Frank "Tug" McGraw - reliever for 1980 World Series Champion Phillies
One of the most memorable moments in Philadelphia sports history occurred late one evening 30 years ago at Veterans Stadium. The central figure was Tug McGraw.
With policemen, some on horseback, some with guard dogs, surrounding the field, a crowd of 65,838 screaming and stomping in the stands, and the Phillies holding a 4-1 lead over the Kansas City Royals, McGraw struck out Willie Wilson with the bases loaded to end the sixth game of the 1980 World Series.
It was 11:29 p.m. on October 21, and the strikeout, which had been preceded by Pete Rose’s catch of a foul popup that Bob Boone had missed, sent the Phillies to their first World Series victory in 97 years of play.
In the raucous clubhouse a little while after McGraw’s jubilant leap on the mound had become a sight forever etched in the minds of baseball fans throughout the area, Tug was asked what pitch he had thrown to Wilson. “A fastball,” he responded. “The slowest fastball in the history of baseball.” And how did he figure that? “It took 97 years to get there,” McGraw said.
That may have been a slight exaggeration, but it is no exaggeration to note that Frank Edwin McGraw was not just blessed with an exceptional sense of humor. The Martinez, California, native was also one of the premier relief pitchers of his era and certainly one of the best the Phillies ever had.
Originally a member of the New York Mets where he coined the phrase, “you gotta believe,” the cunning lefthander spent 19 years in the big leagues, including 10 with the Phillies. Arriving in Philadelphia in 1975, he was the mainstay of the Phils’ bullpen when the team won five division titles, two National League pennants, and one World Series.
Although it was at a time when relief pitchers were yet to be used with the frequency of a television replay, McGraw’s statistics confirm his effectiveness. Starting in 1965 when he broke in, McGraw appeared in 824 games, including 60 or more in two seasons. He had a career record of 96-92 with a 3.13 ERA and 180 saves, including a high of 27 in 1972. He also started 39 games during his career, completing five of them.
With the Phillies, McGraw had a 49-37 record with 94 saves and an ERA of 3.10. His saves rank fifth on the team’s list of all-time leaders. He is first in relief appearances (460) and games finished (313), second in relief innings pitched (708) and relief wins, and third in total games pitched (460), ranking behind only Robin Roberts and Steve Carlton.
Along with his record, McGraw, who died in 2004, was noted for his youthful exuberance and his witty comments. He was enormously popular with fans. And he seldom let the pressure of playing in the big leagues get to him.
During his career, McGraw pitched for the Mets, World Series Champions in 1969 and 1973. Undoubtedly, his best year with the Phillies was in 1980. After coming off the disabled list in July, Tug allowed only three earned runs in 52 innings of 33 games, posting a 5-1 record with 13 saves. Overall, he finished the season with a 5-4 record, 20 saves, and a 1.47 ERA.
On the final weekend of the season with the Phillies needing to win two out of three games to clinch the NL East Division title, McGraw struck out five of the last six batters in the first game to save a 2-1 Phillies victory. He then got the win in the clincher the next day when Mike Schmidt’s 11th inning two-run homer gave the Phils a 6-4 victory.
In the League Championship Series against the Houston Astros, Tug pitched in all five games. He lost Game Three, but saved the first and fourth games as the Phillies won the National League pennant. In the World Series, he worked in four of the six games, losing the third game, winning Game Five with three shutout innings, and saving the opener and the clincher.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud to be a baseball player,” McGraw said after the Series.
Although his career was fading, McGraw also helped the Phillies win the National League pennant in 1983. He retired after the 1984 campaign at the age of 40.