The move from the field to the broadcast booth can be more complex than learning to catch a knuckleball and trickier than hitting a curveball.
There are unexpected twists. Tim McCarver handled them all, and Saturday it leads to Cooperstown as winner of the Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in baseball broadcasting.
Contemporary media often questions a former player’s objectivity and his ability to put truth ahead of past loyalties when he heads to a broadcast booth. Meantime, there is often flak from former teammates who believe just as vehemently that he is betraying them by being too critical.
McCarver has heard it all, and survived with a folksy delivery than has spanned three decades and won him six Emmy Awards, countless fans and the admiration of both players and media.
Toronto Blue Jays club physician Dr. Ron Taylor played with McCarver in St. Louis. “The way Tim broadcasts now is the way he was in the dugout then. He knew everyone’s strength and weakness,” he told the Sun’s Bob Elliott in a recent interview. “I was a sinker-slider pitcher. I’d try to jam guys and he called pitches perfectly. We had some good players on that team, but Timmy was a leader. He kept us going with his receiving and his hitting.”
McCarver played most of his catching career with the Phillies and Cardinals, but also spent time with the Expos before finding he could talk the game as well as he played it. Maybe better.
“Tim McCarver has been the face and voice of baseball’s biggest moments on national television,” said Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson.
“His wit and intuition, combined with his passion for the game and his down-home style, delivers a trusted insight for viewers.”
Such feelings of admiration have not ever been thus.
When he moved to the booth after retiring in 1980, there was only one other game analyst — Tony Kubek. Players weren’t used to being criticized or second-guessed on radio or TV like they are today. And McCarver was often criticized for being too blunt, too candid.
“Remember, I had played with a lot of the guys. One night, I did a Phillies game and Mike Schmidt hit a ball off the top of the wall. He always hustled, but he watched the ball and got a double.
“I said, ‘Schmidt should be on third base.’ Then I said, ‘Often, hitters are like artists. They step back and admire their work. They don’t run as hard. It’s understandable why he’s on second, but he really should be on third.’
“Mike and I are close friends. The next day, he was acting cool toward me. Common sense says you should deal with it right away. I said, ‘Schmidty, is everything OK?’
He said, ‘No, it’s not. Don’t ever on the air say I didn’t hustle.’
“I said, ‘I didn’t say that.’ I explained to him what I said and we were fine.
“Listen, I played with a lot of guys who were very direct and honest. Bob Gibson, Bill White, Curt Flood. They said what they felt. I learned it from them. I always approached playing the game in a candid way. I guess it carried over into broadcasting.”
McCarver, now 70, has spent a lifetime in baseball, almost all of it in the major leagues.
Scouted by Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey, McCarver debuted in the major leagues the year he signed at the age of 17, and by 1963 was the Cardinals’ starting catcher. The next season, he helped them win the World Series, hitting .478 in a seven-game victory over the Yankees.
McCarver remained with the Cardinals through 1969, earning two All-Star Game selections while finishing second in National League MVP voting in 1967.
His numbers during a 32-year broadcast career are almost Gretzky-like. This year, he worked his 21st All-Star Game.
The next closest are Joe Buck and Curt Gowdy with 14. In October, he will call his 23rd World Series.
“If somebody told me back in 1980 that I would have a 32-year career, and that I’d be receiving this honour, I’d say no way,” McCarver said.
“I had no training to be a broadcaster. My training came from being behind the plate. You see the choreography of the game from behind the plate. Without realizing it, you’re storing up all this information.”
For 32 years he’s been sharing that information, entertaining and informing. Baseball has been better for it, even if at first it didn’t realize it.
THEY’RE FRICK-IN’ GOOD
The Ford C. Frick Award is voted upon annually and is named in memory of the sportswriter, radio broadcaster, National League president and Baseball commissioner. The recipients include:
1978 Mel Allen, Red Barber
1979 Bob Elson
1980 Russ Hodges
1981 Ernie Harwell
1982 Vin Scully
1983 Jack Brickhouse
1984 Curt Gowdy
1985 Buck Canel
1986 Bob Prince
1987 Jack Buck
1988 Lindsey Nelson
1989 Harry Caray
1990 By Saam
1991 Joe Garagiola
1992 Milo Hamilton
1993 Chuck Thompson
1994 Bob Murphy
1995 Bob Wolff
1996 Herb Carneal
1997 Jim Dudley
1998 Jaime Jarrin
1999 Arch McDonald
2000 Marty Brennaman
2001 Felo Ramirez
2002 Harry Kalas
2003 Bob Ueker
2004 Lon Simmons
2005 Jerry Coleman
2906 Gene Elson
2007 Denny Matthews
2008 Dave Niehaus
2009 Tony Kubek
2010 Jon Miller
2011 Dave Van Horne
2012 Tim McCarver