There may not be a better baseball name than Tug McGraw. McGraw made a good living out of throwing a baseball for the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies and, typical of many left-handed pitchers, he had that semi off-the-wall personality. McGraw, the father of country music singer Tim McGraw, spent 19 years in the big leagues but left this world way too soon when an inoperable brain tumor took his life in 2004 at the age of 59.
Tug McGraw’s MLB career
Frank Edwin ‘Tug’ McGraw made his Major League Baseball debut on April 18, 1965, as a member of the New York Mets and threw his last pitch on Sept. 25, 1984, against the Mets while pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies. In his 19 seasons of Major League Baseball, McGraw was used both as a starter and a reliever. He threw 1,514.2 innings and amassed 1,109 strikeouts for his career.
McGraw, was known more for coming out of the bullpen, making just 39 starts in his nearly two decades of work. McGraw spent the first nine seasons of his career with the Mets. He was an MLB All-Star during the 1972 season when he went 8-6 out of the bullpen with a 1.70 ERA and a career-high 27 saves. The season before, McGraw posted 11 wins, mostly in relief (he made one start), and also finished with a 1.70 ERA. He had eight saves.
In December of 1980, McGraw signed with the Philadelphia Phillies as a free agent. He made just three starts for the Phillies, but still managed to collect 49 wins, going 49-37 with a 3.10 ERA. With the Phillies, he finished with 94 saves. He made a return to the MLB All-Star Game in 1975, his first year with the Phillies, when he went 9-6 with 14 saves. For his career, McGraw went 96-92 with 180 saves. His career ERA is 3.14.
Tug McGraw was quite the character
In 1973, the New York Mets were struggling. Deep into the season, they were in last place and stayed there through Aug. 30. On Aug. 31, they climbed out of the cellar as McGraw earned the victory. For the rest of the year, McGraw went 3-0 with 10 saves and the Mets went 20-8 to pull out a miraculous division title. During a team meeting in July that season, McGraw yelled, “You Gotta Believe” which became a rallying cry for the rest of the season. McGraw uttered that phrase numerous times throughout the season and is credited for coining that phrase that is still used today.
Not only did McGraw come up with the “You Gotta Believe” phrase, but he also had quite a few memorable quotes as well, according to Baseball Almanac. Once, when a reporter asked him if he preferred pitching on grass or Astroturf, he responded with, “I dunno. I’ve never smoked any Astroturf.”
Like most southpaw pitchers, McGraw took that quirkiness to another level. He was once asked if his arm was hurting and, without skipping a beat, replied, ” 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.” He also thought that kids should begin signing autographs early, because “it’s a skill that’s overlooked in Little League.”
Tug McGraw’s cancer diagnosis
An article in The Times-Union, states Tug and Tim McGraw didn’t have a relationship early on. Tim’s mom, Betty, and Tug had a fling when Tug was pitching in the minors. She got pregnant and the two split apart. Father and son then connected years later and developed a strong bond.
Working as a special instructor for the Philadelphia Phillies in March of 2003, Tug McGraw didn’t feel right and went to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor and was told he had three weeks to live. His son, Tim, along with his wife Faith Hill, convinced him to get a second opinion. That second opinion revealed a much brighter future for Tug. “My son Tim got there and he said this is unacceptable,” McGraw told the New York Times. ”That’s when he and Faith got on their network and they put together a plan to get me out of there and get me to someone who knew what they were talking about. Within another day and a half I was on my way to Moffitt Center. Right away, the whole thing changed. That three-week thing didn’t work.”
Tug was told a full recovery was expected, but the tumor returned and he died nine months later on Jan. 5, 2004. Tim McGraw’s 2004 hit “Live Like You Were Dying” was written in Tug’s memory. In 2008, Tim McGraw spread some of his father’s ashes around the mound of Game 3 of the World Series in Philadelphia. The Phillies defeated the Tampa Bay Rays that night 5-4 and went on to win the World Series.