Former Relief Pitcher Tug McGraw Dies
PHILADELPHIA – Tug McGraw, the zany relief pitcher who coined the phrase “You Gotta Believe” with the New York Mets and later closed out the Philadelphia Phillies’ only World Series championship, died Monday. He was 59.
McGraw died of brain cancer at the home of his son, country music star Tim McGraw, outside of Nashville, according to Laurie Hawkins, a family spokesperson. He had been battling the disease since March when he underwent surgery for a malignant tumor.
McGraw’s illness came as a shock to fans and friends alike last spring. He was at Phillies’ training camp in Clearwater, Fla., as a special instructor, looking fine and acting as funny as ever. On March 12, he was hospitalized and the tumor was discovered. He later said there had been signs something was wrong. For example, he mistakenly showed up at the ballpark on an off day.
“We lost a part of Mets history tonight,” Mets owner Fred Wilpon said. “Tug was a battler on and off the field. I know he fought the disease with every ounce of energy he had. We’ll all miss him dearly.”
Especially former Phillies teammate and Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt.
“He put up a gallant fight,” Schmidt said. “Publicly, he never let on that he had gotten a raw deal. He was Tug through the entire thing. As he always said, `I front-loaded my life, just like my contract.’ His passing is hard to take because his presence meant so much to people around him.”
Bob Boone, who was the Phillies’ catcher from 1972-81, remained a close friend, too.
“I was real pleased I was able to be with him a little bit the last couple of months,” Boone said from his home in Anaheim, Calif. “All of a sudden it hit and he went real quick, which probably is a blessing.
“I know he got more living out of his 59 years than anybody. What you saw was what Tug was. There was no phoniness at all. He loved people and loved life.”
McGraw participated in the closing ceremonies for Veterans Stadium, which will be demolished next month. During the program, he re-enacted his final pitch of the 1980 World Series, striking out Kansas City’s Willie Wilson for the title.
He popularized the phrase “You Gotta Believe” during the Mets’ 1973 NL championship season and carried the slogan through his illness, vowing he’d be on hand next month to push the button to bring down the Vet.
McGraw was known for charging off the mound, slapping his right hand on his thigh and tapping his chest after a close call.
“Patting his hand on his heart after a guy hits a home run foul, who would do that in the heat of the battle?” said Phillies manager Larry Bowa, who played with McGraw on the 1980 championship team. “But it showed he had no fear. He was loose. That’s how he played the game.”
A left-hander who threw a screwball, McGraw could be a bit of screwball himself.
Once asked whether he preferred to play on a grass field or an artificial surface, he said, “I don’t know. I never smoked any AstroTurf.”
McGraw’s playful personality often overshadowed his talent. He was an outstanding big-game pitcher during his 19-year career.
In 26 postseason games, he had a 2.23 ERA and was 3-3 with eight saves.
McGraw was 96-92 with a 3.14 ERA and 180 saves, and was a two-time All-Star. He made his major league debut with the Mets in 1965 at age 20 and finished with the Phillies in 1984.
After the 1974 season, McGraw was traded by the Mets to Philadelphia in a six-player swap that sent John Stearns to New York. With McGraw, the Phillies won five division titles, two NL pennants and one World Series.
McGraw had 20 saves and a 1.46 ERA in 1980, helping put Philadelphia into the playoffs. After the Phillies got past Houston in a tight NLCS ó McGraw pitched in every game of the best-of-five series ó they faced the Royals in the World Series.
In addition to his son Tim, McGraw is survived by sons Mark and Matthew McGraw; a daughter, Cari Velardo, and four grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements were not immediately available.