There are certain people you meet on this planet who leave a whole different mark than just about everyone else. Tug McGraw was one of those people.
I never met anybody in my whole life who had more fun doing what he did than Tug McGraw. Not just in baseball. In anything. Tug was a man who often bragged that he never worked a day in his life -- because everything he ever did to earn a buck was just one more excuse to have a good time. And as you watched him dance through every day with a smile on his face, you knew he wasn't just saying that because it sounded good.
He was such a positive, charismatic human being, he transformed himself into a baseball icon in two different cities. In New York, he was the man who almost single-handedly made an 82-win playoff team -- those 1973 Mets -- socially acceptable. Ya gotta believe? In that team? But he did. And they did. And any Mets fan who watched those Mets send the Big Red Machine home for the winter will never forget him for it.
And then came 10 years in Philadelphia, where he became one of the most beloved sports figures ever in a town not known for its love affairs with its heroes. On Oct. 21, 1980, Tug McGraw did something no one else has done before or since. He threw a pitch that won the World Series for the Phillies. Then he danced off the mound on the toes of his spikes, arms raised toward the sky, waiting for his friend and neighbor Mike Schmidt to leap into his arms. And the flashbulbs that popped at that moment recorded an image that still hangs on many a wall.
It was the greatest moment in Philadelphia sports history. And it allowed Tug McGraw to spend the rest of his life listening to literally thousands of people tell him exactly where they were when he threw That Pitch.
"What pitch was that?" he loved to ask them. "I played here 10 years, so I threw a lot of pitches."
But he knew. And they knew. And the stories came spilling out of them. Like the one about the guy who had a heart attack that night -- but made the doctors bring a TV into the emergency room so he wouldn't miss That Pitch. Like the woman who went into labor -- but almost gave birth in her car because she refused to leave for the hospital until Tug threw That Pitch.
Of course, Tug McGraw always had stories for them, too. Here he was, two outs in the ninth inning, bases loaded, an entire stadium knowing another Philadelphia nightmare was on the way, and here's what the man with the baseball was thinking:
He was looking around, at all this madness around him. And he caught sight of one of those police horses that lined the warning track, choosing that moment to leave a little, eh, souvenir.
"And I thought to myself," Tug McGraw said, " 'If I don't get this guy out, that's what I'm going to be in this town.' "
So if you ever watch the videotape of that inning, and you see a guy laughing to himself at a moment when he should have been shaking like a subway train, that was the Tug McGraw I'll remember.
It doesn't seem right that a man so full of life should be gone at age 59. But those of us who knew him will be laughing at his stories for the rest of our lives. It's hard to believe that Tug McGraw's journey is over so soon. But at least he left us knowing that That Pitch he threw in 1980 will be traveling forever.