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Tug McGraw dies at 59
01/05/2004 10:41 PM ET
PHILADELPHIA -- The image of Frank Edwin (Tug) McGraw leaping skyward off the Veterans Stadium mound after recording the most important out in Phillies history is first in the hearts of local fans.

That image can't be tarnished, and will burn even brighter with the news that McGraw passed away Monday afternoon at the age of 59.

The colorful reliever had been recovering from brain surgery nine months ago that removed a malignant brain tumor, but succumbed when one surfaced recently. He passed away near Nashville, Tenn., with his family at his bedside.

"It's hard to lose anybody, but to lose somebody like Tug is devastating," said Phillies left-hander Randy Wolf. "Losing him is like losing a superhero because he's one of the most charismatic people I've ever met. We've immortalized him and it's a sad reminder that bad things happen to good people."

Tug McGraw: 1944-2004
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McGraw's death is the second devastating loss to the Phillies family in 10 days. Former general manager Paul Owens, who brought McGraw to Philadelphia in the winter of 1974, passed away Dec. 26.

The left-hander, who had names for all his pitches, coined the phrase "You gotta believe!" during the Mets' improbable run to the 1973 National League pennant. McGraw maintained the slogan when he needed it most -- through his painful fight with cancer.

After McGraw was hospitalized during Spring Training in Clearwater, Fla. -- interrupting his second year as a guest pitching instructor -- doctors found two tumors. Surgery was performed and McGraw began an arduous rehabilitation process.

He made a few public appearances during the season, the first one coming during a May series against the Mets. He took in a handful of games at the Vet, and on July 3, 2003, changed the Vet countdown number, signifying the number of home games remaining at the park.

Each time he waved or flashed his trademark smile, he received a thunderous ovation.

"By the time I jerked that number off and stuck the other one on, I felt like I was cancer-free," McGraw said at the time. "Tonight is about as good as it gets when you're retired."

In the face of grave circumstances, McGraw's sense of humor and extreme optimism never waned. He once referred to his condition as a "ballbuster," and vowed to never let it take away his passion for life.

"He had a unique sense of humor and just loved life," said broadcaster Chris Wheeler. "He fought his final battle with the same style and courage that epitomized his career. Tug was an original and we will miss him a lot."

"He battled right to the end like he always did," said former teammate Larry Christenson, one of McGraw's closest friends. "He took it on and was not afraid of the challenge. Not once did I hear him complain."

McGraw always did things with flair. He broke into professional baseball by hurling a no-hitter for the Mets' Cocoa, Fla., minor league team in 1964, and made his Major League debut the following year. He ended his career with the Phillies after the 1984 season.

During his nine years with the Mets, McGraw played in two World Series, and won it all in 1969. He was acquired Dec. 3, 1974, by Owens for Del Unser, Mac Scarce and John Stearns. The Phillies also received a pair of outfielders, Don Hahn and Dave Schneck, in the six-player swap.

"We were a young team that was starting to come together," said Bob Boone, a longtime teammate, "but we didn't believe in ourselves. Tug changed that with his arrival. He brought that 'You gotta believe!' attitude."

With the Phillies, McGraw was on teams that won NL East titles from 1976-78, the World Series in 1980 and the NL pennant in 1983. The 1981 Phillies also reached postseason play during a strike-shortened season.

Without McGraw, the Phillies never could have captured their first World Series. He came off the disabled list in July of that season, then compiled a 0.52 ERA from that point. He recorded 11 of his 20 saves after July 31 and went 5-0 with five saves during the stretch run.

He got the win in the NL East clinching game on Oct. 4, 1980, striking out Larry Parrish to seal it, then leaped in the air as the Phillies headed for the postseason for the fourth time in five years.

Philadelphia would go all the way this time, with McGraw pitching in 12 of the Phillies' 15 postseason games, winning a game and saving four.

He ended Game 1 by striking out Willie Wilson in a 7-6 win, and won Game 5 at Kansas City by whiffing Jose Cardenal with the bases loaded.

"I got him out with my Cutty Sark fastball -- it sails," said McGraw after that game.

Two days later, McGraw struck out Wilson again -- this time with a Peggy Lee. He leaped with both arms raised after the 11:29 p.m. final pitch and triggered a wild celebration throughout the Delaware Valley.

The following day, millions of fans thanked him during a victory parade down Broad Street to JFK Stadium. Holding a Philadelphia Daily News that carried a "WE WIN" headline, McGraw spoke to the more than 100,000 Phillies fans that filled the old stadium: "All throughout baseball history, Philadelphia has had to take a backseat. But, today is their day."

McGraw reenacted his signature moment during the closing ceremonies at the Vet. Emerging from a black limousine as many alumni and current teammates looked on, he threw a phantom Peggy Lee, then soared off the mound in that unforgettable way. The crowd roared louder than he could ever remember.

"There were 70 guys on the field and they all were all waiting," McGraw said, after the event. "Until I headed to the mound, I didn't know exactly what I was going to do. Once I got there, I realized that all I had to do was strike (Willie Wilson) out one more time. It was an exhilarating feeling. That's the last time Willie Wilson will strike out at the Vet.

"It was louder than that anything I've ever heard before."

"He was a big reason why the last game at the Vet (on Sept. 28, 2003) was so special to me," said Dan Plesac. "To be on the field with him, (Mike Schmidt, Bob Boone) and the other immortals was truly special. My heart goes out to his family and the entire Phillies family."

McGraw is survived by a brother, Hank; three sons, Tim, Mark and Matthew; one daughter, Cari, and four grandchildren.

A private memorial service for McGraw will be held on Saturday, Jan. 10, per his request. In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations be sent to: Tug McGraw Foundation, 191 Sheree Boulevard, Suite 200, Exton, PA 19341. Proceeds will benefit brain cancer research.

Ken Mandel is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.