McCarver cared most about integrity while in TV booth
Longtime broadcaster wasn't popular with everyone, but he was fair and honest
There are so many trying jobs in the world. You have the President of the United States, the Bishop of Rome (you know, the Pope), the folks hired to keep your average zoo clean and whatever analyst is the "Unofficial National Television Voice of Major League Baseball."
So, regarding the latter, that always was the first strike against Tim McCarver, 72, who otherwise ranked among the all-time greats at slamming line drives with his tongue along the way to victorious broadcasts.
McCarver spent nearly three decades looking into cameras for NBC, ABC, CBS and FOX to discuss our national pastime. He was smooth, he was informative, and maybe you noticed: McCarver always had an opinion. He had a slew of opinions. McCarver rarely offered any of those opinions by surrounding his words with hemming and hawing. Not only that, the next time he backs away from one of his opinions will be the first.
While McCarver's candor is refreshing to many of us who know the man and love his obsession with integrity, it is revolting to others who prefer to think that up actually is down and that the ghost of Babe Ruth is batting cleanup for their team.
Strike three never came for McCarver, and I know what you're thinking: Didn't it come this week with the end of the World Series, when he officially was "out" as FOX's primary baseball commentator after 18 years and 16 World Series? Yep, but the way McCarver departed at the end was more like a shot deep toward the gap that ended with a diving catch on the warning track than a swing and a miss at somebody's fastball.
Only McCarver throws fastballs when it comes to McCarver.
In the end, when the Red Sox secured a third World Series championship in the past 10 seasons late Wednesday night, McCarver turned to Joe Buck in the broadcast booth at Fenway Park and delivered poignant words to his longtime FOX TV partner in particular, and to the national audience in general: "Fairness and accuracy and honesty have always been my goals, along with teaching you something you may not have known about this great game. I hope I have achieved those things. Thank you very much."
No, thank you, Tim.
You did all of those things, and you did them well.
Before I continue, McCarver and I have a common bond, and we've often discussed it: The Deion Sanders incident. It was an ugly thing at the time, and it goes back to the 1992 National League Championship Series, when the Braves outfielder/Falcons cornerback decided to spend the postgame celebration after his team clinched the pennant over the Pirates by throwing water instead of champagne on certain folks inside the home clubhouse. Sanders' projected targets were those he felt disagreed the most with his decision to play for the Braves one moment during the playoffs and the Falcons the next during the NFL regular season.
Who were Sanders' two biggest targets? Well, I was one as a general sports columnist back then for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and McCarver was the other. The difference was that, even though a local Atlanta television station showed Sanders searching for me with a bucket of water inside and outside the clubhouse, he never found me. He found McCarver, and he doused the announcer three times while he was in the middle of interviews. To which McCarver replied, as he dripped with water and sarcasm, "You are a real man, Deion."
That incident showed me something about McCarver that I already knew: he is as tough as they come. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. It started during McCarver's playing days. And, yes, he could play. He is among just a handful of guys whose Major League career spanned parts of four decades -- the 1950s, '60s, '70s and '80s. While catching throughout much of that stretch for mostly the Cardinals and the Phillies, McCarver collected two World Series rings, made two trips to the All-Star Game and caught a couple no-hitters.
Come to think of it, McCarver actually was more impressive than that during his 21 seasons. Just ask Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton. In addition to ranking among the best pitchers ever, they were notoriously fickle. That's a kind way of saying they didn't like many people, but they both hugged McCarver. In fact, Carlton even made McCarver his personal catcher during the late 1970s when they both played for the Phillies.
Such a career is bound to produce stories. It did, and thankfully, McCarver shared most of them. There also were his post-playing-days stories, which was exemplified during his last broadcast on Wednesday when he gave the viewers a peek into a recent gathering he had with a group of Hall of Fame pitchers. Said McCarver, "Sandy Koufax said, 'Show me a pitcher who throws inside or lives inside, and I'll show you a loser.'"
Great stuff. Still, McCarver has a slew of detractors, and they remain upset with the guy for just about everything. Here's a short list that doesn't include the petty: He wasn't afraid to rip players for a lack of hustle -- or even umpires, for that matter. During his days as a commentator on Mets telecasts, McCarver often chastised managers Davey Johnson and Bobby Valentine for this move or that one, and he regularly was proven correct. McCarver didn't care for Manny Ramirez. In fact, at one point, he called the slugger's play "despicable" on the air.
McCarver continued to survive, though. The same was true of Tony Kubek, who essentially was McCarver before McCarver, on NBC from the late 1960s through the late '80s. Like McCarver, Kubek didn't mind sharing his thoughts early and often during broadcasts. Kubek's targets included umpires, George Steinbrenner and Bowie Kuhn. And, like McCarver, Kubek went gracefully into the night after his final national broadcast, which came at the conclusion of the 1989 American League Championship Series.
Kubek never returned to national television.
Hopefully, McCarver will.