In the midst of calling his 24th World Series as a baseball analyst and having served as a baseball commentator at a number of networks for 33 years, Tim McCarver, who just turned 72 this month, will call it quits at the conclusion of the 109th Fall Classic between the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox.
McCarver was a member of the Cardinals during the 1967 World Series, when they beat the Red Sox in the decisive 7th game at Fenway Park, so it seems only fitting that this will be his last.
Though he may be shutting down his analysis for Fox Sports, the former Cardinal and Phillies catcher isn’t calling it a retirement. He hates the word. Rather, as he told Charlie Rose earlier in the year, ``it`s time to cut back and do some of the things that I`ve always thought about doing.’’ He also told reporters during a conference call in March, 2013, “I wanted to step down while I know I can still do the job and be proud of the job I’ve done.”
Whatever opinion there may be about McCarver’s distinctive broadcasting style, and there are many-to be sure-his sharp wit, folksy humor, and uncanny knowledge of the intricacies and nuances of the game will be missed and not easily replaced.
Two examples come immediately to mind. One time during a World Series game, Mariano Rivera fielded a sacrifice bunt and rifled the ball to 2nd base, throwing too high for Derek Jeter to handle. McCarver, who knows pitchers better than anyone, immediately weighed in, saying: ``pitchers have a hard time throwing to bases because they can’t throw anything straight.’’ And just last season during a Fox broadcast, a Red Sox runner on 1st was doubled up, after a sharply hit ball to the shortstop. Again, McCarver presented viewers with another indispensible rule of thumb: A runner should never allow himself to be doubled-up on a ball hit to the left side of the infield. ``Why?’’, McCarver said as if he were at the blackboard in a college classroom drilling his students, ``because even if the ball gets through, the runner on 1st won’t make it any further than 2nd base.’’
Even the most casual observer of McCarver over the last two decades knows that this Emmy-Award winning color commentator is blessed with a mystifying ability to size up a situation during the course of the game, and almost like a fortune-teller peering into his crystal ball, predict its outcome, particularly if he detects pitfalls in the strategy.
In Game 5 of the 1990 NLCS, with the Cincinnati Reds trailing the Pittsburgh Pirates by a run, for example, Reds manager Lou Piniella employed a double-switch in the bottom of the 8th inning (sending in reliever Scott Scudder and back-up catcher Jeff Reed), but the Reds’ manager failed to put the weak-hitting Reed in the pitcher’s spot. Calling the game with Jack Buck on CBS, McCarver immediately pointed out a major oversight. By not ``flip-flopping the lineup’’ (putting the pitcher in the 7th spot and his reserve catcher in the 9th spot), McCarver emphasized, Piniella risked having one of his worst offensive players at the plate with the game on the line in the ninth.
And just like he predicted, the Reds 9th rally crumbled when Reed (a left-handed batter forced to face a left-handed pitcher) was induced into a 9th inning game ending double-play.
But McCarver was at his prognosticating best in the 7th game of the 2001 World Series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees. With the score tied at 2 in the bottom of the 9th, with only one out and the bases loaded, Luis Gonzalez of the D-Backs stepped to the plate. With the winning run just 90 feet away, Yankee manager Joe Torre instructed the infield to come in. After Gonzalez fouled off Rivera’s first offering, McCarver voiced the following observation: `` The one problem,’’ McCarver told viewers, ``is Rivera throws inside to left-handers. Left-handers get a lot of broken bat hits into the shallow part of the outfield. That’s the danger of bringing the infield in with a guy like Rivera on the mound.’’
No sooner had those sage words of concern rolled off his tongue, than Gonzalez rapped a floater just over Jeter’s outstretched arm, landing softly on the edge of the outfield grass, just like McCarver cautioned. Game over! The Diamondbacks stunned the Yankees against the usually reliable, lights out Mariano Rivera. It’s a tossup what was more memorable, Gonzalez’s Series winning bloop single or McCarver’s remarkable prescience.
Of course, even with all his amazing insight, McCarver has committed a few unforced errors during his distinguished broadcasting career, as a few of his detractors are all too eager to point out. During the 2011 World Series, he said ``s-t-r-i-k-e is a five letter word.’’ In the in Game 5 of the ALCS between the Red Sox and Yankees after David Ortiz smashed a home run to right field, McCarver observed: ``Mount Everest erupts again.!’’ And occasionally McCarver states the obvious, like when he told his audience in 1993 that Darren Daulton of the Phillies uses his ``glove like a mitt.’’; or the``one thing about ground balls, they don’t go out of the park.’’ Another McCarver pitch he probably wished he never delivered: ``Yankee pitchers have great success against [Miguel] Cabrera when they get him out.’’
And just like the best of them, McCarver has mangled a few names over the years as well. During the 1992 NLCS between the Pirates and Braves, he kept referring to Pirate rookie pitcher, Tim Wakefield, as ``Bill Wakefield.’’ An understandable miscue since McCarver was roommates with a Bill Wakefield during spring training in 1960. During the 2009 World Series, he referred to Derek Jeter as "Jerek Deter"; and once confused Albert Pujols with the retired Luis Pujols.
Clearly, the most stinging indictment against McCarver over the years is that he has a tendency to engage in philosophical rambling and has been much too critical, unnerving a number of players and managers.
Bob Ryan, retired Boston Globe columnist and still a Globe contributor, said of McCarver, ``All color men overdo it on occasion, but the criticisms of Tim McCarver are ludicrous. If he occasionally uses a word or historic reference some people don't understand, that would be their problem, not his. He will be missed.''
While covering the Mets during the 1980’s, McCarver criticized Darryl Strawberry for staying in the same place in the outfield, no matter who the hitter is, suggesting he would be able to handle more fly balls if he would only make some adjustments. Such a critique, seemingly benign, sparked the ire of Mets skipper Davey Johnson. Never afraid to speak his mind, ended up costing McCarver his job with the Mets who fired him two months before the 1999 season. Rumors were rampant that his axing came at the urging of manager Bobby Valentine.
His confrontation with two-sport athlete Deion Sanders is infamous. During the 1992 NLCS, he called ``Prime Time’’ out for planning to play in the NFL and the NLCS on the same day. ``How can he leave in the playoffs and go play in a football game?" McCarver intoned. "The way I look at it, that's just flat wrong and I guess could be construed as a breach of contract." McCarver’s biting comments resulted in him getting drenched with a bucket of ice water, three times in fact, by Deion in front of a national television audience when the Braves clinched the pennant. Furious, McCarver shouted back: "You are a real man, Deion. I'll say that."
In 2008, just prior to the NLCS, McCarver called Manny Ramirez "despicable" criticizing him for his slothful, slipshod effort in Boston and how he suddenly, miraculously, turned it around in Los Angeles with the Dodgers.
But for all the criticisms heaped on McCarver over the years, his deep passion for the game and his predilection of never being afraid to tell the truth, when ``tough love’’ is needed, has earned him legions of fans and admirers along with mountains of respect among his contemporaries.
Dan Caesar, who covers sports media for the St Louis Post-Dispatch says: ``McCarver is an icon, and the fact he sometimes has been a lightening rod on and off the air only enhances his aura''...``McCarver knew who he was working for — the person on the other end of the broadcast, not on the diamond or in the dugout. That is a key element that often gets lost on many former players who trek to the booth.''
George Vecsey (who now has a personal website at www.georgevecsey.com ) still a contributing sports columnist at The New York Times, even after his retirement, echoed similar thoughts. ``McCarver is professional and fearless. He never hesitated to criticize strategy, not in a personal way, but because he saw himself as a broadcaster, not a house man. He was a jock, but not enough to hinder him from making judgments on the spot’’ ``He can be overbearing with his puns and use of two-dollar words’’, Vecsey continues, ``but McCarver always loves and respects the game, and his craft.''
One of the most endearing attributes of McCarver is the way he remains firm in his ``old school’’ beliefs, even at the risk of seeming out of touch with American popular culture. Never is that more true than when it comes to social media, during an age when everyone these days seems to be twittering and plastering their smart phone pictures on Facebook. ``There is nothing in my view more disturbing than social networking – nothing!’’ McCarver said just last year.
Of course, someone as cultured and tethered to refined literary expression as McCarver is, probably isn’t too concerned with being out of step with pop culture. From time to time, he likes to sprinkle his commentary with dashes of Shakespeare, like he did in 1997 when the Chicago Cubs were mired in a losing streak and he cited a line from ``Love's Labour Lost.’’ ``Mirth cannot move a soul in agony'' McCarver expressed softly with his signature southern drawl.
When showering McCarver with accolades over his celebrated broadcasting career, there is a tendency to overlook the significant contributions he made on the field, other than he was a catcher to and a teammate of Hall of Famer Bob Gibson while with the Cardinals.
Beginning in 1959 at age 17, McCarver spent 10 seasons in St. Louis before joining the Phillies in 1970, where he remained until he was dealt to the Montreal Expos for catcher John Bateman on June 14, 1972. He finished the 1972 season in Montreal before being traded back to St. Louis during the offseason. 74 games into the 1974 season, the Boston Red Sox purchased his contract, but he was subsequently released on June 23, 1975. A little over a week later, he signed, once again, with the Phillies, playing in the outfield and at 1st. After only two games in 1980, he officially retired.
During his 21-year playing career, only one of 29 players to have appeared in four decades, McCarver distinguished himself as a two-time All-Star (1966 and 1967), played in three World Series (1964, 1967, 1968) caught two no-hitters (1971 and 1972) and smacked a dramatic three-run, 10th inning home run off New York's Pete Mikkelsen at Yankee Stadium in Game 5 of the 1964 World Series. McCarver was voted the Series MVP that year, batting .478 and leading his team to a spectacular seven game win over the New York Yankees. In the 1968 World Series in which St. Louis was pitted against the Detroit Tigers, (a Series the Cardinals lost in seven games) McCarver hit an impressive .333, with a home run and four RBIs.
McCarver would probably prefer not to be reminded about his Fourth of July blunder (July 4, 1976), when he belted a grand slam on the nation’s Bicentennial of all days at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh; only he got so excited he passed Phillies teammate Garry Maddox on the base paths, nullifying the slam. He was instead credited with a three-run single.
After his retirement in 1980, it didn’t take long for McCarver to jump into the broadcasting booth. The Phillies hired him at WPHL-TV (Channel 17) from 1980 to 1982, to work alongside Harry Kalas, Rich Ashburn, Andy Musser and Chris Wheeler. In 1980, he also worked as a backup ``Game of the Week’’ commentator for NBC.
In 1984, he was hired as a roving reporter for ABC Sports, talking with fans in the stands. When Howard Cosell got fired the following year (after his controversial autobiography was released) just days before the World Series, ABC paired McCarver with Al Michaels. He stayed with ABC through 1989. Beginning in 1990, he landed at CBS, working with Jack Buck in 1990 and 1991 and Sean McDonough in 1992 and 1993. In 1996, he was hired by Fox Sports, where he was paired with play-by-play announcer, Joe Buck.
Along the way, he had broadcasting stints with the New York Mets (1983-1998), their cross-town rivals New York Yankees (1999-2001), and the San Francisco Giants (2002). Taken together, spanning three decades, McCarver has worked at all four major networks: NBC, CBS, ABC and, currently, Fox.
Although ending his playing career with 1,501 hits, a .271 lifetime batting average, 97 dingers and 645 runs batted in, wasn't quite stellar enough to get him to Cooperstown as a player, he was the recipient of the 2012 Ford C. Frick award for broadcasting excellence and enshrined in the broadcasters' and sports writers' wing of the Hall of Fame, alongside his former colleague and friend, legendary Jack Buck, the father of his current Fox colleague, Joe Buck.
So for James Timothy "Tim" McCarver, the son of a police officer (fourth of five children), married to former Anne McDaniel since 1964 with two grown daughters, Kathy and Kelly, it has indeed been a road well traveled from his humble beginnings, coming as he did, from a working class Irish neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee to major league baseball star to national treasure and Hall of Fame recipient for his broadcasting excellence.
When it comes to encapsulating McCarver's illustrious broadcasting career and how much he'll be missed, no one sums it up better than George Vecsey of The New York Times, when he tells me: `` I will miss Tim on the broadcasts -- partially because we came along together, so to speak. But more to the point, he is sui generis, a former player who transcended that label.'' ``Essentially'', Vecsey underscores, ``he is a true believer, a smart, warm, honest guy. I hope he stays in the public ear.''
October 30, 2013