Years before any of us jogged alongside a parade float swigging flasks of whiskey, I tried to engage my dad in a conversation about what it must have been like to celebrate a World Series as a younger adult. This type of thing is right up Tom’s alley. The man will chronicle a five-pronged story ending with a twofold message without anyone really asking, so the fact that he was less than enthused was very odd.
“Come on Dad,” I prodded. “You were what, 36? You got to bring your sons to a parade! That had to be amazing.”
“Oh sure, sure. They had a great time. I‘ll never forget that day…” I waited. “I was just absolutely appalled at something one of those players did one time. I took your brothers down, sure, but I had a real problem with one of those guys.”
For the next 20 minutes, I sat bewildered, befuddled, and bemused listening to my father describe one of the most Seinfeldian things I have ever heard in my life.
The year was 1977 and my parents had just purchased a van. No. My parents had just purchased a fire-engine red Dream Machine, fully outfitted with brown shag carpeting, a queen of-hearts spare tire cover, and windows shaped like arrows. Arrow. Shaped. Windows. (In hindsight, I guess she was kind of rad.)
Just off the kitchenette was a table with cushioned benches three ways around. The table could be twisted down and the back cushions could then be placed on top of the table to fashion a bed. (I know. Bow-chicka-wow-wow. Isn’t that how everyone rolled up to soccer practice?)
As part of the transaction, my dad agreed to let the van be featured in an upcoming car show, where a yet-to-be-confirmed professional baseball player would be making an appearance. Sounded like a fair enough deal to Tom.
A few Saturday mornings later, as the Dream Machine turned slowly on a rotating platform in all her fly glory, my dad and three brothers waited in line to get Tug McGraw’s autograph. As they inched closer, my dad noticed a woman at the front of the line nervously rummaging through her purse while Tug and her anxious son looked on.
As a family man, a Teamster, and an all-around standup guy, Tom has never been one to take shit sitting down, or even witness shit sitting down. (He once hurled two guys down three empty rows of 700-level seats after they fell on top of my mom and me…and continued punching each other. But that’s another blog for another day.)
“The kid wasn't getting an autograph because it cost money! It was criminal!” he recounted, still as incensed as he was that very day back in '77. I decided not to point out that maybe the proceeds were going to a charity, not a Maxwell House can on the top of Tug McGraw’s fridge. I mean, he was sitting at a table with people in suits around him, not visiting a terminally ill child in the hospital and propping up a credit card machine on the bed. But this was a decades-long grudge and it was not going to dissolve easily. My dad just needed to have it out.
So I listened as he described the confrontation. “Charging little kids for your autograph! Are you kidding me!”
By the way, I am pretty sure my brothers were hoping the old man would reach for that faded black leather wallet anyway-- but that’s not how lessons are learned, you see. Disgusted head shakes and palpable tension ensued as others began to also realize that in their lifetime they had already spent hundreds cheering on their beloved Phils…and now they were being squeezed for more? To watch someone scribble a “T” followed by a long line?
Because Tom is also a man of his word, he agreed to stay for the rest of the car show. Things had just begun to settle down when across the showroom floor he spotted Tug quickly getting out of the Dream Machine passenger seat with something in his hand.
Cut to an angry Tom discovering things amiss in his family vehicle. In my mind’s version he’s smoking. Obviously I don’t have a detailed breakdown of what exactly was in disarray, but I’m thinking your basic glove compartment what-have-yous are strewn about. A coffee-stained map on the floor; batteries from a flashlight on the passenger seat; a trail of 7-11 napkins leading to the opium den, I mean back of the van.
Despite the mess, however, it’s what wasn't there that officially ignited this bitter (one-sided; cough-cough) feud.
“What the hell?” Tom whispers out of the side of his mouth, the ash protruding from his cigarette entirely too long at this point. “That sonofabitch stole my 8-tracks…”
A good ten seconds go by before I can physically return to the the moment.
“Tug McGraw stole your 8-track tapes.” I declared (more so than asked) so he could hear the absurdity repeated back to him aloud.
“He sure as hell did.”
A few years later, as a montage of one great pitcher’s life and career in Philadelphia passed by on TV, I asked my dad if he had any forgiveness for Tug.
For a moment he said nothing. I watched him watch Tugger leap into the air after striking out Willie Wilson as the murmured cheers of the past hung in the air.
“Yeah,” he answered. “I do.”