McCarver’s exit a loss for baseball

This was it, the final broadcast for Tim McCarver on FOX. Once the World Series ended, so did Tim’s career at the network. And for those of us who work with him closely, the moment is difficult to accept.

I understand why Tim is leaving. He’s 72. He wants to cut back, enjoy his wine, take cooking classes. He’s not ruling out broadcasting in the future, and I suspect we will see him again soon. But this World Series, his record 24th, likely will be his last. I will miss him personally. I will miss him professionally. And trust me, the loss for FOX — and for baseball — will be big.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and a good argument is part of what makes baseball so much fun. But fans who harp on this comment or that from Tim miss the point. Anyone who speaks his mind for more than three hours straight on live television is going to tick off someone, particularly when he sticks around for nearly a quarter-century and works every major event in his sport.

I just wish people could have seen how diligently Tim prepared, not just for postseason games, but every Saturday broadcast. I wish they could have seen how, at 72, his mind was as active, vibrant and curious as a man 50 years younger. I wish they could have seen how open he was to new ideas — and how he welcomed me from the moment I joined the broadcasts in 2006.

Tim and Joe Buck have been FOX’s lead announcers since the network first started broadcasting baseball in 1996. I was the first print journalist that FOX used as a dugout reporter, and both Tim and Joe could have resisted the concept. Instead, they embraced it, and Tim’s acceptance, as a former player from a different generation — and a future winner of the Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in baseball broadcasting — meant everything to me.

This is someone who made his major-league debut at age 17 in 1959. Someone who played 21 years, spanning four decades, and appeared in three World Series. Someone who after retirement transformed himself not simply into a former player turned analyst, but a broadcaster skilled enough to co-host primetime coverage of the 1992 Winter Olympics.

Tim is the only baseball analyst who has worked for all four major networks. What astonished me about him in his later years — when I worked with him — is that he lost none of his passion, none of his curiosity, none of his love for the game or even its language. I can’t tell you how many times I heard him tell a player or manager before a game, “I have never heard that term before.” And then he would use that term on the broadcast, drawing sheer delight out of what he had learned.

I don’t see Joe and Tim often — really, only at the games we work together. But I would relish the stories Tim would tell, stories about Bob Gibson, about Tom Seaver, about how the Red Sox’s Carl Yastrzemski stunned the Cardinals by taking extra hitting after the Sox lost Game 1 of the 1967 World Series. So many media companies lack institutional memory. Not FOX for the past 18 years. Not with Tim McCarver.

We would talk while walking between clubhouses, going one from one meeting with a manager to another. During one such conversation in the middle of the ALCS, Tim told me that the Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias reminded him of another defensive wizard from Cuba, former Mets shortstop Rey Ordonez.

I agreed, then said, “Wonder if they know each other. I’ll ask him.” It turned out Iglesias did know Ordonez, had met him, was aware that he had won three Gold Gloves. I relayed the information to Tim, and he mentioned it on the broadcast. Stuff like that happened all the time. And it was such fun.

I’m sure FOX will replace Tim with someone younger, but good luck to that analyst trying to match Tim’s work ethic.

On the morning of a broadcast, Tim calls our producer, Pete Macheska, to discuss ideas; Tim values the opinion of others in helping form his own. He then arrives at the park at least five hours before first pitch, well ahead of Joe and myself. He talks with editorial assistants Wayne Fidelman and Dave Korus, seeking nuggets of information, scrawling tiny notes on the big board that he uses during the broadcast.

He looks at tapes, graphics, packages, considers what he will say in the opening segment of the show. Later we meet with the managers, and by first pitch Tim is like a thoroughbred at the gate, ready to go.

I’ll be honest — the criticism of Tim, particularly the snark on social media, bothers me greatly. I learn from him every broadcast, and his “first-guessing” — offering proactive analysis instead of reactive — has set him apart over the years.

Do I agree with everything he says? Of course not. He would not expect me to. But all of those people who accuse Joe and Tim of being biased need to examine their own prejudices. Joe and Tim are not hometown announcers, cheerleading for your team. They’re doing a national broadcast for a wide audience that includes even casual fans.

For me, part of this is about respecting your elders, an increasingly lost concept. Tim has accomplished more than most of us ever will. Joe, 44, is 28 years younger than Tim. Yet, their chemistry in the booth is natural, always has been, in part because they share a deep, mutual respect. They sound as if they could be at a bar, just two buddies talking baseball.

“He’s exactly what he was as a player — tough, a good teammate, a plow-ahead guy,” Joe told me the other day.

“He’s well aware of his critics, but they don’t slow him down. He’s still opinionated, he still works hard — harder than anybody in the business. He loves the beauty of the game of baseball. That is his essence.

“He’s tough. He was a tough player. He is a tough broadcaster. He’s taught me how to be tough, taught me how to deflect criticism. There are always people trying to knock you down. He doesn’t let them slow him down.”

We’re going to miss him, all of us. I tried to tell Tim at the end of every season how much of an honor it is to work with him. He is a treasure, FOX’s treasure, baseball’s treasure. And dammit, I’m not ready for him to say goodbye.