McCarver reflects on life as Hall calls
Ever since I began working with Tim McCarver in 2006, I’ve been amazed by his enthusiasm.
Oh, Tim works hard to prepare for each broadcast on FOX, harder than most viewers would imagine.
His facility with the language is underrated. His knowledge of the game is incredible. And his memory is phenomenal; Tim, 70, can recall sequences from when he was catching Bob Gibson in the 1960s and Steve Carlton in the '70s — and a whole lot more.
As Ed Goren, the FOX Sports Media Group vice chairman, likes to say, Tim also is the master of the first guess — giving the proper opinion on strategy before plays occur, rather than waiting until after.
But Tim’s enthusiasm, to me, is his defining quality.
It’s unwavering. It’s inspiring. And it’s there every Saturday on every MLB on FOX broadcast, not just for every playoff and World Series game.
I know I’m biased — Tim is my colleague. But trust me, it is entirely fitting that Tim on Saturday received the 2012 Ford C. Frick Award, the highest honor in baseball broadcasting, awarded by the Hall of Fame.
Fans often complain about broadcasters, and that’s fine; everyone has their own taste. But sometimes, I want to scream when people forget how much they’ve learned from Tim, overlook what he has accomplished.
Tim has worked as a lead analyst for all four networks, calling 22 World Series and 21 All-Star Games, both records. A 20-member electorate, composed of 15 living Frick winners and five broadcast historians and columnists, selected him for the Frick honor.
And oh yes, almost forgot: Tim also was a player, a darned good catcher.
He played 21 seasons after breaking in at age 17 with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1959. He appeared in three World Series with the Cardinals, winning two, and three National League Championship Series with the Phillies. He finished second to teammate Orlando Cepeda in the 1967 National League MVP voting, made two All-Star teams and started exactly 1,300 games behind the plate.
As our colleague, Joe Buck, put it, “His overall contribution to the game is unmatched by anybody in that Hall of Fame.”
I caught up with Tim on Wednesday by phone; he already is in Cooperstown, getting ready, enjoying the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum — and as always, oozing with passion.
Q: You spent the day at the Hall today. Overall, how exciting is this for you?
A: It’s the reason I arrived two days early and am leaving two days late. I want to soak everything up and revel in it and enjoy every single thing that’s going on.
My grandchildren (Beau, 11, and Leigh, 8) showed up today and they were as excited as I am. It’s rare that you can have that excitement overflow into a couple of generations. I’m not used to that. I’ve been to their baseball games, different functions growing up, the whole bit. It’s the perfect age, I guess, for me, and for them.
It’s funny how you can’t wait to age when you’re younger and you can’t wait not to age when you’re older.
Q: I’m wondering about the honor itself. For a guy who has been in baseball his whole life, who broke into the big leagues at 17, how big is this for you?
A: It ranks right up there with being in a World Series. Your values change as you get older. When you’re young, you’re athletic, you’re keen of mind and body, you have the spirit, as Campanella said, (to play) a little boy’s game and play it well. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be in a World Series.
And now, at a bit older age … it was never comforting as a player to be in a World Series. The competition is at the highest level with which you’re playing. But now I’m 70 years old — I don’t mind saying that, I do believe that 70 is the (new) 50 — there’s such a comforting (feeling) looking back on your life with this award.
That’s one of the things it has compelled me to do — to look back at what I’ve done. Usually in your career, or your second career, you’re too busy doing the job to look back on things unless you’re a sentimental sap. And I’m not a sentimental sap. But this does allow the comfort and the ease to look back on your career and see what you’ve accomplished — good, bad and indifferent. Something about which you can be proud.
Q: As a broadcaster, what have you accomplished? What have you been able to do to make an impact?
A: That’s better left for other people to say, to write about. I’ve been concerned with doing my job. I take a lot of pride in that.
All I can say is that I’ve done 22 World Series. I hope that’s enough to say instead of telling everybody why I’ve done 22 World Series. The people that pay my salary obviously do extensive research on the people they hire. They don’t just throw anybody in the fire. That, to me, speaks for itself.
Q: Maybe a better way to ask it is this: How have you adapted to a world that is different than when you started in television?
A: I’ve tried to — and I think I’ve been successful — at adapting to the changes in our business. I take my business very seriously. I try to get it right. I’m not happy with myself when I don’t get it right. And getting it right doesn’t mean looking back on things and saying what should have happened. Anybody can do that.
When I broke into the business, I was used to hearing guys say, ‘Well, I wouldn’t have thrown that pitch right there,’ after a guy just cranked one. Well, no kidding, you wouldn’t have thrown it? What would you have done? Why couldn’t you have talked about it before all this transpired?
That, to me, is the biggest difference in television over the last 30 or 40 years. There seems to be more of a willingness of athletes going into the business to be fair and honest. And that includes criticism. Everybody thinks fair and honest only means being critical of guys with whom they played, guys of your generation. I think it encapsulates everything. It also includes being fair and honest for the viewer. I’ve always taken great pride in that. I think, by and large, I’ve offered that to the viewer. Not always, but more often than not.
Q: Do you have one favorite moment or memory in the booth?
A: There are a lot. I’ll never forget what happened in San Francisco at 5:04, Oct. 17, 1989, with the earthquake hitting. I’ll never forget the fear, the shock, the courage of the folks in the Bay Area, their resiliency … I had never been involved in anything like that, a natural disaster that was just shocking in detail.
On the other hand, I was in New York on 9/11, and obviously six weeks later when the Diamondbacks and Yankees played [in the World Series]. I’ll never forget Games 4 and 5. They were extraordinary baseball games, but under the circumstances with President Bush throwing out the first ball before Game 3, and then the Yankees hitting the two two-run home runs by Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius in Games 4 and 5. And then, after a blowout in Game 6, to have Curt Schilling and Roger Clemens face one another and pitch brilliantly in Game 7, and then finally see the Diamondbacks, of all things, win it against the greatest reliever in the history of the game [Mariano Rivera] … that’s big. All of those things that happened, particularly on the heels of 9/11. I’ve got goosebumps telling you the story.
Then you think, ‘Nothing is going to top this.’ And then we do Game 6 last year. How can you see a baseball game packed with more drama than that game? I told someone that I put Game 6 in the top three World Series games ever. Then I started thinking about it and I thought, ‘What is one and two?’ If that’s in the top three, name one better than that game. And I can’t.
I haven’t been around since 1903, the first World Series. But name one. And I’ll go over the game, detail by detail, and we’ll just see who wins that deal. I think I would. I feel very strongly about that, the more I think about it. The greatest game in World Series history.
Q: One thing that always stood out to me about you, especially after getting to know you, is your curiosity. I wonder: Did you always have that growing up? Did your parents instill that in you? Where does that come from?
A: I think my curiosity grew with my baseball knowledge. I had four guys with the Cardinals that I’m going to mention (in my speech), not only mention but hit hard, that really trained me well, for all facets of the game.
George Kissell. Eddie Stanky. Joe Schultz — a lot of people looked at him as a comic-book character, and he was anything but that to me. He was more or less buffooned in Jim Bouton’s book, “Ball Four.” And the other guy who helped me enormously with my playing career was George Crowe.
George Crowe turned me into a hitter where I had some authority as a hitter. Prior to running into George Crowe, I hit with my arms and my hands, not my body. And George Crowe, by closing my stance, made me a guy who could cope with major-league pitching.
The more I knew about the game — the more I learned, particularly from Kissell, about the details of the game — the more curious I became. With curiosity, the more you find out, the more you want to learn. Therefore, I was never really satisfied unless I had it nailed, had it down in my own mind. I think curiosity is learned from knowledge. At least in my particular instance, I believe that’s true.