Philadelphia Daily News - November 19, 1980

The Bard of the Bullpen Makes Poetic Pitch

 

By Maria Gallagher

 

Doug preceded Tugger, and likewise so did Pete, but it was the Phillie who spells relief who held a packed-to-the-rafters audience at the Academy of Music in the palms of his priceless hands last night.

 

There, between musical innings of Gershwin, Prokofiev and Kurt Weill, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. narrating "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam," was that old heart-stopper, Tug McGraw, joining Peter Nero's Philly Pops for a dramatic rendition of "Casey at the Bat."

 

Dramatic it was, as he shamelessly upstaged the suave Fairbanks. 71, who does this sort of thing for a living.

 

THERE WAS EASE IN Tugger's manner as he stepped into his place; there was pride in Tugger's bearing and a smile on Tugger's face as he strode to center stage, elegant in a black tuxedo, white ruffled shirt and bow tie. His World Series ring sparkled in the spotlight. He waved to his kids, who sat in a box to his left. yelling "Daddy!" and clapping.

 

A couple of Phillies pennants poked up from the adoring audience. Some of the Pops musicians sported red caps and Phillies buttons; the conductor donned a red satin Phillies warm up jacket.

 

"Yeah, I was nervous. I'd never done anything like this before, so I felt a little like a fish out of water," McGraw would say afterward, as his 7-year-old daughter, Cari Lynn, hugged one leg.

 

A LITTLE COACHING, a week of rehearsals and an echo-chamber effect on his voice were all it took to turn the theatrical hurler into a first-rate versifier. McGraw admitted he'd never been inside the Academy of Music before the first rehearsal.

 

"I'm kind of new to the cultural scene," he explained. "I was born in the bullpen." He conquered his queasiness by deciding to "just go out and have fun, like I was reading the poem to my kids."

 

With Nero flashing the signs (sometimes 3/4, sometimes 6/8), McGraw fixed his lustrous brown eyes on the concert crowd and wowed 'em with mugging and body English. He shed his jacket to ooze savoir-faire as the fictional idol Casey, strutting to the batter's box. He wiggled his hips to a bump-and-grind beat in a hilarious parody of the strikeout king's stance.

 

"I WAS JUST TRYING to do something to keep busy while the orchestra was playing," he alibied.

 

He faltered just once, briefly confusing the mighty Casey with the much-despised Blakey.

 

"I tried to do a lot of the things I do in baseball to keep the adrenalin flowing, like looking into the audience," he said. But the darkened auditorium made it impossible to see beyond the first few rows.

 

"When you see somebody smiling at the right time, it makes the next line a lot easier," McGraw admitted.

 

The Tylenol Kid drew peals of laughter when his fingers flashed a fluttery heartbeat as he assured them that "somewhere hearts are light." He roared, he whimpered, he quivered from head to toe; he raised one impish eyebrow at a time, "got all psyched up" in the epic's gathering rally, and smoked a strikeout for the finale, bringing the house to its feet.

 

TWO MUSICAL INTERLUDES later, an apparently unwound Tugger popped out for his curtain call clutching a can of Michelob.

 

He's due in a recording studio with the Pops today to record his performance for posterity, and naturally it will be in department stores near you in time for Christmas giving.

 

"Thank you very much. You made me very happy," he called repeatedly as he made his exit.

 

 

"Then stay in Philadelphia, you bum, if you're so happy," snorted a fan in the fourth row, but he was applauding lustily even as he said it.