Philadelphia Inquirer - November 19, 1980

Another win for McGraw


This time, he plays for an orchestra


By Daniel Webster, Inquirer Staff Writer


The Philly Pops picked up free agent Tug McGraw last night and made him the organization's designated narrator.


McGraw was signed while the city still basked in the euphoria of the Phillies' World Series win in October. In the interim, McGraw played in an instructional league, where he was coached by Jerry Grabey not to flinch at the curves that the stage can throw at an entertainer.


This was his first time up with the Pops, and conductor Peter Nero had found a musical setting of "Casey at the Bat" which called for a performer with McGraw's aplomb. The Phillies' relief pitcher had worked out the piece with Grabey and in rehearsals last week. Last night, he had gone out for a sandwich but returned backstage while Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was performing with the orchestra at the Academy of Music.


A peek at the stage caught McGraw full force. His left hand fluttered over his heart – in a gesture reminiscent of Game 5 of the Series – and he walked to his dressing room with knees wobbling wildly.


There was a sell-out crowd in the Academy to see McGraw come out. Phillies souvenirs were being sold in the street, and a few Phillies pennants waved when he emerged. There were Phillies buttons on a few lapels in the orchestra. Moe Septee, the Pops impresario, was walking around backstage with a World Series baseball in his pocket.


McGraw made his clutch appearance with the Pops as vivid as any he had made with the Phillies last year. He is a showman with a sense of timing. Maybe the Phillies can work out a contract that calls for a specific number of concerts in addition to pitching time.


He came out on the darkened stage, impeccably dressed in formal clothes. The lights came up as Frank Proto's music began with taped crowd noises. As designated narrator, he stepped into the role vigorously, found his stance and moved ahead.


Those in the crowd hung on every word, knowing very well how the story all comes out, and they got a kick out of hearing McGraw snatch up Casey's name for the batter who hit the cover off the ball. Calm is McGraw's middle name, and he rode over that fluff with a grin – although he used that left-hand flutter against his ruffled shirt.


After that, it was growing fun for the pitcher. He roared and whispered, pulled off his jacket to match Casey's disdain at the plate and swept off his vest to underline all that. And when the music suggested hauteur, McGraw was swinging his hips and moving the way other performers in other theaters deal with the art of removing coats and vests.


His range of voice and inflection showed that he had a lot of deliveries at his fingertips. Somehow the final line came too soon for this vocal crowd. The narration was punctuated by applause and cheers. And when it was over, McGraw pulled a mitt out of Nero's piano and caught a ball.


Nero was repeating much of a program he had led on Sunday, but at the earlier program, the Phillie Phanatic had been the representative of the baseball world at the Academy. The program included Gershwin songs in imaginative arrangements by Nero, music from Superman and Lt. Kije. Fairbanks repeated his narration of verses from the Rubaiyat to a score by Alan Hovhaness and did songs from Camelot and My Fair Lady.



But it was for McGraw the audience cheered last night. A lot of transference went on there between the listeners and this charismatic designated narrator.