Given just three weeks, McGraw still throwing zingers

Updated: January 5, 2004, 8:56 PM ET
Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA -- Tug McGraw won't let his illness affect his sense of humor.

Tug McGraw
Former relief pitcher Tug McGraw said Thursday that he's confident in his fight against brain cancer.

His thoughts slowed because of medication, McGraw reeled off one-liners in typical style Thursday as he talked about his battle with brain cancer for the first time.

"It was a lovefest," McGraw said after walking into the Philadelphia Phillies' clubhouse. "Everybody came over to me. There were a lot of hugs and some kisses, probably from the switch hitters."

A former star reliever with the Phillies and the New York Mets, McGraw was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor shortly after he was hospitalized in Clearwater, Fla., on March 12.

McGraw, 58, was working as a special spring training instructor for the Phillies when he became ill. He knew something wasn't right when he went to the stadium on an off day.

"They told me I had three weeks to live," McGraw said. "I'm still alive, so the three-week thing didn't work."

Joined by his 7-year old son, Matthew, and wearing a baseball cap that bore his trademark slogan, "Ya Gotta Believe," McGraw became emotional a few times during a news conference at Veterans Stadium before the Phillies played the Mets.

"I'm not fearful. I have confidence," said McGraw, best known for his zany antics during his 20-year career in the major leagues.

McGraw underwent six hours of surgery to remove a brain tumor nine days after he was hospitalized. He completed one month of radiation and chemotherapy, and is still undergoing chemotherapy one week a month.

"The prognosis is very good," said McGraw, who lost his long, blonde hair because of the chemo.

McGraw compiled a 96-92 record with a 3.14 ERA and 180 saves in his career with the Mets and Phillies. The left-hander pitched for the Mets from 1965-74 and the Phillies from 1975-84.

McGraw popularized the phrase, "Ya Gotta Believe!" with the Mets during their improbable pennant run in 1973, and later closed out the Phillies' only World Series championship in 1980.

A fan favorite in both Philadelphia and New York, McGraw is best remembered by Phillies fans for striking out Kansas City's Willie Wilson to end Game 6 of the 1980 World Series and win the title.

The Phillies are hanging McGraw's No. 45 jersey in the dugout during each of their games this season.

"He's a big part of our history," said Phillies manager Larry Bowa, who played with McGraw on the 1980 Phillies. "It was great to see him."

Phillies third-base coach John Vukovich was the first to greet McGraw when he entered the team's clubhouse.

"He's a tough guy. He's going to be fine," said Vukovich, another member of the 1980 Phillies.

McGraw didn't stay to watch Thursday night's game, but planned to return to the Vet for Saturday night's game against the Montreal Expos. He said the response he has received from fans, former teammates and other players has been incredible.

"Being a flake and someone who lives on the edge, you don't know how people would respond. It's been overwhelming," he said.


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press

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