Tug McGraw: 1973 N.L. Champion Mets Fireman (Part One 1965 - 1972)

Frank Edwin McGraw was born August 30, 1944 in Martinez, California. 

Nickname: When he was just a baby, he would firmly nurse on his mother’s breast as she fed him. "he's a real tugger" she said & the name stuck with him forever.

Quotes- Tug McGaw: "On my first day of kindergarten, the teacher asked if there was anyone's name she didn't call? I raised my hand & said my name is Tug McGraw. She looked at the role & said "I have a Frank McGraw" I said No, that's my dad. He already went kindergarten."

His mother Mabel was manic depressive, she was verbally & physically abusive. She ran away on the family while on a weekend pass from Napa State Mental Hospital. Tug & his brothers were raised by their father, Big Mac. The boys attended Catholic schools & played sports, all the time.

Family: 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, or else he wouldn’t play. Hank was considered such a good prospect the team gave Tug $7,000 signing bonus. 

Frank spent 12 years in the minors but would never reach the big-league level. A real hippie type, Frank was once famously suspended for not cutting his hair.

Tug was a left-handed pitcher who was still developing his pitching style. In 1964, the Mets signed McGraw right out of junior college as a bonus baby. He made his pro debut pitching a no hitter at Cocoa Beach.

In April of 1965 he made the Mets big league squad, as not to get drafted away which was the rule for bonus babies at that time. On April 18th, 1965 he made his MLB debut at the age of 20. He struck out Orlando Cepeda in the first game of a double header, he was so excited he needed a tranquilizer to calm himself down.

On May 24th, in the second game of a double header, he earned his first save, coming at Philadelphia pitching one inning of relief of a 4-1 win.

In three months, he pitched in relief then got a start on August 22nd against the reigning World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. That night he beat Ray Washburn & the Cardinals in a 4-2 complete game win, the first of his career. 

Beating Sandy Koufax: His next outing was a significant win for the Mets as well as for McGraw. On August 26th, he beat the Dodgers and Sandy Koufax 5-2 in front of 45,950 fans at Shea Stadium. The great Sandy Koufax already had 21 wins that season & had beaten the Mets four times. 

Koufax was 13-0 lifetime against the Mets up to that point. McGraw allowed two first 1st inning runs, then settled down to shut out the Dodgers into the 8th inning, then Jack Fisher came on to save it. Ron Swoboda & Joe Christopher led the way with HRs.

After winning the two back-to-back starts he lost his next five decisions finishing the year at 2-7 with a 3.32 ERA. He struck out 57 batters & walked 48 in 97.2 innings of work in 37 appearances. The 1965 Mets lost 115 games finishing tenth.

In the off season, McGraw served in the Marine Reserves.

1966 & the Screwball: He struggled the next season going 2-9 with a 5.34 ERA in 15 games, being used as a starter in twelve of those. He was sent to AAA Jacksonville for most of the season, going 2-2. 

There he met former New York pitcher Ralph Terry, who had been sent to the minors to learn a knuckleball. 

Terry had been on the wrong end of some big World Series pitches. He served up Bill Mazeroski's Game #7 walk off HR in the 1960 Series & then the final out of the 1962 World Series that was a screaming liner off the bat of Willie McCovey.

But Terry changed his career when he taught McGraw to throw a screwball. It took Tug the rest of the year, as well as all of 1968 at AAA Jacksonville, to learn how to throw it right & perfect it. 

Tug had to trick his strict Suns manager, Sheriff Robinson who wasn't too keen on his young pitchers throwing any new pitches. The screwball changed Tug’s career, becoming his signature itch. It would cut inside to right-handed batters & cut away from left-handed hitters making it very tough to hit the left hander Tug McGraw.

His Son Tim McGraw: That same season Tug had an affair with a high school girl named Betty D'Agostino. She became pregnant & her parents moved her to Louisiana. She had a son who grew up to be Country music star, Tim McGraw. Tug & Tim didn't have a relationship until he was 17 years old.

1967: McGraw was 10-9 with a league leading 1.99 ERA at AAA Jacksonville & got called up in September going 0-3 in four games.

1968: He spent the entire season at AAA Jacksonville, pitching for manager, Clyde McCullough. There he won another nine games, second to Gary Gentry who had 12 wins. 

Marriage: That season he married his first wife Phyliss. They would have two children & remain married for twenty years, divorcing in 1988.

1969 Amazing Mets Championship Season: Tug got the Mets first win of the 1969 season, pitching six innings of relief in the second game of the season, beating the expansion Montreal Expos at Shea Stadium. 

On April 24th, he combined with Jim McAndrew to shut out the Cubs 3-0 . The Mets won the game on Cleon Jones three run walk off HR off Rich Nye. On May 4th, McGraw beat the Chicago Cubs & Dick Selma 3-2 at Wrigley Field pitching the complete game.

Gil Hodges Turns Him into a Reliver: He was 3-0 being used mainly as a starter in mid-May, when Gil Hodges called him into his office. Hodges 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 Hodges left the decision up to Tug. McGraw agreed & the rest is history, as he went on to become one of the first superstar relief pitchers in the game.

On May 28th, Jerry Koosman shutout the Padres for ten innings at Shea Stadium. McGraw came in the 11th walked two but held down the friars scoreless. Ron Swoboda's walk off single won it in the 11th. On May 31st, he earned his first save, pitching two scoreless against the Giants.

Tug saved four games in the month of June. On July 2nd, in St. Louis he pitched six innings of relief, striking out eight as the Mets won the game in the 14th inning, with an RBI single from Ken Boswell & a bases loaded walk to Wayne Garrett. He would be out of action until July 20th serving in the reserves in Garden City, there he was a barber learning to cut hair. When he returned, he took a loss to Reds serving up a HR to Tony Perez.

In August he saved four more games serving time as the team's stopper or closer, with Ron Taylor. On August 10th the Mets were ten games behind the Chicago Cubs & from this point forward made their way to overtake them.

 On August 19th, the Mets faced the Giants at Shea Stadium to just under 50,000 fans. Juan Marichal held the Mets to a run into the 14th inning, when Tommie Agee hit a walk off HR to win it for the Mets. McGraw had relieved Gary Gentry in the 11th & earned the victory. 

The Mets were now eight out. During the pennant stretch drive, McGraw saved seven games and won three, losing only once while posting a 0.45 ERA. On September 15th, he earned the win against the Philadelphia Phillies the night Steve Carlton set a record, striking out 19 batters. Ron Swoboda hit two HRs that night providing all the offense. 

On September 23rd, Bud Harrelson hit a 10th inning walk off single off Bob Gibson, McGraw had relieved Jim McAndrew in the 8th inning & pitched four scoreless to earn the win, his 9th of the year (9-3). That win put the Mets magic number at one, the next night they clinched the NL Eastern Division.

Tug McGraw Celebrates as Mets Sweep the Atlanta Braves in 1969 NLCS
Overall, in 1969 McGraw was 9-3, with 12 saves (8th most in the NL). He struck out 92 batters in 100 innings pitched with a 2.42 ERA in 42 appearances.

Ron Taylor was still the Mets main closer that season going 9-4 with 13 saves & a 2.72 ERA in 59 games.  

1969 Post Season: NLCS: 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 to the Atlanta Braves. Nolan Ryan was used in long relief in the post season.

The Flake: 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.

Quotes: 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 just 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, which he learned in the reserves. He shave the boys' heads in the reserves & would later volunteer to cut the homeless mens hair on the Bowery. 

He once cut Ralph Kiners hair, on the Kiners Korner post game show. Kiner joked, it took him four months to grow it all back.

Ed Sullivan Show: He joined his Mets team mates on the Ed Sullivan show after the World Series victory, singing "You Gotta have Heart". He got a big ovation.

After the Championship- 1970: In the winter of 1970 he injured his ankle on a toboggan run with teammate Ron Swoboda. He told the club he hurt it slipping on ice while throwing out the garbage at home. 

Tug 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 Mets franchise had ever won.

He would save four more games through May but also take two losses & blow another save. At this point he was still sharing the closing role 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. 

There were no repeat miracles for the Mets in 1970. Tug 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.

1971: By 1971, Ron Taylor was 33 years old & was in the twilight of his career. Tug was now sharing the closer duties with Danny Frisella, who had been with the team since 1967. 1970 was Frisella's first full season.

In 1971, the two relievers made for one of baseball’s best righty / lefty relief combos. In 53 games Danny Frisella was 8-5 with a team leading 12 saves.

For Tug McGraw would then have his best season up that point in his career. 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.

On April 18th, he took a loss to the Pirates in the second game of a double header, as Willie Stargell had the game winning base hit. On April 30th, he threw four shutout innings at the Astrodome, earning an extra inning victory. In May he was 1-1 with a save & a hold, keeping his ERA under two until late in the month. 

Things picked up as the summer came on, in June he made ten appearances going 2-1 with three saves. On June 13th, Ken Singleton hit a walk off sac fly scoring Bud Harrelson to beat the Giants, Tug earned the win, as he struck out two & pitched a scoreless 10th. On June 19th, Tug pitched five shutout extra innings against the Phillies at Shea Stadium but got decision in the 6-5 Mets win on Donn Clendenon's walk off HR. 

On July 15th, he struck out eight Astros while pitching six scoreless innings of relief, where he gave up just one hit. 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.

On August 10th, in San Diego he struck out a season high nine batters, pitching four innings to earn his 8th win of the year. 

Tug earned two wins in two days against the Dodgers in late August, On August 28th Cleon Jones hit a walk off HR off Jim Brewer in the second game of a double header with Tug earning the win. The next day, it was Tommie Agee's walk off single winning it for Tug & the Mets.

On September 15th, he made a rare start, he matched his season high nine strike outs as went six innings in a no decision in a loss to the Cubs. He earned one more save in September as the Mets finished third at 83-79. 

For the 1971 season, McGraw had 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.

1972- All Star Season: The season was delayed by a short players strike but then tragedy struck even worse, when Mets manager Gil Hodges died of a heart attack at the end of Spring Training. The organization was in shock. Yogi Berra was named manager & the Mets tried to focus on baseball.

McGraw started out 1972 with an 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. 

Tug started out the year 2-0, earning wins against the Padres & Dodgers on a May home stand. Tug would earn seven saves before taking his first loss in mid-May. His ERA was under one, until May 29th.

Yogi Berra was using Tug as the main reliever / closer on a regular basis, Danny Frisella would still post nine saves while finishing off 31 games. In May he made ten appearances, was 3-1 with six saves & a 1.30 by June 1st. That month he saved six more games, having just one blown save, where he gave up four runs in Atlanta taking a loss.

1972 All Star Game: By the All-Star break Tug already had 13 saves and an ERA of just 2.01, as
he was named to his first All Star team. He & Tom Seaver represented the Mets. It was the only time in his career he would pitch in the midsummer classic.

He pitched two innings at the All Star Game in Atlanta. He entered in the 8th inning, then struck out the side in the 9th inning, which included Reggie Jackson, Bobby Grich & Norm Cash.  McGraw 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. To start out August he had two games
where he struck out a season high six batters. After an August 7th loss in St. Louis, where Ted Sizemore hit a walk off inside the park HR, he would blow just one save opportunity through the rest of the season. 

He was 3-0 recording eight more saves. In Houston, he earned wins in back-to-back games on September 2nd & 3rd. 

The next day, in the second game of a double header at Chicago, he earned a save pitching the 9th inning.  In the final regular season three game series at Montreal, he earned a win & two saves to close out the year.
Tug 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 relief pitchers were first earning some recognition. 

Quotes- Even Cincinnati Reds manager Sparky Anderson called him “the Seaver of saves”.


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