Wednesday, October 19, 2011

#265 - Tug McGraw

Like his '73 Series opponent on the prior post, Joe Rudi, Tug here had a very mixed pennant season. After getting five saves by the end of April his season blew apart and as late as mid-July he was 0-4 with a 6.00 ERA. But after a team meeting that month Tug coined the "Ya Gotta Believe" mantra and took the team with him on a tear. The final two months he went 5-2 with 14 saves with a 1.61 ERA. His fist-pumping enthusiasm became infectious as he solidified his role as a fan favorite and helped galvanize the Mets to their late-season run.

Frank "Tug" McGraw grew up outside of Vallejo California and then attended Vallejo Junior College where he pitched. After a poor showing in the JC state playoffs most teams lost interest. But Tug had a brother Hank who was a big baseball star ahead of him and had been signed by the Mets a few years earlier and Hank insisted the Mets sign Tug which they did in '64. It proved to be an opportunistic signing as he went a combined 6-4 with a 1.64 ERA as a starter that summer in Rookie and A ball. In '65 the Mets took him all the way up top to keep him out of the first year draft where his record wasn't so hot but he put up a very nice ERA. In his second win that year he became the first Met to beat Sandy Koufax in a start. While he pitched mostly out of the pen that year in '66 he grabbed mostly starting assignments in a year split between NY and Triple A. He'd hurt his shoulder working out before the season and it showed in an elevated ERA up top and not so great numbers at the lower level. But he DID pick up a pitch that season - a scewball, which became his signature pitch. While his few games in NY the '67 season were a wash he would put up excellent seasons with his new pitch the next two years in Triple A going 19-18 with a 2.71 ERA in the rotation. In '69 he came up for good.

After a few starts in '69 McGraw was pulled aside by manager Gil Hodges who told Tug he believed his future lay in the pen, which Tug embraced. He would put up killer stats the rest of the season as the Mets came from far back to be Series winners. He would throw well in the playoffs but not be needed against Baltimore. After an OK '70 he put up back to back seasons of 1.70 ERAs in '71 and '72, recording a career-high 27 saves the second season and earning his first All-Star selection. In '73 he had 25 saves but in '74 he had only three as his record fell to 6-11 and his ERA moved above 4.00 after he again hurt his shoulder. He also made a few starts that season including one in which he threw his only career shutout. After the season he went to the Phillies with outfielders Don Hahn and Dave Schneck for Mac Scarce, Del Unser, and John Stearns, leaving NY as the Mets career saves leader.

For the Phillies McGraw would have another long, successful run. In '75 he became the top guy in the pen, earning his second All-Star nod with a 9-6 record, 14 saves, and a 2.98 ERA. From then on he would be a strategic part of the Phillies' bullpen-by-committee as he was joined by Ron Reed, Warren Brusstar, Gene Garber, and others in helping Philly reach the playoffs in five of the next six seasons. He averaged records of 7-5 with ten saves in 59 games and a 2.77 ERA over the three division-winning seasons of '76 to '78. In '79 shoulder issues returned and his ERA popped above 5.00 although he recorded his second most saves as a Phillie, 16. Then in '80 he put together a wonderful season during another title run - 5-4 with 20 saves and a 1.46 ERA in 57 games - to get some serious Cy votes and capped it with an excellent Series against the Royals. He would then put up pretty good numbers as his innings declined over the next four seasons. When he retired after the '84 season he also finished as the Phillies' saves leader. Overall Tug went 96-92 with a 3.14 ERA, five complete games, that shutout, and 180 saves. In the post-season he went 3-3 with seven saves and a 2.24 ERA in 26 games. He also hit pretty well: .182 with 18 RBIs in 214 career at bats and .200 in the post-season. He has a very detailed bio by the SABR guys.

After he played McGraw did a bunch of speaking gigs and was a color commentator and news guy for a Philadelphia station from '85 to '91. In the early '90's he became actively involved in the fledgling music career of his son Tim. He would also do some work in spring training with the Phillies through 2003. It was in spring training that year that he found he had an aggressive form of brain cancer from which he would pass away in January '04. He was 59.

I like how the Tug in the signature is printed while the rest is in script. Those are two pretty good star bullets although the second gives no indication of the drama Tug endured during the season. It's too bad he didn't do the jewelry gig later. He probably would have been an excellent pitchman on cable.

On this date back in the music world in '74 Al Green was hospitalized with second and third degree burns resulting from his girlfriend pouring hot grits over him while he was in the shower. She then shot herself. Al's big hit was "Let's Stay Together" although he had a bunch of other Top Ten songs. After he recovered he became a gospel singer, turning his back on his self-proclaimed hedonistic life style. Drama all over back then.

Another two Series opponents. Thankfully the itinerant Alou's help here:

1. McGraw and Tom Seaver '69 to '74 Mets;
2. Seaver and Jesus Alou '75 Mets;
3. Alou and Joe Rudi '73 to '74 A's.

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