Tim McCarver, big league catcher and broadcaster, dies at age 81
Tim McCarver, the All-Star catcher and Hall of Fame broadcaster who during 60 years in baseball won two World Series titles with the St. Louis Cardinals and had a long run as one of the country's most recognized, incisive and talkative television commentators, died Thursday. He was 81.
McCarver's death was announced by baseball's Hall of Fame, which said he died Thursday morning due to heart failure in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was with his family.
Among the few players to appear in major league games during four decades, McCarver was a two-time All Star who worked closely with two future Hall of Fame pitchers: The tempestuous Bob Gibson, whom McCarver caught for St. Louis in the 1960s, and the introverted Steve Carlton, McCarver's fellow Cardinal in the `60s and a Philadelphia Phillies teammate in the 1970s.
He switched to television soon after retiring in 1980 and called 24 World Series for ABC, CBS and Fox, a record for a baseball analyst on television.
“I think there is a natural bridge from being a catcher to talking about the view of the game and the view of the other players,” McCarver told the Hall in 2012, the year he was given the Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in broadcasting. “It is translating that for the viewers. One of the hard things about television is staying contemporary and keeping it simple for the viewers.”
McCarver became best known to national audiences for his 18-year partnership on Fox with playby-play man Joe Buck. McCarver moved to Fox in 1996 when it began televising baseball and called his final World Series in 2013.
“I learned really fast that if you were in his inner circle, he would be a fierce defender of you and for you,” Buck said Thursday. “He taught me how to deal with criticism because he had been criticized, his whole broadcast career. And sometimes it was because he was a teacher of the game. If some player or manager didn't manage or play the way he thought the game should be played, he let a national audience know it. He was always the
first one in the clubhouse the next day. If that person had something to say back to him, he would engage and stood his ground, but it was fair.
“He taught me a lot about the game, but he taught me as much or more about how to broadcast on a on a national level.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement that McCarver was “a respected teammate and one of the most influential voices our game has known.” McCarver, who in the 1960s was an early and prominent union activist, was praised Thursday by Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark for his “lead role” in the union's formation.
Six feet tall and solidly built, McCarver was a policeman's son from Memphis, who got into more than a few fights while growing up but was otherwise playing baseball and football and imitating popular broadcasters, notably the Cardinals' Harry Caray. He was signed while still in high school by the Cardinals for $75,000, a generous offer for that time; just 17 when he debuted for them in 1959 and in his early 20s when he became the starting catcher.
McCarver attended segregated schools in Memphis and often spoke of the education he received as a newcomer in St. Louis. His teammates included Gibson and outfielder Curt Flood, Black players who did not hesitate to confront or tease McCarver. When McCarver used racist language against a Black child trying to jump a fence during spring training, Gibson would remember “getting
right up in McCarver's face.” McCarver liked to tell the story about drinking an orange soda during a hot day in spring training and Gibson asking him for some, then laughing when McCarver flinched.
“It was probably Gibby more than any other Black man who helped me to overcome whatever latent prejudices I may have had,” McCarver wrote in his 1987 memoir “Oh, Baby, I Love It!”
Few catchers were strong hitters during the `60s, but McCarver batted .270 or higher for five consecutive seasons and was fast enough to become the first in his position to lead the league in triples. He had his best year in 1967 when he hit .295 with 14 home runs, finishing second for NL Most Valuable Player behind teammate Orlando Cepeda as the Cardinals won their second World Series in four years.
McCarver met Carlton when the left-hander was a rookie in 1965 “with an
independent streak wider than the Grand Canyon,” McCarver later wrote. The two initially clashed, even arguing on the mound during games, but became close and were reunited in the 1970s after both were traded to Philadelphia. McCarver became Carlton's designated catcher even though he admittedly had a below average throwing arm and overall didn't compare defensively to the Phillies' regular catcher, Gold Glover Bob Boone.
“Behind every successful pitcher, there has to be a very smart catcher, and Tim McCarver is that man,” Carlton said during his Hall of Fame induction speech in 1994. “Timmy forced me pitch inside. Early in my career I was reluctant to pitch inside. Timmy had a way to remedy this. He used to set up behind the hitter. There was just the umpire there; I couldn't see him (McCarver), so I was forced to pitch inside.”