Wednesday, November 7, 2012

AUTOGRAPH MEMORIES: TUG McGRAW

IS THERE SUCH A THING AS A ''HAPPY AUTOGRAPH''?
Tug McGraw, the screwball-throwing lefty with a fitting effervescent personality, was signing at a Baseball Assistance Team card show in 1990 in St. Petersburg. It was the same show that Ted Williams headlined.

I got a kick out of McGraw's antics and quotes during the '80 World Series with the Phillies and thought it'd be cool to get his autograph, especially because it cost only $2. I wasn't a fan when he was with the Mets, who broke my 7-year-old heart in '69. 

Eleven years later, that sting had lessened, and I began appreciating his observations. Like, when asked if his arm had grown stiff from overwork. "Yes. It's an ailment common to left-handed relief pitchers who are Irish and drink a lot.''

So, I got my hopes up for a memorable meeting. He didn't disappoint. It wasn't because he made an amusing observation or told a funny story or two. It was that he was so damn nice, so approachable, so completely unassuming. In other words, the anti-Williams. I met him after The Splendid Sourpuss, so it was the equivalent of biting a rotten apple and chasing it with honey.

First of all, you could actually hand your item to McGraw, who didn't need a buffer between you and him like Williams. McGraw was chatting it up like a game show host on greenies. I should've expected that. After all, he loved talking about his six different fastballs, including the famous Bo Derek that had ''a nice tail on it.'' (He struck out Willie Wilson for the final out in the Series clincher on a John Jameson, "straight, the way I like my Irish whiskey,'' on the outside corner.)

He couldn't have been any friendlier when my wife and I approached. I got the feeling he wanted us to sit and visit awhile.

McGraw always danced to a different tune. He enrolled into barber college, took hotel-management courses, served in the Marine reserves, created a comic strip called Scroogie and penned a sports column for a chain of suburban papers. He left us much too soon, dying from brain cancer in '04 at the age of 59.

It's one thing for me to describe his demeanor; it's another to simply look at the autograph. That says it all. And that's how I'll always remember Tug McGraw. 

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