01/06/2004 3:25 AM ET
McGraw was more than a pitcher
By Ken Mandel / MLB.com
PHILADELPHIA -- If there was ever a baseball player who combined pitching guile, talent and an insatiable appetite to entertain himself and all who he came across, that player was named Frank Edwin McGraw.
Enjoying life was of paramount importance during McGraw's 59 years on the planet.
"To know Tug was to love him," said Phillies chairman Bill Giles. "He was more than just a pitcher, he was loved by everyone that knew him. He had a special spirit that will never be forgotten by anyone who saw him pitch. He's responsible for Philadelphia's most defining sports moment when he struck out Willie Wilson to win the city's only world championship."
"Tug was a good friend and a good pitcher, but I will always remember him as my great friend," said former batterymate Bob Boone. "He lived life to the fullest."
|Tug McGraw will always be remembered for his "You Gotta Believe" motto. (AP)
Putting aside that greatest visual memory of McGraw -- the one where he leaps off the Veterans Stadium mound as if he isn't going to land -- and there is so much more to McGraw. Just ask anyone who ever met him, played on the same field with him.
Whatever McGraw did, he did with an unmatched zeal. From wearing a green uniform for his favorite holiday -- St. Patrick's Day -- to naming his pitches, people who speak of McGraw often display the same wide smile that McGraw often brought to their face.
"I had a few tears, a few beers and some Irish whiskey," said Mike Krukow, a former Phillie and current Giants broadcaster. "Tug would not want us to be sad. He was the best roommate I ever had. We both liked to get mellow and talk baseball. We'd sing songs and I'd play the guitar. Tug was the only tone-deaf Irishman I ever met. His brother Hank could sing. And his son (country star Tim McGraw) isn't bad either."
Krukow immediately launched into a story of how the two met.
"It was an intra-squad game," he said. "Tug walked over to me and the first thing he said was, 'Did you ever eat oysters until you (threw up)?' So after the workout, we went and got a dozen oysters for $1.50. We sat around and talked baseball. We were hooked up from then on."
That was the case with everyone McGraw met. Take Larry Christenson, one of McGraw's best friends, and a constant victim of McGraw's playful nature. The reliever always joked that he was guaranteed to pitch on days when Christenson started.
"I would walk down the lockers and Tug would see me coming and announce real loudly, 'L.C., are you pitching today?'" Christenson said. "I'd say 'Yes.' And he'd shout, 'So am I!' That was the ritual."
While the clownish personality is the side that made McGraw one of the most beloved sports figures of his era, it shouldn't be forgotten that he was one of the game's greatest warriors. His love for making people laugh was only dwarfed by his desire to get people out.
And he would do that any way possible.
"You have to know this about Tug," said Krukow. "He loved to play the clown and he loved to laugh, but when it came to competing, no one wanted the ball more."
Krukow related a story of a game in Pittsburgh, when McGraw had no screwball and went out to the mound with nothing but a "mediocre fastball." After warming up with eight screwballs, he pumped four straight fastballs to Dave Parker -- three straight by him.
"We got out of the inning and won the game," Krukow said. "He didn't have a screwball, but he wasn't going to let that guy know it."
He also refused to let anyone know the pain he was feeling. Weakened considerably by the effects of radiation treatments, McGraw always smiled and joked when in public. It didn't matter that he was never out of the woods, or that the cancer returned. He simply wasn't going to go quietly, despite a disease that was ravaging his body.
One of his better lines came in Baltimore, when he mentioned that he was staying with the Schwab family during trips to Florida for treatment. Randy Schwab had recently gone through a triple bypass.
"We sick stick together, man," McGraw said, patting his hand hard against his thigh. "You get a brain tumor, go find a guy with a heart bypass and hang out together."
That was Tug, patting his thigh until he couldn't do it anymore.
"He battled right to the end like he always did," said Christenson. "He took it on and was not afraid of the challenge. Not once did I hear him complain."
"He epitomized what Philadelphia is all about," said current Phillies manager and former teammate Larry Bowa. "He was hard-working, dedicated and never gave up. The picture of him jumping up in the air after the last out in 1980 is very memorable. He was a great person and will be missed."
Bowa added that the Phillies lost two greats in the past 10 days, as Paul Owens passed away on Dec. 26. Both men were looking forward to the opening of Citizens Bank Park, and will most certainly be there in spirit.
McGraw was at his best in the postseason, winning titles with the Mets in '69 and later with Philadelphia in 1980. He was 4-5 with six saves, posting a 2.24 ERA in 26 playoff and World Series games.
"What we sometimes forget is that Tug pitched in all five games of the League Championship Series against Houston (in 1980)," said Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas. "He lost one game but came right back. There were no negatives in the Tugger. He always believed, and that was infectious with all the teams he played. Players always had a spring in their step when he was around.
"When they won that gut-wrenching, five-game series, there was no doubt in my mind that they were going to win the Series. Tug had to be tired, but he did it all on pure will."
The same can be said about everything he did.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.