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The Uncommon Life of Hank McGraw
Gary Smith
October 07, 2002
While his little brother Tug won fame and fortune and two World Series, a former bonus baby chose a path without compromise or material rewards.
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October 07, 2002

The Uncommon Life Of Hank Mcgraw

While his little brother Tug won fame and fortune and two World Series, a former bonus baby chose a path without compromise or material rewards.

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I left behind the interstate, then the highway, then the country road. I turned left at the brown-and-white horses and the black-and-white goat. A dentist in Northern California had told me about a hermit who lived here, on the outskirts of Napa.

I headed down a long private lane cloaked in laurel and plum and fig trees. A mystical man, the dentist said, tucked away from the world, without telephone or television.

I parked beside an old dented truck with a fractured windshield and a cobwebbed dashboard. Wyatt Earp with hair to his ass, another man described him. A drill-sergeant hippie.

I gazed at the tiny white cottage. The recluse inside existed so far from fortune and fame, so distant from mainstream and madness—and so near them.

One of his brothers, Tug McGraw, helped pitch both the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies to world championships.

His nephew Tim McGraw had six platinum CDs and an even shinier wife, Faith Hill.

His other brother, Dennis McGraw, recently pumped four bullets into a man with a short-barrel .22 rifle.

I got out of the car. There stood Hank McGraw, one of the Mets' first bonus babies: the McGraw who was supposed to go the furthest of them all. "The pearl at the bottom of the ocean." That's what Tug, his little brother, called him. "A mythical figure. He was All-Everything when I was a kid, and all I ever wanted was to be part of his world. Even after I'd made a name in the big leagues, Hank would appear in the clubhouse, and it was like Jesus showing up. He's risen! He's returned! The rest of us had become what we'd had to become to be major leaguers. Not Hank. He wouldn't compromise who he was or what he believed. He wouldn't cut his hair. All of a sudden my teammates would be around him like ants on a sugar cube. Next thing you know my hotel room's the convention center—Cleon Jones and Tommie Agee and Jerry Koosman and the guys are all there with beer and ribs, and Hank's playing his guitar and everyone's singing. Then he'd disappear again. When you're out there as the forward scout, you can't come back and stay on the wagon train. Someone has to go to the edge and be willing to risk falling off so the rest of us can know when to turn back."

Hank approached me, 42 years past his days as a high school All-America, a few months shy of 60, gray hair spilling over his shoulders, spilling from his chin, from his upper lip and eyebrows. He wanted to know why I was there.


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