Party like it’s 1976

charlieBaring a collapse of New York Mets proportions, the Phillies will clinch the NL East for the third season in a row. The Three-peat in the East has occurred just one other time in team history and continues a string of a dearth of champs in the East. Following the Phillies’ victory in 1993, only the Braves and Mets have won the division aside from the current batch of Phillies.

In other words, the NL East resembles the NBA Finals during the 1980s when only the Celtics, Sixers, Rockets and Lakers ever got there. Eventually the Pistons and Bulls broke through, but for a long time it seemed as if only a handful of teams ever made it to the big dance.

Nevertheless, the clincher for the Phillies will likely come this weekend in Milwaukee. And as a result of sewing things up with a week to go in the season (at least), it will go down as the earliest clincher in terms of games played. To capture their first playoff berth in 26 years in 1976, the Phillies wrapped up the East in Game 155.

If the Phillies clinch before Sunday, it will be the earliest the team ensured a playoff berth ever. Even in 1950, before the advent of divisional play, the Phillies needed the full slate of games to get to the postseason.

Anyway, here’s a look at the playoff-clinching games since Major League Baseball started divisional play.

2008
Game 161 vs. Washington at Citizens Bank Park (Sept. 27)

Box score

Remember this one? Remember how you felt when Brad Lidge loaded the bases with one out and the go-ahead runs in scoring position and how the shot by Ryan Zimmerman looked like it was going to ruin the closer’s perfect slate?

Kind of feels a lot like this year, doesn’t it?

Aside from Jimmy Rollins’ heroic diving stop to spin the game-ending double play, this one is remembered for Jamie Moyer’s second straight win in a clinching game. Aside from his effort in Game 3 of the World Series, the finales in 2007 and 2008 will be the old lefty’s legacy with the Phillies.

jimmy2007
Game 162 vs. Washington at Citizens Bank Park (Sept. 30)

Box score

The fact that the Phillies were even in a position to win the East took an unprecedented collapse by the Mets. Couple the huge comeback (down 6½ games with 17 to go) with a 14-year playoff drought, and the clubhouse scene was one of the all-time great parties in the history of Philadelphia clinchers.

The truth is a lot of us never saw such a thing. Champagne corks popping and flying all over the room. Beer spray dousing everyone and anything that moves. Pharmaceuticals and English bulldogs show up and drag low-end celebrities and political chaff around, too.

In other words, it’s no different than the parties you threw in college only without the bonfire. Where this party had it over those from back in the college days is that Jade McCarthy and J.D. Durbin made it to this one, and, well… when Jade and J.D. show up then it’s a party.

Of course by the time the fog cleared and the playoffs began, the Phillies were gone in four days.

19931993
Game 157 vs. Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium (Sept. 28)

Box score

Get a load of this… I watched this one from the balcony at the Troc at a Fugazi show. Some guy sitting in front of me had a Sony watchman TV and we got to see Mariano Duncan crush the game-winning grand slam before the band took the stage.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Commonwealth, Harry Kalas was singing High Hopes after the Phils finally wrapped it up. But since this was the Macho Row era of club, the party didn’t end with the sing-a-long. Oh no. Check out the box score for the day after the clincher and check who IS NOT in the lineup.

That oughta tell you how long into the night this one went.

1983
Game 160 vs. Chicago at Wrigley Field (Sept. 28)

Box score

Who would have guessed that there would have been just one more clincher for the Phillies in the next 24 years after this one? Sheesh.

Regardless, this one was in the days before there were lights at Wrigley Field so it’s likely that Larry Andersen took the guys over to The Lodge after the clubhouse celebration ended.

Here’s what I remember from this one – Mike Schmidt hit his 40th homer of the season and Bo Diaz clubbed two of them all off ex-Phillie Dick Ruthven. The last out was caught by Greg Gross in left field with Al “Mr. T” Holland on the mound. I guess Holland looked like Mr. T to get a nickname like that. Seemed like a fun guy.

1981
Won first half

This was the strike year so by virtue of being in first place by the time the work stoppage occurred, the Phillies went to the first-ever NLDS. They lost in five games to the Expos, though St. Louis had the best overall record in the NL East.

schmidt1980
Game 161 vs. Montreal at Olympic Stadium (Oct. 4)

Box score

If we were ranking the best regular-season games in Phillies history, this one would have to be in the top three. Maybe even the top two. Frankly, it had everything. Comebacks, drama, suspense, crazy manager moves and then Mike Schmidt’s home run in the 11th to give the Phillies the lead they never gave up.

Oh, but if Schmidt’s homer were the only highlight.

  • Bob Boone laced a two-out single in the top of the 9th to tie the game and force extra innings.
  • Tug McGraw pitched the last three innings allowing just one hit to go with four strikeouts to get the win.
  • September call up Don McCormack came in to catch in just his second big league inning in the ninth when Dallas Green yanked Boone for a pinch runner. McCormack got the first of his two Major League hits after Schmidt’s homer in the 11th. From there, McCormack went on to play in just 14 big league innings the rest of his career over three game.

How did Don McCormack get into that game?!

  • The top four hitters in the Phillies lineup (Rose, McBride, Schmidt, Luzinski) went 11-for-19.

lerch1978
Game 161 vs. Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium (Sept. 30)

Box score

Here was the scenario for this one – if the Pirates won, then Game 162 would decide the NL East. Instead, the Phillies wrapped up division title No. 3 thanks to a clutch three-run homer from Greg Luzinski in the sixth inning.

The game started rather inauspiciously, too. Willie Stargell hit a grand slam in the first inning to give the Pirates the quick lead, but pitcher Randy Lerch made up for his pitching with a homer in the second and another in the fourth to cut the deficit to a run and set the table for Luzinski’s homer.

The game was not without drama at the end, either. Tug McGraw game on in the seventh and was within two outs of closing it out until the Pirates rallied for four runs and had the tying run at the plate when manager Danny Ozark went to Ron Reed to close it out.

1977
Game 157 vs. Chicago at Wrigley Field (Sept. 27)

Box score

I don’t remember this one, but from a look at the box score it looks like one of those old fashioned Wrigley Field games that used to be unique. Now those Wrigley Field games can break out anywhere in any ballpark. And since they play mostly night games at Wrigley these days, those wild games are a thing of the past.

Still, the second clincher for the Phillies featured five RBIs and a homer (and seven solid innings for the win) from Larry Christenson and one from Mike Schmidt in a 15-9 final.

jvukovich1976
Game 155 vs. Montreal at Parc Jarry (Sept. 26)

Box score

The was the first and maybe the best of the Phillies clubs that won all those division titles. The Phils won a franchise-record 101 games, but they didn’t quite match up well enough against The Big Red Machine, who were on their were to becoming the last National League team to win back-to-back World Series titles.

I suppose there is some irony in there somewhere that the Phillies are in the mix to match the 1975-76 Reds… just don’t feel like looking.

Anyway, this clincher was the first game of a doubleheader, highlighted by a complete game from Jim Lonborg. So needless to say the nightcap had a slightly different lineup after the Phillies wrapped up their first playoff berth since 1950. In fact, John Vukovich started in the second game for his season debut. Vuke went on to start in 13 more games over five years for the Phillies – all but three came in 1980.

So there it is… looking forward to adding the new one at the top of this list over the weekend. The good part is the clubhouse in Milwaukee is plenty big enough to find a dry spot from all party shrapnel flying around.

Come on out and meet the Mets

tug_mcgrawNEW YORK – Compared to the last time the Phillies came to New York to play the Mets, a lot of the pizzazz has been stripped off the rivalry. Mostly that has to do with the Mets since they can neither stay healthy nor win ballgames.

Perhaps that’s what separates the truly good teams from the paper tigers – when the Phillies had piles of injuries they still figured out a way to get it done. The Mets? Not so much.

Still, the last time we were here all sorts of trouble broke out. That whole Raul Ibanez/small-time blogger thing was in full fester. Plus, the New York-based scribes were trying to get something from Chase Utley to fuel some sort of fracas. The problem was there wasn’t anything there.

Remember that?

As Pelfrey explained it at the time, he was upset about Utley stepping out of the box just as he was about to deliver a pitch. As such, Pelfrey barked at Utley, who returned with ignorant surprise that someone was talking to him.

“I was about to step into the box and it seemed like he was ready to pitch,” Utley said after taking a second to figure out what the hell was being talked about. “I wasn’t trying to make him frustrated. I was trying to put a good at-bat together.”

Pelfrey kind of said the same thing

“I don’t even know the guy,” he said. “It was too much adrenaline, I guess.”

The funniest part was when Charlie Manuel was asked about the non-controversial controversy. Instinctively Manuel thought Pelfrey was upset with Shane Victorino because usually, at any given moment, there is someone peeved at Victorino about something. He certainly drives Charlie nuts sometimes.

So there it is. Thanks for trying.

Nevertheless, the visiting clubhouse at brand-new CitiField was filthy with media types last June. They were crawling out of lockers, videotaping things with cell phones, saying silly things and basically just cluttering up the place like guests who refused to go away.

This time… not so much.

No, there were just six of us Philly guys hanging with the ballclub last night and there are only five of us today. In fact, just to fill out the space Scott Franzke and Tom McCarthy joined in, which was nice.

But this does not mean the New York media is not out in full force. Oh no. They’re crawling all over the place again – getting into things and sullying up the landscape.

Tonight they are here for the big ceremony to celebrate the Mets’ World Series title of 1969. All the old Mets are here, including Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan and Tug McGraw’s sons, Mark and Matt.

We don’t get to see too many of those ceremonial events in other places mostly because it’s a crap shoot. Besides, opposing teams don’t need to trot out the special ceremonies when the Phillies are in town because the defending World Champs pack ‘em in.

So it will be kind of cool to see the old Mets strut around and take in the cheers.

mrmetSpeaking of old Mets, surely the large media contingent will be back out on Sunday afternoon when Pedro returns for the Phillies. Actually, Pedro (and then Cliff Lee going on Monday) might sway some more Philly folks to venture north up the Jersey Turnpike and into the hinterlands of Queens.

If they were smart they’d train it up here, because there is no easy path. Thank you Robert Moses, thank you…

Needless to say it will be a bittersweet moment for Pedro when he gets on the mound in Queens tomorrow. He wishes it could have worked out better with the Mets, but seems to be getting a redemption of sorts with the Phillies.

“I left last year in a sad way,” Pedro said. “Not only that we lost in a bad way, I didn’t perform like I wanted to for the Mets. It wasn’t the way a pitcher like me should have gone away. After working through so much to regain my health, it wasn’t fair to me or my dad’s wishes to leave the game on such a sad note.

“The better I felt, the more committed I was to making it back and giving my dad the opportunity – I guess from heaven — to see me in a different way, having fun, healthy and refocused on the game. That was my biggest motivation.”

Tug made us all have fun


ComcastSportsNet.com

Everyone has a Tug McGraw story.

There was a time at spring training — just a week and a half before he was diagnosed with cancer — when Tug didn’t like the way Randy Wolf shouted, “I got it!” during a fielding drill. It appeared to Tug that Wolf was handling himself a little too business-like for his tastes. Sure, it was just a drill on a typical Tuesday morning in Clearwater where not much was happening, but to Tug, Wolfie just didn’t seem to be into it enough.

 
  Tug McGraw leaps into the air after striking out Willie Wilson on Oct. 21, 1980. (AP)
 

“Is that all you got?” the fun-time reliever shouted while running from third base toward Wolf. “All you have to do is be loud.”

McGraw then stood on the mound screaming, “I got it! I got it!” demonstrating one aspect of the game that set him apart during his playing days. Certainly, there was no one in baseball would could match McGraw’s emotion.

On that day, McGraw certainly made an impression. After his demonstration, every player tried to scream louder than the one before, but none could match McGraw’s vocal prowess. Brandon Duckworth came pretty close. So did Jose Mesa. In fact, Wolf even improved his volume as the drill became less about fielding and more about who could scream as loud as crazy lefty standing near third who was reveling in the madness he created. But perhaps even most importantly, McGraw’s point was properly made:

If you’re going to do something, have fun.

You’re damn right.

It’s pretty fair to say that no one had more fun playing baseball than Tug McGraw, who died from cancer on Monday with his family at his bedside near Nashville, Tenn. Actually, that might not be fair to say at all. We’re probably shortchanging Tug more than a little bit. After all, Tug was a guy who — clad in a black leather jacket, of course — told New York to “stick it” in front of 100,000 people at JFK Stadium the day after the Phillies won the World Series. Of course Tug had to be the center of that party, too. He got to throw the last pitch, leap as high as an Irish guy from California could before summoning the entire Delaware Valley to pile on top.

Fun? That’s not even close.

Tug once said that if the FDA ever came into the Phillies clubhouse during the 1980 season, it would “shut down baseball.”

For those of us who grew up living and dying with every pitch during the Phillies’ golden age, McGraw was the one most like us. With his nervousness and neurosis manifesting itself with slaps against his thigh with his gloved hand at the end of an inning, or taps on his chest after a loud drive slipped foul, he expressed himself in the way any eight-year old would. When we said “Phew! That was close,” Tug was saying the same thing on the mound in front of everyone.

But that was just Tug style. He wasn’t cool and detached like Steve Carlton or Mike Schmidt, he felt what we were feeling. He knew the magnitude of a situation but was smart enough to keep it all in perspective. It was only baseball, after all. It’s supposed to be fun.

When asked what he was going to do with the money he received for making it to the World Series with the Mets in 1973, McGraw said: “Ninety percent I’ll spend on good times, women and Irish whiskey. The other 10 percent I’ll probably waste.”

After escaping from a tough, late-inning jam against the Big Red Machine’s Joe Morgan, George Foster, Tony Perez and Johnny Bench with his typical aplomb, Tug was asked by a reporter how he was able to stay so cool. “Well,” he said. “Ten million years from now, when the sun burns out and the Earth is just a frozen snowball hurtling through space, nobody’s going to care whether or not I got this guy out.”

Yes, everyone has a Tug McGraw story.

“In almost 60 years, Tug got in about 110 years worth of living,” teammate Bob Boone said. “There was no one I know who lived more than Tug McGraw. Those of us that really knew Tug will always be telling Tug stories.”

Even the people who barely knew him will tell great stories. How many bars in towns across the National League did he spend nights in? How about in this city? Geez, I can’t remember the first bar in Philadelphia I stepped into that didn’t have a picture of Tug above the bar or door from a recent visit. Hell, my wife’s grandmother even has a Tug McGraw story. She even saved the snapshots from some bleary-eyed meeting in Florida during the late 1970s.

Even though the pictures are out of focus, Tug has a huge grin plastered across his face and his arms around a couple of old ladies.

Hey, there were no velvet ropes with Tug. Everyone was welcome.

Why not? After all, this was a guy who added a smiley face at the end of his name when he signed autographs. He was a guy who used his barbering skills to give free haircuts to poor people in New York’s Lower East Side. He wrote a children’s book and a comic strip called “Scroogie.” He announced his retirement on Valentine’s Day of 1985 with the quip that “baseball stole my heart, but I was never a jilted lover.”

Tug says he liked his 1958 car “because it plays old music.”

He reported in the team’s 1980 yearbook that his least favorite city was: “I don’t know. I haven’t been there yet.” His biggest turn-on: “Larry Bowa (because) he makes unbelievable plays,” while his biggest turn-off was: “Larry Bowa because he makes unbelievable noise.”

Tug voraciously studied books about Babe Ruth and Ben Franklin and loved Elvis so much that he dressed and spoke like the King as a tribute on the anniversary of his death.

Those who know say his brother Hank is really wacky.

Yeah, we all remember watching Tug strike out Willie Wilson on Oct. 21, 1980, but it’s particularly funny to note that his incentive to get Wilson out wasn’t winning the only World Series in franchise history, it was avoiding a dire fate.

“When the police horses and dogs came out in the top of the ninth and ringed the field, I saw this enormous horse take a huge dump on the warning track. I said, ‘Uh oh, I better not do with this game what that horse just did.’ ”

There are just so many stories and so many things to remember.

Like the time that kid born in the ’70s was standing just outside of the visitor’s dugout at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla. before the Phillies took on the Pirates in the first spring training game of 2003. Suddenly, Larry Bowa walked two feet away and shouted, “Tug,” with his arm in a throwing position. Without words and an errant throw away from a solid beaning, I watched Tug and Larry Bowa loosen up before batting practice while Mike Schmidt chatted with Harry Kalas a few feet to the left.

What, was Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny on the way, too?

Sure, we can talk and talk and talk about Tug for days. Doesn’t seem like just yesterday that he struck out Willie Wilson? Guys like Tug are supposed to be retired. They aren’t supposed to die. He was a guy who had time for everyone and was having the time of his life with you. He was one of us.

As the great Red Smith wrote in 1974: “He is a beautiful guy, a sensitive, emotional, demonstrative, genuine, outgoing, affectionate, exuberant, sad and sometimes irresponsible human being.”

But he was also, as Smith wrote,”left-handed and lighthearted and not necessarily more predictable than the screwball he throws, but he is no dummy.”

How could he be dumb? He was too busy making us all have fun.

E-mail John R. Finger

Tug McGraw dies at 59



ComcastSportsNet.com

Tug McGraw, the author of the most important pitches in Philadelphia baseball history, died Monday afternoon after a nine-month battle with brain cancer with his family by his bedside near Nashville, Tenn. at the age of 59. A cancerous tumor was found on McGraw’s brain in March while the happy-go-lucky pitcher was working as an instructor for the Phillies at Spring Training.

Ya Gotta Believe!  
David Montgomery
Tug was special. He gave us all great perspective. He competed very hard yet always managed to have so much fun doing it. He really connected with our fans and everyone in the organization.”

Bill Giles
“To know Tug was to love him. He was more than just a pitcher, he was loved by everyone that knew him. He had a special spirit that will never be forgotten by anyone who saw him pitch and he is responsible for Philadelphia’s most defining sports moment when he struck out Willie Wilson to win the city’s only World Championship.”

Ed Wade
“We were happy we were able to get Tug back in uniform two years ago and provide him with the opportunity to do what he loved to do. Tug was able to share his experiences and exuberance for the game and life with our young pitchers. He will be sorely missed.”

Larry Bowa
“He epitomized what Philadelphia is all about. He was hard-working, dedicated and never gave up. The picture of him jumping up in the air after the last out in 1980 is very memorable. He was a great person and will be missed.”

Mike Schmidt
“He put up a gallant fight. Publicly, he never let on that he had gotten a raw deal. He was Tug through the entire thing. As he always said, ‘I front-loaded my life, just like my contract.’ His passing is hard to take because his presence meant so much to people around him.”

Larry Andersen
“When I came to the Phillies in 1983, we made it to the World Series. During the Series, I had my daughter there who was only 13-days old at the time. Tug took one look at her and said, ‘That’s unbelievable. It took me 13 years to get to the World Series and it took her 13 days.'”

Bob Boone
“I am saddened by the news. Tug was a good friend and a good pitcher, but I will always remember him as my great friend. He lived life to the fullest.”

Larry Christenson
“He battled right to the end like he always did. He took it on and was not afraid of the challenge. Not once did I hear him complain. He was one of my best teammates and friends.”

Dallas Green
“I don’t think I can pick a favorite from the 1980 team, but he’d rank right up there near the top. He gave his heart and soul not only to me, but to his teammates and the fans. He was very special to me.”

Brett Myers
“I first met Tug when I was in the minor leagues. He was a great guy to be around and he always had fun. He brought a lot of that to me and I’ll always remember him for that. My thoughts and prayers are with his family right now.

Dan Plesac
“This year in spring training, when he spent time to play catch with me every day, was unbelievable for me. I thought it was so cool to play catch with this guy that, when I was 18 years old, I thought walked on water. He was a big reason why the last game at the Vet was so special to me. To be on the field with him, Schmitty, Booney and the other immortals was truly special. My heart goes out to his family and the entire Phillies family.”

Chris Wheeler
Tug was a fun, inspirational guy who threw the pitch to Willie Wilson that started the party in 1980. He had a unique sense of humor and just loved life. 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.”

Randy Wolf
“It’s hard to lose anybody, but to lose somebody like Tug is devastating. 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.”

 

Born Frank Edwin McGraw on Aug. 30, 1944, in Martinez, Calif. McGraw earned his nickname from his mother for the voracious manner in which he breast-fed. He is survived by a brother, Hank; three sons, Tim, Mark and Matthew; one daughter, Cari, and four grandchildren.

McGraw, wildly popular, saved some of the biggest games in Phillies history and was on the mound when the team won its only World Series in its 121-year history. He also appeared in the World Series for the champion Mets in 1969 and 1973 and has been a special spring training instructor at the request of manager Larry Bowa for Phils the last two years.

In his 20-year career in the major leagues, McGraw was 96-92 with a 3.14 ERA and 180 saves. He pitched for the Mets from 1965 to 1974 and the Phillies from 1975 to 1984, and won a World Series with each team.

But 1980 was the season where McGraw became a Philadelphia sports icon. Always ready with a quip and a laugh, the lighthearted and fun-loving left-handed reliever struck out Willie Wilson to end the 1980 World Series for the club’s only championship in its existence.

Still, it wasn’t enough for McGraw to win the World Series without a party. The following day, millions of fans turned out for 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 back seat to New York. Well, today New York can stick it because today is their day.”

Beloved in New York, McGraw came into his own after being traded to Philadelphia. 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 would have won their first World Series in 1980. After coming off the disabled list in July of that season, McGraw allowed just three earned runs the rest of the season and compiled a 0.52 ERA during that span.

He recorded 11 of his 20 saves after July 31 and was 5-0 with five saves during the memorable stretch run in September and October. He got the win in the Phillies’ NL East clinching game on Oct. 4, 1980 when he struck out Larry Parrish, then leaped in the air as the Phillies headed for the postseason for the fourth time in five years.

During his nine-year Mets career, McGraw went to two World Series — 1969 and 1973 — winning it all in 1969. He was acquired on Dec. 3, 1974, by general manager Paul Owens, who died Dec. 26, 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 deal.

“We were a young team that was starting to come together, but we didn’t believe in ourselves,” said long-time teammate Bob Boone. “Tug changed that with his arrival. He brought that ‘Ya gotta believe!’ attitude.”

McGraw always did things with flair. He broke into professional baseball by pitching a no-hitter for the Mets’ Cocoa, Fla., minor league team in 1964, and made his Major League debut the following season. Along the way he pitched out of a lot of jams before heading into the clubhouse to fill reporter’s notebooks with his quips. When asked if he preferred grass to Astroturf, McGraw said: “I don’t know, I never smoked Astroturf.”

When asked about his repertoire of pitches, McGraw said his screwball was bread-and-butter pitch but relied heavily on his “Bo Derek” fastball because, “it has a nice little tail, or his “Cutty Sark” fastball because “it sails.”

Surely, all of McGraw’s quips and stories could fill volumes. Perhaps even more difficult would attempting to find a tavern or a gathering place in the city without Tug’s picture above the bar. McGraw was one of those guys in which everyone has a story about.

Better than that, there are thousands of kids that grew watching McGraw pitch who would slap their glove as they walked off the mound in a little league game. “Patting his hand on his heart after a guy hits a home run foul, who would do that in the heat of the battle?” said Phillies manager Larry Bowa, who played with McGraw on the 1980 championship team. “But it showed he had no fear. He was loose. That’s how he played the game.”

Summer 2003
McGraw spent most of 2003 receiving treatment in Florida and resting at his home in Delaware County. Occasionally, he summoned up the strength to attend several Phillies games, including a dramatic entrance at the final game at Veterans Stadium on Sept. 28.

During the final ceremonies, McGraw rode in from the right-field bullpen in a black limo with tinted windows and reenacted his strike out of Willie Wilson that clinched the ’80 World Series.

“It was like blowing out the final candle on the birthday cake,” McGraw said then. “I enjoyed the heck out of it.”

“Once I got on the mound, it’s like I got it all back.”

It also brought to life McGraw’s old rallying cry that became the Mets’ mantra during their run to the World Series: “Ya gotta believe.”

Actually, McGraw’s quip became a motto for the pitcher’s life. “Ya gotta believe!” was not only his slogan when he needed it most — through his nearly yearlong fight with cancer — but during his battles in the late innings, as well.

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

He remained in everyone’s thoughts throughout the season. In addition to hanging a green Phillies jersey with McGraw’s No. 45 on the back, the Phils were always happy to have Tug around. He showed up at the Vet nearly a dozen times and even made trips to Camden Yards in Baltimore and Shea Stadium in New York.

On May 29, McGraw made his first appearance at the Vet where he detailed his fight against cancer as well as his initial diagnosis in which he was given just three weeks to live.

“I guess that three weeks thing didn’t work out,” McGraw said last May. “I’m going to live for a long time.”

He also revealed how he found out something was wrong during spring training. McGraw’s friend John McManus was visiting him in Clearwater from Philadelphia when McGraw told him that he felt like there was something wrong. He says he didn’t feel very well while having dinner with a group of friends and even showed up at Jack Russell Stadium to work on a day off. Later, McManus found him acting oddly and took him to the hospital.

“I was just standing in the kitchen just relieving myself. [McManus] came in and said, ‘What the heck is going on, ‘” McGraw revealed. “He and a bunch of friends picked me up and took me to the hospital. That was stage one of saving my life. Stage two was when (son) Tim and (daughter-in-law) Faith (Hill) got me into the Moffet Center in Tampa. They did some quick research and found out the Moffet was very good. When I got there the whole neuro-oncology team was there.”

  Tug
  Tug McGraw reenacts the last pitch of the 1980 World Series during the closing ceremonies at Veterans Stadium last September. (AP)

On July 3, in his first appearance back in his old stomping grounds since he had life-saving surgery to remove a cancerous brain tumor, Tug and his seven-year-old son Matthew rode through the field in a golf cart to right field, where they changed the “Vet Countdown” tote board from 39 to 38. But the second McGraw poked his head out from the tunnel behind home plate, the crowd stood and cheered and didn’t let up until the inspirational leader of all those great Phillie teams had left the building.

“By the time I jerked that number off there and stuck the other one on, I felt like I was cancer-free,” McGraw said then.

As McGraw and his son made the ride out to right field, Jim Thome leapt out of the dugout to the top step and summoned his teammates to come out with him.

“Tonight is about as good as it gets when you’re retired,” McGraw said.

Along the way, McGraw appeared on the Today show, as well as a fundraiser for the Moffett Center in Tampa. His last public appearance came just three weeks ago when he received the Hope and Courage Award from the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of The ALS Association.

McGraw was a 1962 graduate of St. Vincent Ferrer High School in Vallejo, Calif. He attended Vallejo Junior College before he was signed by the New York Mets in 1964. He is the author of two autobiographies (Screwball and Ya Gotta Believe!), a children’s book called Lumpy: A Baseball Fable, as well as a comic strip called Scroogie.

Additionally, he worked for WPVI as a reporter, appeared in Ken Burns’ documentary Baseball and a TV commercial with his son Tim.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

E-mail John R. Finger