February 16, 2023

RIP Tim McCarver (1941-2023)

James Timothy McCarver spent well over a half-century in and around major league baseball, as a catcher and broadcaster. He died today in Memphis at the age of 81.

McCarver played 21 seasons over four decades for four teams:

Cardinals (1959-61, 1963-69)
Phillies (1970-72)
Expos (1972)
Cardinals (1973-74)
Red Sox (1974-75)
Phillies (1975-80)

McCarver debuted with the Cardinals at the age of 17 in 1959. Over three seasons, he struggled, going 22-for-101 (.218/.233/.297) in 40 games. After spending 1962 in the minors, he returned to the bigs to stay in 1963. McCarver played in three World Series in five years with the Cardinals (1964, 67, 68), and was on the winning side in the first two. His only "black ink" was leading MLB with 13 triples in 1966.

In 1967, McCarver finished #2 in the NL MVP voting, posting a 136 OPS+ and a WAR of 6.0, his only season over 3.4. Orlando Cepeda, his St. Louis teammate, was the unanimous choice. McCarver surpassed that OPS+ mark in consecutive seasons a decade later (in his mid-30s), with 137 in 1976 and a career-best 145 in 1977. 

His broadcasting career lasted more than 40 years and he called 23 World Series and 20 All-Star Games. From the New York Times obituary:

Known for his shrewd analysis of strategy, his literate use of metaphor and his penchant for predicting what was about to unfold on the field, often correctly, McCarver was sometimes a play-by-play announcer but most often a color man, a role that better suited his gift of gab.

His career spanned more than 30 years, from his start in Philadelphia in 1980, to his famous pairing with the former slugger Ralph Kiner in the Mets’ booth, to his national appearances on four different networks, to stints with the Yankees and the San Francisco Giants.

Throughout, his informed, perceptive and articulate observations of the game were widely admired, and his gravelly tenor with a hint of his Tennessee upbringing in it became one of the game’s most familiar voices.

Like all long-serving talking heads, McCarver had his detractors. Some said he talked too much, belabored the obvious, too often tangled his grammar and was overly thrilled by his own cleverness; examples abounded on a now-defunct web page, shutuptimmccarver.com, and he was mocked on "Family Guy." . . .

But more numerous were those who appreciated his independence of mind and his alertness to situational nuances in the game.

In defiance of a broadcasting norm, McCarver was not averse to criticizing the play of a team that employed him; when he was fired from the Mets job in 1999, after 16 seasons, it was reportedly because of just such candor. . . .

McCarver certainly had his detractors. I was often one of them and the JoS archives are littered with rants against the bizarre, biased, and completely incorrect things McCarver said over the years. Here are some of them:

September 30, 2007: Tim McCarver And Conventional Thinking
October 9, 2008: The Origins Of "Manny Forgot Which Knee Hurt
November 15, 2010: Do Leadoff Walks Lead To More Runs?
July 16, 2011: Is BJ Upton A .300 Hitter? McCarver: "Yes"; Facts: "No"
October 27, 2017: Smoltz: When You Absolutely Need To Score A Run, A Single Is Better Than A Home Run
October 11, 2018: As Tim McCarver Once Said, "Baseball Is A Game Of Inch"

The Times' obituary, written by Bruce Weber, gives the impression that McCarver's "informed, perceptive and articulate observations" were concurrent with the complaints about tangled grammar and banging on about the obvious. That is not completely untrue, but my memories of McCarver split the good and the bad into different time periods.

When he was in the Mets' booth (1983-98), McCarver was the best in the business. No one was remotely as talented. Vin Scully was the only announcer for whom I would watch a game simply to hear him talk (not caring at all about what the teams were doing), but if anyone told me they used to do that for McCarver in the '80s, it would make sense. As I wrote on June 19, 2010:

There was a time when Tim McCarver was the best baseball analyst in the world. He was doing Mets games in the late 80s and he was absolutely brilliant. You tuned in happily, and with the certainty that you would be a smarter fan when the game was over.

Some younger fans no doubt think the previous paragraph is some kind of joke, since McCarver is little more than a punch line at this point, growing weirder and more incoherent as the years go by.

By the time I reconnected with Ol' Second Inning on national broadcasts, he annoyed me, probably because by that time, I knew everything about baseball. I admit that he always had his moments, but his nonsense always stood out for me because: (1) announcers should make a actual effort to not say stupid shit and (2) his percentage of stupid shit steadily increased as time went on. That was before I factored in his poorly concealed anti-Red Sox bias and his longtime crush on Mr. 27.

Tim McCarver's Baseball for Brain Surgeons and Other Fans: Understanding and Interpreting the Game So You Can Watch It Like a Pro, written with Danny Peary and published in 1998, is an extremely solid book, though I have not opened it up in close to 20 years.

While gathering old McCarver posts, I saw this and smiled. From January 25, 2012:

Tim McCarver And Madame Khokhlakov

"I've looked at you a hundred times as you walked by, saying to myself: here is an energetic man who must go to the mines. I even studied your gait and decided: this man will find many mines."

"From my gait, madame?" Mitya smiled.

"And why not from your gait? What, do you deny that it's possible to tell a man's character from his gait, Dmitri Fyodorovich? Natural science confirms it."

Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, page 385

1 comment:

Dr. Jeff said...

The only time I was impressed was during Game 7 of the 2001 World Series with Luis Gonzales up. He said something about how he thought the Yankees shouldn't have the infield in because Rivera pitches inside and a bloop hit off the handle of the bad was possible. It happened.

At least, that is my recollection.