Frank Edwin McGraw was born August 30, 1944 in Martinez, California. As a baby he would firmly tug his mother’s breast as she breast fed him, earning the lifelong nickname Tug. His mother was manic depressive and split on the family while on a weekend pass from a mental institution. He & his brothers were raised by their father, playing sports attending Catholic schools.
Tug’s brother Hank, was an outstanding catching prospect that was signed by the Mets scout Roy Partee in 1961. A couple of years later, he told the team to sign his brother Tug as well, or else he wouldn’t play. Hank spent 12 years in the minors, but would never reach the big league level. He was once famously suspended for not cutting his hair.
Tug was a left-handed pitcher still developing his pitching style. The Mets signed McGraw right out of junior college in 1964 as a bonus baby for $7,000. He made his pro debut pitching a no hitter at Cocoa Beach.
In April of 1965 he was on the Mets big league squad, making his MLB debut at the age of 20. He struckout Orlando Cepeda in the first game of a double header, and was so excited he needed a tranquilizer to calm himself down.
He earned his first save at Philadelphia pitching one inning of relief on May 24th, and three months later got his first career win. It was a complete game, two run, five strikeout performance against St. Louis at Shea Stadium.
His next outing was his most important win of the year, as he beat the Dodgers and Sandy Koufax. The great Koufax already had 21 wins that season, and had beaten the Mets four times & was 14-0 lifetime against them. McGraw allowed two first 1st inning runs, then settled down to shut out the Dodgers into the 8th inning. After winning back to back starts he lost his next five decisions finishing at 2-7 with a 3.32 ERA.
He struggled as a starter the next season going 2-9 with an ERA over five and was sent to AAA Jacksonville for most of the season. There he met former New York pitcher Ralph Terry who taught him to throw a screwball, while playing golf. It took him the rest of the year & all of 1968 at AAA ball to learn how to throw it right.
Tug had to fool the strict manager, Sheriff Robinson who didn’t want his young pitchers throwing any new pitches. But when he did, the pitch changed Tug’s career, it cut inside to right handers & away from lefties, making it very tough to hit the left hander.
He was 10-9 with a league leading 1.99 ERA at Jacksonville in 1967, & won another nine games the following year (10-9).
Tug was on the Mets 1969 roster, and got the win pitching six innings of relief on the second game of the season, beating the expansion Expos at Shea. He was 3-0 as a starter in mid May, when Gil Hodges called him into his office.
He told Tug, he thought he could be a huge asset to the club as late inning stopper out of the bullpen. He felt his screw ball would fool hitters late in the game, and that Tug could be very successful making himself a lot of money in that role, but left the decision up to him. McGraw agrees and the rest is history, he went on to become one of the first superstar relief pitchers in the game.
He saved five games in June and would go on to win six more games along the way, taking only three losses. During the pennant stretch drive, McGraw saved seven games and won three, losing only once while posting a 0.45 ERA. That September he earned the win against the Phillies the night Steve Carlton stuck out 19 batters, but two Ron Swoboda HRs won it for New York.
Overall, In 1969 McGraw struck out 92 batters in 100 innings pitched, going 9-3 posting 12 saves (8th in the league) and a 2.42 ERA over 42 games.
Ron Taylor was still the Mets main closer that season, and Nolan Ryan was used in long relief in the post season. His only post season appearance was in Game #1 of the NLCS where he earned the save pitching three innings, allowing no runs, one hit & a walk.
Tug McGraw quickly earned a reputation as a flaky guy, a free spirit who enjoyed living life to the fullest. He was a whole lot of fun to be around, like to party & spend time with the ladies. When he signed his next contact he said” I’ll probably spend 90% of this on good times, women & Irish whiskey. The other 10% I’ll probably justy waste.”
When he was asked if he preferred natural grass or Astroturf he said “I don’t know, I never smoked Astroturf”. One story says when the Mets team toured Vietnam in 1970, Ron Taylor had to slap a joint out of Tugs mouth, as he attempted to light up.
Tug also like to cut hair. He would volunteer to cut the homeless’ hair on the Bowery; and in the military when on reserve duty. He once cut Ralph Kiners hair, on Kiners Korner. Kiner joked, it took him four months to grow it back. Tug had also served his time in the military reserves as a Marine, in the mid sixties.
In the winter of 1970 he injured his ankle on a toboggan run with team mate Ron Swoboda. He told the club he hurt it slipping on ice while throwing out the garbage at home. He began the season, earning a save on Opening Day against the Pittsburgh Pirates as the Mets raised the World Championship banner. It was the first Opening Day game the franchise had ever won.
He would save four more games through May but also take two losses & blow another save. He was still sharing the closing chances with Ron Taylor & by the All Star break McGraw had seven saves posting a 3.64 ERA with a 1-3 record. He didn’t have to many more save opportunities earning just one more save until the end of August. In September he pitched a five inning relief outing at Shea against the Montreal Expos,, although he allowed three runs he still got the win as the Mets scored ten runs, winning10-5.
In his next appearance he pitched six scoreless against the Cardinals but earned no decision. McGraw earned another win that month in Philadelphia pitching 2.2 scoreless innings. He also was credited with a pair of saves that month. He finished the year at 4-6 with ten saves (second on the staff to Taylor) 81 strike outs, 49 walks 90 innings & a 3.28 ERA in 57 appearances.
By 1971 he was now sharing the closer duties with Danny Frisella, together the two made for one of baseball’s best relief combos. In 53 games Frisella was 8-5 with a team leading 12 saves.
McGraw would then have his best season up that point as well. He started the year with an extra inning win against the Cincinnati Reds on April 11th, combining on a 12 inning shutout with Tom Seaver.
Things picked up as the summer rolled in, In June he made ten appearances going 2-1 with three saves. On June 19th he pitched five shutout innings against the Phillies at Shea Stadium but earned no decision. By the All Star break he was 6-3 with six saves and a 1.90 ERA.
In the second half of the season he never let his ERA climb above the two mark & was very effective going 5-1 with three saves the rest of the way. His screwball made him especially tough on right handed hitters, and overall the league just hit .189 against him.
McGraw would end up 1971 with eight saves, but more importantly he won 11 games (3rd most wins on the staff) going 11-4. He posted a .733 winning percentage & a 1.71 ERA. He struck out a career high 109 batters in 111 innings while walking just 41 in 51 appearances.
McGraw started out 1972 with another Opening Day save, as he combined with Tom Seaver on a shutout against the World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates. On this day the Mets honored Gil Hodges by retiring his uniform #14, after Hodges had suddenly passed away during Spring Training due to a heart attack.
Tug started out the year 2-0 with seven saves before taking his first loss in mid May. Yogi Berra was now the manager and he began to use Tug as the main reliever on a regular basis, although Frisella still posted nine saves while finishing 31 games .
By the All Star break Tug already had 13 saves and an ERA of just 2.00, as he was named to his first All Star team. It was the only time in his career he would pitch in the midsummer classic. He pitched two innings and struck out the side in the 9th inning, which included Reggie Jackson, Bobby Grich & Norm Cash. He earned the victory for the National League when Cincinnati’s Joe Morgan drove home the winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning.
For the second half of the season, McGraw was even better; from August 12th through September 22nd he blew just one save opportunity, going 3-0 recording eight saves. He finished the year with a club record at that time; 27 saves (2nd in the league) a Mets mark that that stood until 1984. He posted an 8-6 record with an identical 1.70 ERA from the previous year.
That year he allowed just three HRs in 106 innings pitched and was being recognized as a star player, as relievers were finally earning some recognition. Even Cincinnati Reds manager Sparky Anderson called him “the Seaver of saves”.