Do you remember what happened on December 3, 1974?

Plenty, I’m sure, but …

Every once in awhile a day comes along that changes the course of history … for a team (or teams) … for a player … for baseball itself.

Or, if it doesn’t actually change all those things by itself, the day at least marks moments of change that might not be fully realized for a while.

That’s what happened on December 3, 1974, when the New York Mets traded Tug McGraw to the Philadelphia Phillies.

But first …

Pecking Order … Before the Trade

Through 1974, Tug McGraw had been a massive part of the Mets’ bullpen since 1969, when he tossed 100 innings of 2.78-ERA relief to help the Amazin’ Mets win their first World Series.

Here is what he looked like in those days …

1974 Topps Tug McGraw

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In 1973, McGraw’s “You Gotta Believe” mantra and attitude nearly willed the Miracles to another title.

The only losing season in the that run for the Mets came in 1974, when they finished 71-97 and in fifth place in the old National League East division.

That same year, the Phils finished 80-82 — good for third place — but that was the first time they’d sniffed .500 since an 82-80 fifth-place finish in the divisionless NL of 1967.

Philadelphia was improving, powered by arms like Steve Carlton and Jim Lonborg, and monster bats like Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski.

New York, on the other hand, was reeling after taking a huge step back from their World Series run in 1973 (ultimately losing to the Oakland A’s).

So, how did the teams address their respective shortcomings to get/return to the top of the NL East mountain?

Well, partly, the clubs orchestrated a trade that sent McGraw to the Phils along with Don Hahn and Dave Schneck, and landed Mac Scarce, John Stearns, and Del Unser with the Mets.

And how did that work out?


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Flip-Flopped Fortunes

McGraw immediately improved from a somewhat down year in 1974 (4.16 ERA, 87 ERA+) to something more closely resembling his prime years in 1975 (2.98 ERA, 126 ERA+).

That helped the Phils move up to 86-76 and second place, four games ahead of the third-place Mets (at 82-80).

So, improvements for both.

The following years, though?

All Phillies.

In particular …

Philly won the first of three division titles in 1976, fell to fourth in 1979, then picked up where they left off in 1980.

They’d add a fifth division crown in 1983 after a funky strike year in 1981 and a merely contending season in 1982.

Meanwhile, the Mets improved to 86-76 in 1976 before falling off the table at 64-98 in ’77. They didn’t climb above .500 again until 1984, when Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry (and Keith Hernandez and Davey Johnson and many others) were in the fold.

So, did the December 3 trade between the teams in 1974 make all this happen?

No, probably not. Not directly, and not alone.

A ton of stuff goes into making a championship team and into making a crap-tastic team.

But let’s backpedal a bit to that 1980 Phillies team.

Wait … There’s More!

Not only did Philadelphia reclaim the NL East crown from the Pittsburgh Pirates, but they bested the Houston Astros in the NLCS to make it to the World Series.

And then, they took down the Kansas City Royals in six games to nab the crown as World Champions.

1981 Topps Tug McGraw World Series

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And what happened that year, to make that title possible?

Schmidt won his first MVP award for one thing.

And Carlton won another Cy Young Award.

And Pete Rose was fully established in his Brotherly Love stint after coming over from the Big Red Machine for the 1979 season.

But you know what else happened?

Thirty-five-year-old Tug McGraw turned in maybe the best season of his career, tossing 92+ innings of 1.46-ERA ball with a silly 260 ERA+ … all good for a career-best 4.6 WAR.

Added in 20 saves for good measure.

Then, he pitched in all five games of the NLCS before putting up a 1.17 ERA and two saves in the Fall Classic.

And who was on the mound when Willie Wilson made the final out of the 1980 World Series?

Yeah, it was Tugger.

And that up there is what he looked like in that moment … easy to believe that stories about how McGraw’s spirit and winning attitude were at least as important at his stats.

Topps knew it was big.

And McGraw’s baseball cards will always hint at the importance of December 3 for Mets and Phillies fans.

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