Ryan and Ron Taylor received the relief duties. As we all know, the 1969 Miracle Mets defeated the seemingly unbeatable Baltimore Orioles 4 games to 1.

In 1973, Tug became the unofficial team leader with his rallying cry, 'Ya Gotta Believe!' The Mets were in last place and floundering when the Mets Chairman, M. Donald Grant spoke to the club and expressed the front office's belief in this team. McGraw stood up and starting screaming, 'Ya Gotta Believe!' Most of the Mets player took this to be a mockery of Grants speech, but the theme caught on, and helped propel the Mets to the 1973 World Series.

The day that many Mets fan will rue was on December 3, 1974 when the Mets sent McGraw, Dave Schneck and Don Hahn to the Phillies for Del Unser, John Stearns and Mac Scarce. McGraw went on to win the 1980 World Series as the closer for the Phillies.

McGraw finished his respectable career with the Phillies in 1984.

While in Spring Training as a Special Instructor for the Phillies in March 2003, McGraw started becoming confused, and showed up for practice on a day there was no practice. He sought medical attention, and it was discovered that he had a brain tumor. Tug faced this frightening reality with the same quirky humor he showed as a ballplayer. He made light of the situation, and did his best to keep people laughing.

On July 13, 2003, McGraw threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Shea Stadium, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Mets 1973 NL Championship team.

Cancer finally defeated this gutsy lefty on January 5, 2004 in Brentwood, Tennessee, at the home of his son and daughter-in-law, country singers Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.

The crowd pleasing lefty, who threw a fastball, screwball, curveball, change-up, and slider, had a career record of 180 saves.

Famous Quotes From/Of Tug McGraw:

When asked of his preference of grass or Astroturf: “I dunno, I never smoked Astroturf.”

"I have no trouble with the twelve inches between my elbow and my palm. It's the seven inches between my ears that's bent."

After receiving a signing bonus: "Ninety percent I'll spend on good times, women and Irish Whiskey. The other ten percent I'll probably waste."

1973 NY Mets Rallying Cry: "Ya Gotta Believe!"

On the tragedy of his brain cancer: 'I front-loaded my life, just like my contract.'

"Tug McGraw was one of the great characters of the game of baseball," said Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, McGraw's teammate with the Mets' 1969 championship team. "He just had a joy for life and living. But what people sometimes overlook because he was always happy-go-lucky was what kind of competitor he was on the mound. No one competed with more intensity than he did."


Long Island Met Fan said...

great stuff ! He was a character right to the end!

metsfan73 said...

I love the comment about front loading his life like his contract!