erik lundegaard

Sunday February 19, 2023

Tim McCarver (1941-2023)

The second thing I thought about when I heard that Tim McCarver died was the way he predicted the Luis Gonzalez bloop single that ended the 2001 World Series. If you hate the Yankees like I hate the Yankees—or the opposite, if you love them—you remember it well. 

Yanks had won three World Series in a row, crushed my 116-win pennantless Mariners in the ALCS, and crushed the soul of D-Backs closer Byung-hyun Kim with some late-inning homers in NYC to force a Game 7: Curt Schilling vs. a roided-up Roger Clemens. D-Backs scored first in the 6th (1-0), Yanks answered in the 7th (1-1), then Alfonso Soriano led off the top of the 8th with a solo shot (2-1, Yanks). Which is how it was in the bottom of the 9th when Mariano Rivera came out for his second inning of relief work. For much of the postseason, Joe Torre had gone to him often, and for longer than normal, and maybe it was finally having an effect. We got a leadoff single from Mark Grace, E-1 on an attempted sac bunt, but 1-3 on another attempted sac bunt. (C'mon, Brenley!). But then Tony Womack delivered the killer blow: a ripping double down the right field line to tie the game and put the winning run on third. After Craig Counsell was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Luis Gonzalez came up, and Torre moved the infield in for a play at the plate. And this is what color announcer Tim McCarver said: 

“The one problem is Rivera throws inside to lefthanders, so lefthanders get a lot of broken bat hits into shallow outfield ... the shallow part of the outfield. That's the danger of bringing the infield in with a guy like Rivera on the mound.”

And that's exactly what happened. Exactly. And there was joy in Mudville.

McCarver did this kind of thing often. He was smart baseball analyst, who, like all good catchers, kept all of the game in his head, and he was able to articulate that to us. Sure, he sometimes took the air out of the room. Roger Angell began his great 1999 profile of McCarver, “The Bard of the Booth,” by listing off all the complaints he'd heard about McCarver from friends, which amounted to: he talks too much, he laughs and enjoys himself too much, he makes puns, he thinks he's too smart, he is too smart. The complaints were baffling to Angell. Me, too. Give me smart any day of the week. I'm so, so tired of the other. 

Joe Posnanski has a nice tribute over on his Substack where he reminds us that, for a time, McCarver looked like a Hall of Famer—particularly after his exemplary 1967 season: .295/.369/.452, while catching a great World Series-winning pitching staff led by Bob Gibson, and finishing second in N.L. MVP voting to teammate Orlando Cepeda. He also caught Gibson's great 1968 Game 1, in which Gibson set a World Series record by striking out 17 Tigers. Overall, in three World Series for the Cards, McCarver hit .311/.384/.500, with two doubles, three triples, two homers and 11 RBIs. In '66, he led the league in triples with 13. That's gotta be a rarity for a catcher.

But the second half of his career, with numerous teams, wasn't like the first, and he was a one-and-done HOF candidate: just 3.8% of the vote.   

And here's the first thing I thought about when I heard that Tim McCarver died. In 1995, The New York Times asked him about the most boring part of baseball—I guess because people think it's boring—and he answered not as a broadcaster but as a player. He said it was the small talk first basemen engage in with the base runner:

They'll ask: “How ya hittin' 'em? How's the family?” And they could care less. It's the “Have a nice day” syndrome. I hated it, and Bob Gibson really hated it. One time, against the Expos, Bob got on and Ron Fairly told him, “Hey, you're throwing well.” Fairly came up to bat a couple innings later and Gibson hit him square in the ribs. I think more players ought to retaliate like that.

God, that's perfect. First, it's so Bob Gibson, to shut up a guy by hitting him, but it's also so Ron Fairly, who, in 1995 when I first read this, was the Mariners color announcer, and tended to take the air out of the room. But it's also so Tim McCarver. It's egoless. It's a great baseball story where he's not in it at all. He just wanted to tell a great baseball story.

Rest in peace. Thanks for the call.

Posted at 08:23 AM on Sunday February 19, 2023 in category Baseball  
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