Tug McGraw? Joe Namath? Charles Edward Greene? Bill Lee? Fictional?
Dear Quote Investigator: I laughed out loud when I read the answer given by Major League Baseball star Tug McGraw when he was asked whether he preferred grass or Astroturf:
I dunno. I never smoked any Astroturf.
This quote appeared in a newspaper article last year listing the most bizarre quotes in sport [BQI]. But when I searched online I found that some websites claim Joe Namath, the great football quarterback, said it. Did Namath or McGraw really say this? Maybe it was made up and added to McGraw’s other wacky sayings?
Quote Investigator: There is strong evidence that McGraw did utter a version of this quip when he played for the Mets. An article in The Times of San Mateo, California on April 30, 1974 contains an interview with McGraw in which he repeats the saying and indicates that he spoke the words on television the previous day [TMA]:
Back in the Mets’ locker room, McGraw laughed and said that he might get in trouble for something he said as a guest on a San Francisco TV talk show the day before. “A young boy called up and asked me if I preferred grass or astroturf,” chuckled Tug. “And I told him that I had never smoked astroturf. I guess that I shouldn’t have said that.”
“But I think that is part of why baseball isn’t as popular today as it used to be before World War II. People don’t look at players as human beings like they used to.”
The phrasing used by McGraw for this initial version of the quip is not very clear and concise. Unsurprisingly, it was altered in subsequent reportage. QI has not seen video footage of the TV talk show, so he does not know what McGraw said on camera.
The saying has also been ascribed to other sports figures such as football quarterback: Joe Namath (Broadway Joe Namath), football defensive tackle: Charles Edward Greene (Mean Joe Greene), and baseball pitcher: Bill Lee (Bill Spaceman Lee). But these attributions appeared in later years and may be imitative and/or apocryphal.
Here are additional select citations in chronological order.