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This Date in Mets History: January 5 - Tug McGraw Passes Away

The great Mets reliever succumbed to a brain tumor on this date in 2004.

Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

[McGraw] is a beautiful guy, a sensitive, emotional, demonstrative, genuine outgoing, affectionate exuberant, sad, and sometimes irresponsible human being.

That's how New York Times writer Red Smith described Frank Edwin "Tug" McGraw, the screwball artist who was the soul of two pennant-winning Mets teams and who died on this date in 2004.

McGraw's up-and-down career with the Mets began in 1964, when the team signed him as a bonus baby out of Vallejo, California. He spent the following season with the big league club, tossing 97-plus innings of 3.32 ERA ball at the tender age of 20. The next three years were spent between the Mets and their minor league affiliates. It wasn't until manager Gil Hodges moved McGraw to the bullpen permanently in 1969 that he blossomed at the major league level.

Relying mainly on a screwball taught to him by Ralph Terry, the former Yankees ace who made a brief stop in Queens on way back down the ladder of organized baseball, Tug saved 86 games in his Mets tenure, often reserving his best performances for when the team needed them most. He posted a 0.50 ERA down the stretch for the Miracle Mets and limited opposing batters to an .473 OPS from August onward. Four years later, McGraw coined the rallying cry of the 1973 N.L. Champion Mets, telling teammates "Ya gotta believe!" Tug backed his words up with another stellar late-season charge. After winning his first game of the year on August 22, 1973, he reeled off four more and picked up a dozen saves as the New York rallied from ten games under .500 and last place to come within a game of winning another miraculous World Series.

That would prove to be Tug's last hurrah with the organization. After a disappointing 1974 season that was wrecked by shoulder soreness, the Mets traded the closer to the Phillies for a package that featured future All-Star catcher John Stearns. In Philadelphia, McGraw regained his form and became a legend in that city for doing pretty much what he'd done for New York, namely record big outs in meaningful games. His ninth inning strikeout of Willie Wilson in Game Six of the 1980 World Series earned the Phils their first-ever championship. As Tom Seaver said of the man Sparky Anderson dubbed "the Seaver of saves":

He just had a joy for life and living. But what people sometimes overlook because he was happy-go-lucky was what kind of competitor he was on the mound. No one competed with more intensity than he did.

Former Mets pitching coach Charlie Hough was born on this date in 1948. The knuckleballer was hired in 2001 and fired a year later when Bobby Valentine and his staff were let go. Hough also tutored R.A. Dickey in the ways of the butterfly pitch back when our dearly departed ace was a Rangers farmhand trying to remake himself as a knuckler. For this alone, Hough should be praised. RAmen.

The Mets reacquired two outfielders on this date. In 1994, the team made a challenge trade with the Kansas City, sending Vince Coleman to the Royals for longtime left fielder Kevin McReynolds. Any deal that rid the Mets of the disgruntled leadoff hitter would have qualified as a success at the time, so the fact that McReynolds only posted a 91 OPS+ in his second Flushing stint is immaterial.

Exactly 14 years later, the Mets shipped minor leaguers Corey Coles and Ryan Meyers to the Chicago Cubs for Angel Pagan. Weirdly, Pagan also put up a 91 OPS+ in his first season back with the team that drafted him, though he followed that up with two well-above average campaigns in 2009 and 2010. Like the McReynolds deal, this trade is a winner, too, but on the merits and not due to extenuating circumstances like wanting to get a firecracker-tossing sociopath off the roster.

Amazin'-ly Tenuous Connection
Today is the birthday of Shah Jahan, the 17th century Mughal emperor best known for commissioning construction of the Taj Mahal. In 1987, New York Times reader Bob Murray of Mount Kisco answered the paper's question of the week, "Should the Mets Keep Mookie Wilson?" by saying:

Should India keep the Taj Mahal? Should Egypt keep the pyramids? Of course the Mets should keep Mookie Wilson!

Well-reasoned, Bob.