Tug McGraw Biography

Famous Baseball Players (1944–2004)
Tug McGraw was a professional baseball pitcher, notably with the Mets and Phillies, and father of country star Tim McGraw.


In 1973, Tug McGraw and the New York Mets' climbed from last place to win their division, only to lose the World Series in seven games. McGraw became a fan favorite, and he coined the Mets' catchphrase, ''Ya Gotta Believe.'' After winning a World Series with the Phillies and later retiring, McGraw worked as a children's book author, color commentator consultant and television personality.

Early Life

Athlete. Born Frank Edwin McGraw Jr. on Aug. 30, 1944, in Martinez, California. McGraw was nicknamed "Tug" by his mother, Mable McKenna, because of his over-aggressive style of breast-feeding as a baby. The nickname stuck with the youngster for the rest of his life. Tug McGraw grew up in the working-class San Francisco Bay Area suburbs of Martinez and Vallejo, where he was both a baseball and football standout in high school and junior college. He signed on with the Mets in 1964, when he was 19 years old.

After just one year pitching in the minor leagues for Mets affiliates in rookie and single-A ball, McGraw made the big league club out of spring training in 1965. He made his debut as a relief pitcher but soon joined the Mets' starting rotation, showing some promise but finishing the season with a disappointing 2-7 record.Over the next few years, McGraw did not appear to be marching down the traditional path toward sports superstardom. He fulfilled his Vietnam-era military service obligation by enlisting as a reserve rifleman in the United States Marine Corps. McGraw never served overseas, but underwent extensive military training over the course of his six-year reserve commitment.

Mets Championship

Meanwhile, his baseball career began to stagnate. The Mets, a pitiable outfit since their debut as an expansion team in 1962, still weren't very good. McGraw struggled to pitch a 2-9 record in his 1966 sophomore campaign. Early in the 1967 season, McGraw was sent down to the minors, a tough blow for a pitcher who had jumped straight past double-A and triple-A ball in his initial rise to the majors. After laboring for two years with the Jacksonville Suns in Florida, McGraw won a call-up back to the Mets in 1969, joining the team's relief rotation just in time to play a bit part in one of the most remarkable seasons in major league history.

When those "Amazin' Mets" surged into first place in the National League East in September 1969, it was a big deal; it was literally the first time in the franchise's short, and previously rather pathetic, history that the Mets had ever led the standings. The team won 39 of its final 50 regular-season games, and carried that momentum into the playoffs, knocking off the Atlanta Braves and Baltimore Orioles to secure the Mets' first-ever world championship. Pitching middle relief, McGraw made just one appearance in those playoffs, earning no decision in a win over the Braves in the National League Championship.

Baseball Superstar

Over the next few years, though, McGraw's pitching grew stronger and he became one of the Mets' most important players as a dominant closer. In the 1973 season, the Mets climbed from last place to win their division, only to lose the World Series in a seven-game heartbreaker. Despite the loss, McGraw became a fan favorite. A first-time All-Star, he also coined the Mets' signature catchphrase, ''Ya Gotta Believe,'' helping to inspire the team to a hot finish and unlikely division title. McGraw always had a way with words and, following in the tradition of fellow New York baseball legend Yogi Berra, became a master of the quotable quip. "Ninety percent I'll spend on good times, women and Irish whiskey," McGraw once said, when a reporter asked what he'd do with his salary. "The other 10 percent I'll probably waste."

In 1974, the Mets traded McGraw to the Phillies. With McGraw continuing to pitch quality innings in relief, his teams captured National League East Division titles in 1976, 1977 and 1978, but lost in the first round of the playoffs each time. In 1980, however, Philadelphia made its breakthrough, winning its first-ever World Series title. The World Series also saw McGraw's greatest individual moment as a player: When he struck out Kansas City Royals batter Willie Wilson with bases loaded in the ninth inning to secure the championship-clinching final out. Upon throwing the famous pitch, McGraw threw up his arms in an iconic victory pose.

After Baseball

In 1985, after pitching 19 big-league seasons, McGraw announced his retirement from the game on Valentine's Day, which he felt was an appropriate date for the occasion. ''I've had a love affair with baseball," he said. "The game stole my heart, and I was never a jilted suitor.'' He retired with a career record of 96-92, with 180 saves and a 3.14 earned run average.

In his post-baseball life, McGraw worked as a children's book author, color commentator, consultant and television personality. He also reconnected with a long-lost son, the product of a short-lived relationship he'd had while a minor-league ballplayer. His son, the country music singer Tim McGraw, did not discover his father's real identity until he was 11 years old, when he was shocked to find a birth certificate listing baseball idol Tug McGraw as his dad. Though Tug did not officially acknowledge his paternity until Tim was 17 years old, the two later became close. Tug was also the father of actor Mark McGraw.

In March 2003, while working as a coach at Phillies spring training, McGraw fell ill and underwent emergency surgery to remove a brain tumor. The doctors discovered that the tumor was malignant and inoperable, giving McGraw just three weeks to live. Refusing to accept the grim prognosis, son Tim McGraw and daughter-in-law Faith Hill arranged for Tug to receive treatment at a state-of-the-art cancer center in Florida. McGraw faced his illness with his trademark optimism and humor. ''I'm not fearful, I have confidence,'' McGraw told reporters of his treatment. ''I think that comes from a certain amount of positive attitude.''

With his cancer still progressing, McGraw made a final visit to the Mets' Shea Stadium in July 2003, receiving a standing ovation from fans. He visited the Phillies' Veterans Stadium a few months later for an emotional ceremony in which he recreated his World Series-winning pitch, replete with victory celebration.

On January 5, 2004, McGraw succumbed to his brain tumor near Nashville. He left as his legacy the Tug McGraw Foundation, an organization that assists brain tumor patients and their families. After this death, his son Tim released the song "Live Like You Were Dying" in honor of his dad and his unending zeal for life. The touching tribute became a long-standing hit and remains associated with the bond between father and son.

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