He was crusty and combative, ready to fight at the drop of a cap. In the 1890s, an era of ornery baseball stars, John “Mugsy” McGraw was the orneriest — and an Oriole, to boot.
Born April 7, 1873, McGraw played third base for Baltimore, which won three National League flags (1894-1896). His scrappy, win-at-all-costs mindset mirrored that of the Orioles. Outfielders hid balls in the tall grass, should a base hit bound past them; runners raced directly from first base to third, when the umpire’s back was turned.
McGraw? He’d hook a finger into the belt loop of opposing runners waiting to score on a fly ball. Or grab a jersey. Or block the base paths.
Sportswriters called him “McGrump.” Umpires called him “a vicious demon.” Only 5 feet 7, he argued calls no end, spraying tobacco juice in the arbiters’ faces while grinding his razor-sharp spikes into their shoes. In 1894, McGraw started a fight in Boston that escalated, ending with the ballpark burning down.
How tough was Mugsy? Stricken with typhoid in 1896, he returned in August to help the Orioles win 16 of their next 20 games to clinch the pennant. In 11 years with Baltimore, the Hall of Famer batted .336, and his career on-base percentage (.466) is third highest in history behind Ted Williams (.482) and Babe Ruth (.474).
McGraw later managed the New York Giants for 33 years, winning three World Series. He died in 1934 and is buried in New Cathedral Cemetery. Ten years later, the John J. McGraw, a Liberty ship, was launched from the Bethlehem Shipyard.