For more than 60 years, Tim McCarver was baseball.
He was the one constant on the scene for seven decades, from breaking into the majors as a 17-year-old catcher for the Cardinals in 2019, and giving his immense knowledge and influential voice to the game through as a broadcaster through 2019.
McCarver was a two-time All-Star, a two-time World Series champion, and the personal catcher for pitching immortals Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton. He won three Emmy awards, received the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick award for his distinguished broadcasting career and was a national-network baseball analyst for 29 consecutive MLB postseasons including 24 World Series.
McCarver was the best analyst that baseball has ever known, and he established standards that changed the industry. He was baseball’s John Madden … and Madden was the NFL’s Tim McCarver. They both began their broadcasting careers at roughly the same time. McCarver wrote baseball books. He hosted nationally syndicated baseball shows. He appeared regularly on PBS. He was voted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame. He saw and knew the game, inside and out – as a catcher, and as a broadcaster.
McCarver was famous for his “first-guess” instincts, accurately questioning a manager’s strategy and offering a warning moments before a crucial spot in the game unfolded. The most famous instance came in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. The Diamondbacks had the bases loaded. Yankees manager Joe Torre decided to play the infield in. The iconic closer Mariano Rivera was on the mound, trying to lock down another World Series championship for the Yankees. But Rivera was in trouble, the one-run lead was gone, the game was tied 2-2, and left-handed hitter Luis Gonzalez was up next.
McCarver warned the audience that Rivera’s cut fastball ran in on LH batters, frequently causing broken-bat bloops to the shallow part of the outfield. And by playing the infield in, the Yankees were vulnerable. As if on cue, Gonzalez broke his bat on an inside jam pitch from Rivera. The ball floated over Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter for the game-winning, Series-winning single.
McCarver was on top of it. His work ethic and preparation put him above all other analysts. You could always see him hanging around the batting cage, and in the dugout, picking up valuable pieces of information that he put to use.
It seemed that McCarver knew just about everyone in baseball over seven decades, and was loved by just about everyone who encountered him in his travels. You could talk baseball with him before the game. He would talk baseball with TV viewers during the game. And if you noticed him out in public, you could stop by his table for a post-game chat. His generosity of kindness touched teammates, Hall of Fame players, colorful baseball characters, stadium workers who stopped him for a pregame gab on the concourse. Unless he was in a legitimate time crunch and in a rush, McCarver almost always had plenty of time for fans and legions of media people.
McCarver linked the generations as a fabulous storyteller who could discuss any era and make it relatable to younger – or older – viewers and listeners. As many others have said, I learned something about baseball, and the sport’s history, every time I watched a game that had Tim McCarver as our guide. On a personal note, McCarver was a member of my favorite national-TV broadcast team: Al Michaels on the play-by-play, with Jim Palmer and Tim McCarver as the analysts on ABC.
Critics who were annoyed by McCarver’s verbosity really missed the point. Whether behind the plate as a catcher, shouting out to Gibson … or in a booth high above the field … or walking the streets … or sitting in an airport… or riding a taxi … or nestled in an airplane cabin … or seated in a corner spot at a restaurant …
McCarver was hospitable, and conversational, and passionate about every aspect of the sport that he adored. To ask Tim to pipe down, and be more economical with his words, was nothing more than a failed attempt to diminish his spirit, mute his enthusiasm, turn off his substantial intellect, and make him just another bland and uninteresting announcer.
McCarver had to talk baseball because he was baseball. It’s impossible to disconnect the most connected baseball man the game has ever known.
Among the many beautiful qualities about Tim McCarver was the way he could be so many things to so many people. He was humble and self deprecating. He had a laugh that enlivened any space he occupied. But at the same time, listening to McCarver was like taking a graduate course in baseball. He was the smartest guy in the room who didn’t act like the smartest guy in the room.
That’s why his appeal resonated with a wide range of people who metaphorically sat at his table to talk ball. This was a special talent. He could be gregarious or serious or perhaps gregarious and serious at the same time. He was genuine to all, and accessible to all. He could make you feel like you were his friend – simply because he treated you like one.
I was fascinated by the generational divide and how McCarver made the gap seem smaller. For example, let’s take McCarver and the so-called sabermetric community. McCarver had an old–school belief system, an old-school vibe, but always kept an open mind and was eager to learn even more about baseball. I think it’s fair to say that aficionados of advanced metrics weren’t McCarver fans, and they could be withering in their criticism – especially when driven to score snark points on Twitter with the other cool kids.
I’m a stathead. Sure, McCarver may have made me shake my head at times, but I loved the guy. And so what if he didn’t fully embrace analytics? He had the ability to raise my awareness and teach me about things that I didn’t know, or never considered. I appreciated that about him.
McCarver and the data-driven analysts/fans came to understand they had more in common than they realized. Both were devoted to the same cause: a deep affection for the game, the fervor to learn more and make discoveries, and to sharpen knowledge about the game they cherished.
McCarver and the analytics community may have disagreed about certain aspects of baseball strategy, but they shared an intense curiosity that originated from the same place. The Love of the Game.
As you know, our dear James Timothy McCarver died Thursday at age 81.
He was surrounded by family and other loved ones at his home in Memphis.
He’s also surrounded by angels, and I ain’t talking about the team in Anaheim.
McCarver is up there right now, laughing and giggling and telling old stories. He’s giving Bob Gibson a hard time over a bottle of wine, and Gibson is zinging him back, and the two best friends are picking up where they left off. Jack Buck will be stopping by to add to the good cheer. Red Schoendienst and Lou Brock will join the fun. Stan the Man will grab his harmonica and they’ll all join him for a joyous version of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” … well, at least until Gibson hollers at McCarver, telling his catcher to stop singing because his voice is getting on Gibby’s nerves. They’ll all laugh and raise a glass.
Baseball Heaven. I really, really believe in it.
It will be sad to watch the 2023 Cardinals’ Hall of Fame induction and not see McCarver there with his full-blast personality. It will be sad to look out to the home-plate area before the 2023 home-opener at Busch Stadium and be hit with the reality: another red-jacket legend is gone. So many have left us over the last decade: Musial, Brock, Gibson, Schoendienst and Bruce Sutter.
Thankfully the Cardinals put McCarver into their Hall of Fame in 2017. He absolutely, positively belonged. McCarver became such a broadcasting star – and a celebrity by extension – it obscured his meaningful career as a catcher.
We shouldn’t forget about that significant part of his baseball life.
Here’s just a partial list …
* Twenty-one MLB seasons including 12 with the Cardinals. A total of 1,937 big-league games, including the postseason. Nearly 11,700 career innings caught. He was a big–league catcher in four decades: the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s.
* As mentioned, McCarver was a two-time National League All-Star. He finished second to St. Louis teammate Orlando Cepeda in the voting for the 1967 league MVP award. That season McCarver batted .295, achieved career highs with 14 home runs and 69 RBI, and he performed 36 percent above league average offensively per OPS+.
* The starting catcher for the 1964 and 1967 Cardinal teams that won the World Series – and the catcher for the 1968 Cards, who won the NL pennant before losing a seven-game World Series to the Detroit Tigers.
* McCarver competed in six postseasons: three with St. Louis, three with Philadelphia.
* In 1966, McCarver led the National League with 13 triples — the only time in MLB history that a catcher led his league in triples.
* In the 1964 World Series McCarver clubbed a three-run homer in the top of the 10th at Yankee Stadium to break a 2-2 tie and give the Cardinals a 5-2 win in Game 5. In Game 7 of that World Series he stole home plate in the fourth inning to increase STL’s lead to 2-0. The Cardinals went on to win 7-5 to capture their first World Series title since 1946.
* In the 1964 World Series, McCarver had 11 hits in 23 at-bats for a .478 batting average. He also posted a .552 onbase percentage, slugged .739, had a double, triple and homer, walked five times, scored four runs, drove home five runs, and finished with a 1.291 OPS. Truly one of the greatest World Series performances in franchise history.
* McCarver had a quiet 1967 World Series offensively, hitting .125 in the seven-game triumph over Boston. But in the 1968 World Series, he batted .333 with a superb .993 OPS, hit two triples and a homer, and knocked in four runs.
* McCarver caught all nine of Bob Gibson’s World Series starts. Gibby pitched 81 innings, won seven of nine games, dominated opponents for a 1.89 ERA, and averaged 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings. McCarver was the catcher for Gibson’s masterpiece: a record 17-strikeout, five–hit shutout of the Tigers in Game 1 of the ‘68 Series. Working with McCarver, Gibson had one stretch of winning seven consecutive World Series starts.
* In 1968, Gibson set a MLB record for the best ERA (1.12) by a qualifying starting pitcher in a season. McCarver caught 24 of Gibson’s 34 regular-season starts that year.
* In the combined stats for all three World Series in the 1969s, McCarver led the Cardinals in triples and walks and was second to Lou Brock in hits, runs batted in, total bases, extra-base hits, onbase percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. McCarver was No. 1 among Cardinals in Win Probability Added in the three World Series combined. He also batted .311 which was third to Brock and Julian Javier in the three Fall Classics.
* In his three World Series as a Cardinal, McCarver had 86 plate appearances and batted .311 with a .384 OBP, .500 slug .884 OPS, two doubles, three triples, two homers, 10 runs, 10 walks, and 11 RBI.
* Observers understandably attach McCarver to Steve Carlton based on their working partnership with Philadelphia. But McCarver was Carlton’s catcher in St. Louis during the time when Carlton was a National League All-Star in 1968 and 1969. McCarver was Carlton’s personal catcher for the Phillies over four seasons, 1976 through 1979. During that stretch Carlton had a record of 77-41, won the Cy Young award in ‘77, and made three All-Star teams. In 1972, McCarver caught 11 of Carlton’s 41 starts when Carlton had a preposterous 27-10 record for a losing team. Why only 11 starts? Because McCarver was traded to Montreal for catcher John Bateman on June 14 of that season.
The sum of this Baseball Life was incredible. There will never be another like Tim McCarver. We were blessed to have him back in St. Louis for his final assignment, working with his friend Dan McLaughlin on Fox Sports Midwest, talking ball about his beloved Cardinals, and experiencing the joy of being voted into the team’s Hall of Fame. McCarver was so happy, and that’s what I’ll remember.
McCarver + Baseball = Happiness.
Thanks for reading …
Have a terrific weekend…
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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Listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and Miklasz. It’s available on your preferred podcast platform. Or follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link. We’ll be recording a new Seeing Red on Monday morning, Feb. 20.
All stats used here were sourced from Baseball Reference.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.