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Ya Gotta Believe: Tug and the 1973 New York Mets

As we approach April and the end of this very long and miserable winter, every major league team and all the young prospects believe this is going to be the year they will win the World Series, develop the next Mike Trout and have a year for the ages. Sometimes all of these factors hit at the same time as with the 1993 Philadelphia Phillies who went to the World Series almost out of nowhere that season. Sometimes players have magic years for which there is no explanation.  For a good example of that phenomenon see Al Cowens in 1977.  And sometimes a person comes up with a phrase that works like Kevin Millar with his expressions used to motivate the Red Sox.  And sometimes, these examples come almost by accident as in 1973.

Perhaps the wildest division race during the major league two-division era happened that year when the New York Mets came from last place (albeit a very close to the division lead cellar dwelling) to winning the division on the final day of the season with an 82-79 mark. Their drive to the title had perhaps as many unusual moments as the 1969 Miracle Mets run but in a tighter time frame.  Among those moments was a batted ball which literally hit the very top of the outfield fence and took a bounce right to Cleon Jones who began a relay to throw out a Pittsburgh Pirate runner at home plate.

1973 Topps Tug McGrawAnother of those moments involved a “pep talk” given by Mets official M. Donald Grant a few weeks before in which the players may have mocked what he was saying. During that talk, a boisterous left-handed screwballing pitcher named Tug McGraw began to chant: “You gotta believe; You gotta believe.”

Well, in those days before social media took over our perceptions, the media at that time took those words seriously and used them to alert the Mets fans to the new rallying cry.  So, McGraw for the second time in four years would be part of a championship team and this time he was able to use this to accelerate his popularity. McGraw would also be involved in a cartoon script and even garner some commercial revenue.

It was actually round two for Tug on the Mets as the first part of his career came as a starter.  He was the first Mets pitcher to defeat Sandy Koufax and even wandered back to the minors before becoming the ace reliever role which began with the 1969 season.  He would continue to be a bullpen ace with the Mets and Phillies for more than a decade.

As an example of just how miraculous the 1969 season was for the Mets, Steve Carlton fanned 19 batters in a September game against them and lost 4-3. And the winning pitcher for the Mets that night was McGraw.

Within a couple of years, as mentioned, McGraw was on his way to the Phillies and would be on the mound, striking out Willie Wilson when they won their first ever World Series in 1980. A few years later, McGraw retired and became a Philadelphia television sports anchor.  McGraw died from a brain tumor in 2004 at age 59.  His son Tim McGraw  has been a country music superstar for the past 20 years.

There is not really enough time to write everything we want to about “The Tugger” but his card history is just as interesting as his playing career. He has a very popular high number rookie card in the 1965 set, and an equally difficult card in the 1969 set along with a reasonably difficult 1971 semi-high numbered card.  While those cards are all more collectible, our card of the day is the 1973 Topps card which was in the year of “You gotta believe” and as baseball season is upon us, we all believe our team will win the World Series this year.

To see Tug McGraw’s cards and memorabilia on eBay, click here.

About Rich Klein

Rich Klein has spent almost his entire life collecting baseball cards having begun at the tender age of seven. He has spent more than three decades in the organized hobby including editing the first 12 editions of the Beckett Almanac of Baseball Card and Collectibles. He lives in Plano, TX along with his wife Dena and their two dogs. You can reach him at [email protected].

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