He played for four teams over four decades, was twice an All-Star, and won two World Series championships. Then he entered the TV studio with his baseball knowledge and natural knack for gab.
Tim McCarver, a dependable big-league catcher who played for four decades, made two All-Star teams and won two World Series titles, passed away on Thursday in Memphis. His greater fame came from his work as a Hall of Fame broadcaster. He was 81.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame announced his passing and stated that heart failure was the cause.
McCarver was sometimes a play-by-play announcer but most frequently a color man, a role that better fit his gift of gab. He was known for his sharp analysis of strategy, his literary use of metaphor, and his tendency to forecast successfully what was about to occur on the field.
His more than 30-year career included stops in Philadelphia, where he began in 1980, the Mets, where he was famously paired with former slugger Ralph Kiner in the booth, national appearances on four networks, the Yankees, and the San Francisco Giants.
I'm not stating this an as absolute, because Bob Gibson's talent was immeasurable. But perhaps Gibby doesn't have the historic 1968 season without Tim McCarver.
— Augie Nash (@AugieNash) February 16, 2023
His gravelly tenor, which had a tinge of his Tennessee upbringing, became one of the game’s most recognizable voices. His knowledgeable, observant, and articulate views on the game were generally respected.
McCarver, like other long-serving talking heads, has his critics. Several examples may be found on the now-defunct website shutuptimmccarver.com, and he was made fun of on “Family Guy.” Some claimed he talked too long, labored the obvious, frequently jumbled his syntax, and was unduly excited by his genius. Deion Sanders, an outfielder for the Atlanta Braves, once threw a bucket of cold water over McCarver’s head in the locker room during a game after the latter criticized him.
Nonetheless, more people valued his freedom of thought and sensitivity to subtle game-related contexts.
Contrary to broadcasting convention, McCarver was not averse to criticizing the performance of a team for which he worked; it was claimed that he was sacked from his position with the Mets in 1999 after 16 seasons. Yet his sincerity was frequently accompanied by a witticism or clever wordplay. David Cone of the Mets struck out Casey Candaele of the Houston Astros on three pitches during a 1992 game, and McCarver joked, “Looks like Cone burned the Candaele at both ends.”
A Call in the 9th
His most well-known broadcasting moment was the final few seconds of the 2001 World Series. With the score knotted, one out, and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning of the seventh game, left-handed Arizona Diamondbacks hitter Luis Gonzalez took on the unrivaled Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.
Joe Torre, the manager of the Yankees, decided to move all of his infielders to the edge of the infield grass to provide any infielder gloving a ground ball a better opportunity to throw home and halt the crucial run from scoring. The other choice he had was to only fully engage the fielders in the hopes that a ground ball would result in a third-to-first or second-to-first double play.
In addition to his partner Joe Buck’s play-by-play, McCarver added 0 and 1.
“The one problem is Rivera throws inside to left-handers. Left-handers get a lot of broken-bat hits into shallow outfield, the shallow part of the outfield. That’s the danger of bringing the infield in with a guy like Rivera on the mound.”
Rivera delivered the next pitch on the inner corner as promised. Gonzalez swung and blooped the ball into the air by hitting it with his fists. If Derek Jeter hadn’t been in the game, the shortstop would probably have made a catch just beyond the infield dirt to the left of second base. The match, as well as the Series, was finished.
McCarver called 24 World Series in total. He took Howard Cosell’s spot on ABC for the first time in 1985.
In some respects, McCarver’s transition from the plate to the microphone was seamless. A catcher is frequently the team’s on-field lecturer, knowledge accumulator, and experience distributor. Many of them went on to become managers, and many more, including Joe Garagiola and Bob Uecker, went on to work as announcers.
Catchers are the only defensive players positioned behind the hitter, looking outward, whose field of vision encompasses the entire diamond from their vantage point behind the plate. In every game, the catcher’s relationship with his pitcher determines how quickly and far the action moves. His pitch calls and glove placement aid in deciding the defensive alignment of his teammates, and his understanding of opposing batters greatly aids his battery mate’s ability to choose and place pitches.
The job does require a level of intelligence and focus unparalleled at any other job. In addition, no one embodied the intellectual catcher more than McCarver, whose reputation for extensive baseball knowledge sparked interest from multiple teams in him as a manager.
Yet, despite being an excellent big-league player, he was not a contender for the Cooperstown Hall of Fame. He played for two National League teams, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies, throughout his career, from 1959 to 1980. He never reached the level of 70 runs scored in a season, and his power figures were poor, with fewer than 100 home runs in his whole career. Nonetheless, even for a catcher, his lifetime hitting average of.271 was commendable.
“Did you ever try to figure out why a catcher’s batting average isn’t usually as high as that of most other players?” McCarver asked in “Oh Baby, I Love It!” (1987), one of the half-dozen books he wrote (this one with Ray Robinson). “The answer: His hands are swollen and always in pain. Try swinging a bat when your hands hurt.”
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Almost an M.V.P
McCarver was a swift runner for the Cards in 1966, leading the league with 13 triples—the first time a catcher has ever accomplished such a feat in baseball history. His first year as an All-Star was that one, and his second was the next.
He batted.295 in 1967, set career highs with 14 home runs and 69 runs batted in, and came in second place (behind teammate Orlando Cepeda) in the National League Most Valuable Player vote. The Cardinals won the pennant in 1964, 1967, and 1968 with McCarver in the lineup.
He contributed significantly to the 1964 World Series triumph for the Cards over the Yankees by going safely in all seven games, batting.478, and hitting a three-run home drive in the 10th inning to win Game 5. McCarver struggled at the plate and played a minor role in the 1967 World Series victory over Boston for the Cardinals. Still, he hit.333 in the 1968 Series against Detroit, which the Cardinals ultimately lost in seven games.
As a player, Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton, two of the greatest pitchers in significant league history, chose McCarver as their battery partner. Both played with the Cardinals in the 1960s, and McCarver was the catcher for Gibson’s 1968 campaign, which saw him post the lowest earned run average of any pitcher in more than a century (1.12).
Tim McCarver: "34 years ago, my obligation shifted from the field and the players—to the booth and to you—the viewers. Fairness and accuracy and honesty have always been my goals. Along with teaching you something you may not have known about this great game…" ⚾️ RIP pic.twitter.com/PNIYXvMquK
— Jennifer X. Williams (@JenXperience) February 16, 2023
In 1968 and 1969, McCarver caught Carlton’s first two all-star seasons after he joined the Cardinals in 1965. After that, they played alongside one another.
In 1970, McCarver was dealt to the Phillies. (The transaction is a turning point in baseball’s labor history. The Cardinals attempted to trade McCarver and outfielder Curt Flood to the Phillies, but the latter refused to report, leading to a Supreme Court case.
Though ultimately unsuccessful, it marked the beginning of the reserve clause’s dismantling—the portion of a conventional baseball contract that forbade a player from leaving his team—which in turn ushered in the era of free agency.) When Carlton was traded to the Phillies in February 1972—a terrible team—he had one of the most incredible seasons ever for a pitcher, winning 27 games for a group of losers.
McCarver served as his catcher that season; he was traded to Montreal in June before being brought back to the Cardinals, where his career eventually ended.
After being released by Boston in June 1975, he was signed by the Phillies, where Carlton’s production had declined. Over the next few seasons, Bob Boone, a more youthful player, served as Carlton’s catcher. As a result, Carlton won 77 games between 1976 and 1979, the Phillies made three postseason appearances, and he earned the second of his four Cy Young Awards.
McCarver was cut loose after the 1979 campaign and started a career in broadcasting the following year. Still, the Phillies welcomed him back in October 1980 so he could become one of the few major league players to play in four different decades. He made six appearances, registered one double-hit hit, and occasionally juggled two professions by giving television interviews while wearing a Phillies uniform.
Super Sky Point to Tim McCarver, who played 21 years in the big leagues before becoming one of the most prominent announcers in the game. 100% chance he greeted St. Peter with a Bob Gibson story before reuniting with his old friend. Maybe they’ll have a bullpen today. #RIP pic.twitter.com/ZW4D7pSNyj
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) February 16, 2023
A Memphis-born Person
James Timothy McCarver was one of five children born in Memphis on October 16, 1941. He was up in a challenging area where his Roman Catholic family was a minority. G.E. McCarver, sometimes known as Ed, was a Memphis police officer who later transitioned into a private investigator.
According to McCarver in “Oh Baby, I Love It!,” his mother Alice was a devout woman who “used to make the sign of the cross on my back before I went out to play ball.” She lived vicariously via his athletic achievements.
He excelled in multiple sports at the segregated Christian Brothers Academy in Memphis and attracted interest from football powerhouses like Notre Dame, Alabama, and Tennessee. The Cardinals, Giants, and Yankees were also interested in him, but he chose baseball since it allowed him to start making money immediately away.
He was only 17 years old when he started his professional career in the low minor levels in Keokuk, Iowa, in 1959 after signing a $75,000 contract with the Cards. He participated in his first big-league games that September. He began the following two seasons in the minors, making a brief September appearance with the Cardinals. He became the team’s starting catcher in 1963, though.
In 1964, McCarver wed Anne McDaniel, whom he had known since high school. The union broke up in divorce. He is survived by his two daughters, Kelly and Kathy, and two grandkids beforeehem passed away,y his four siblings were.
McCarver’s notoriety gave him further possibilities over time. In addition to his appearances on game days, he hosted “The Tim McCarver Show,” a popular radio and television program where he conducted interviews with athletes and other sports personalities. He and Paula Zahn co-anchored the 1992 Winter Olympics for CBS.
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His publications, which he co-authored, mainly included anecdotes from the locker room and the field of play and tips for baseball fans on how to enjoy a game. He was a skilled bridge player mentioned in The New YorkTimes’ bridge column. He had several film appearances, such as “Moneyball,” “Fever Pitch,” and “The Naked Gun.” Tim McCarver Sings Songs From the Great American Songbook is an album he made.
Those, though, were sidelights. McCarver was given the Ford C. Frick Award in 2012, essentially a lifetime achievement award given by the National Baseball Hall of Fame to a broadcaster each year for “major contributions to baseball.”
He was admitted to the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame four years later.
Dick Enberg, himself a Frick Award winner, said on that occasion –
“If you’re going to talk about the best baseball analyst in the history of television.”
“Tim McCarver’s name has to come up immediately.”
Rebecca Martin is an author of thrillers for both adults and teens. She was born in San Francisco and has lived most of her life in Los Angeles. When not writing, she can be found hiking the Griffith Park trails, taking the Metro and then questioning this decision, and haunting local bookstores.