Tim Mcgraw Gets Cookin'

updated 04/25/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/25/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

FORMER WORLD SERIES PITCHING HERO TUG MCGRAW IS TOOLING around Orlando listening to his car radio when a deejay introduces "Indian Outlaw." As the novelty hit blares ("You can find me in my wigwam, I'll be beatin' on my tomtom/Pull out the pipe and smoke ya some, hey, and pass it around"), Tug thumps the dashboard with his fist. "Yes! Yes!" he exclaims. "That's m'boy!"

Famous for coining the "You gotta believe" rallying cry for baseball's 1973 National League champion Mets, Tug, now 49, is still fired with boyish enthusiasms. And right now he's psyched because riding shotgun beside him is his 26-year-old son, Tim McGraw, the newly minted country star who sings "Indian Outlaw." The fact that Tim was raised without Tug's support—and was 11 before he learned who his father was—doesn't seem to bother either one as the prodigal dad pops a cassette of Tim's No. 1 country album, Not a Moment Too Soon, into the tape deck. "This album," says Tug with the assurance of a veteran promo man, "is gonna have a long life."

Not, however, if Cherokee Nation principal chief Wilma P. Mankiller has anything to say about it. Claiming "Indian Outlaw" "is extremely offensive...and promotes bigotry," the Oklahoma-based Mankiller is leading a drive to ban the song from radio stations. Though the single has been pulled from playlists in Arizona, Minnesota, Nevada and Oklahoma, fans snatched up 635,000 copies, sending "Indian Outlaw" into the Top 15 of Billboard's pop chart and helping to make Not a Moment Too Soon the No. 1 country album its first week. And not all Native Americans share Mankiller's distaste. The song is a hit on "the voice of the Navajo nation," Arizona's KTNNAM. "The kids here like to dance to it," says North Carolina Cherokee vice-chief Gerard Parker, 39. "If I wasn't old and crippled, I'd dance to it too."

McGraw says his hit "just isn't a serious song, and I can't see how anyone can take it seriously. I come from a long line of rednecks on my Mom's side, and I don't get offended when people sing about rednecks."

Tim's mom, Betty Trimble, 46, was a pretty, 18-year-old hullabaloo dance girl from Jacksonville, Fla., in 1966 when she and Tug, then a 22-year-old bachelor with the Mets' Jacksonville farm club, consummated a summer romance. "It was the first time for me," says Betty, "and just my luck, I got pregnant."

Tug learned of Betty's pregnancy but went on to fame with the Mets and Phillies without looking back, leaving Betty alone to raise Tim. She supported herself as a waitress in rural Louisiana, marrying truck driver Horace Smith. Young Tim sang in church and seemed blessed with "a natural ear for music," Betty remembers. Tim also had a knack for baseball and hung up the cards of his six favorite players—including, incredibly, Tug McGraw.

When he was 11, two years after Betty and Smith divorced, Tim discovered his birth certificate, naming McGraw as his father. At Tim's urging, Betty contacted Tug, who had married and fathered two more kids, Mark, 22, and Cari, 20. After discussing matters with his wife, Phyllis (they divorced in 1988), Tug arranged to meet his son before a game in Houston. "Tug handled it real well," Betty recalls. "He said, 'Hey, son, I'm your father, but I haven't been much of a father, so let's be friends. Wanna go to a ball game?' "

"Ain't much I could think at age 12," says Tim, "except, 'Cool.' " Still, father and son had little contact until Tim's senior year in high school, when Tug agreed to help pay for the honor student's college education. Tim says his initial anger over his dad's lack of support soon changed to understanding and eventually even affection. "He was 22 and immature when it happened," laughs Tim. "Hell, he's still immature."

When Tim dropped out of Northeast Louisiana University in 1989 to pursue a music career, Tug finally acted like a father. "Finish school first," said Tug, "then go to Nashville." Argued Tim: "You told me you quit school after two years to play baseball." The logic won Tug's blessing and a continuation of the $150 monthly college stipend. In Nashville, Tim played local clubs and met songwriter Tommy Barnes, who had penned "Indian Outlaw." Says Tim: "I knew it was a hit." After signing with Curb Records in 1990, McGraw chose Barnes's song for his second CD and found his first hit.

Nonstop touring (225 shows this year) keeps Tim away from his rented two-bedroom house near Nashville. (It also keeps him single. "I'm focusing on my career," he says, "and I don't want to screw up two things at once.") But frequent concert swings through Florida mean stops in Jacksonville, where Betty settled after marrying greenhouse manufacturer Joe Trimble in 1993, and Orlando, where Tug, now a sports marketing exec, lives with girlfriend Diane Hovekamp. During Tim's recent visit, father and son played catch at an Orlando ball field. It is the sort of shared time they missed during Tim's childhood and that they now both obviously enjoy.

"The only song Tug knows is the national anthem, and he still thinks Elvis is alive," Tim says, "but we've both come to be big believers in genetics. We really have similar personalities. Sometimes," he adds with a grin, "it scares the hell out of me."

MEG GRANT in Jacksonville

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