TUGGER AND THE TURF
Frank Edwin "Tug" McGraw, Jr. died earlier today of brain cancer. He was 59 and died of brain cancer. He pitched for 19 years in the major leagues with the Mets and Phillies. He finished 96-92 with 180 saves, an ERA of 3.14 and 1,109 strikeouts. He was also a huge big game pitcher and pitched in two World Series. In 1980 he threw the last pitch that clinched the title for the Phillies, striking out future Cub Willie Wilson. Tugger was also a real eccentric in a way that only baseball players and football kickers can get away with.
Initially, I thought the story was just one of those sad stories about someone dying too early. Then I was reminded that Tugger coined the "You Gotta Believe" motto used by the 1973 Mets (and every other team since). The Mets were an improbable team to make a run since, when push came to shove, they were not very good. Hence, You Gotta Believe was meant to encourage them and their fans to believe the best, rather than the truth. I was also informed that Tugger had reintroduced this motto when in the throes of his illness. He said that he would last until February, when he would push the button to destroy Philadelphia's Veteran's Stadium
Think about that. The man was struggling to live another month to destroy a baseball stadium where he won the Word Series…
Veteran's Stadium was opened April 10, 1971. The opening day crowd was 55,352 and Larry Bowa, the Phillies current manager (and future Cub) got the first hit. The stadium is of the same generation and general architecture as Riverfront Stadium (Cincinnati), and Three Rivers Stadium (Pittsburgh). However, those parks could never touch the Vet in one category—pure crapitude. Everyone hated the Vet and more unsavory acts took place there than any other stadium in the country. Representative memories from the football side include
• Harold Carmichael (retired) of the Eagles remembers the rats as big as dogs;
• Ike Reese of the Eagles thinks of the guys in the stands whose job it was to break up fights;
• Merrill Reese, Eagle announcer says, "It's just a stadium - a cement, cookie-cutter stadium,'' the broadcaster said. ``It's not Wrigley Field, it's not Franklin Field, it's not Fenway Park. It's just a round stadium that has no character to it;"
• Former Eagle Mike Quick says, " Everything bad you ever heard about the turf - it's all true."
• Harold Carmichael has a memory that sounds like the beginning of Camus's The Plague, "I remember we came into the Vet to practice . . . and everything was dead - rats, birds, cats. They were all lined up along the sideline."
In addition, an NFL web page
relates the following:
• Veterans Stadium is the place where, in 1993, then -- Chicago Bears wide receiver Wendell Davis, while reaching for a pass as he tried to plant and change direction, ruptured the patellar tendons in both knees.
• The same field -- different turf, mind you -- was so uneven before a preseason contest in 2001 that the Ravens and Eagles canceled the game;
• Jimmy Johnson was bombarded with snowballs when he was head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, egged on by the future mayor of Philadelphia (not a bad thing, I guess).
• The place is so mean, so rowdy, they built a court in the basement to sentence game-day fans who go beyond the limit and require jail time and a stiff fine. Players have been known to gaze up into the 700 level to see some of the fights between fans.
With all of that in mind, I guess Tugger's dream of staying alive long enough to blow the stadium up is sort of understandable.
Today is the anniversary of Carl Sandburg's birth. Just thought you'd like to know.