McCarver, champion catcher turned famed broadcaster, dies at 81

February 17th, 2023

, a two-time World Series champion who became a household name as an award-winning broadcaster both nationally and in three Major League cities, died on Thursday in Memphis at the age of 81. The cause of death was heart failure.

McCarver, who made his Major League debut with the Cardinals in 1959, spent seven decades in professional baseball. That included a 21-year Major League playing career before transitioning into an award-winning broadcaster, whom many considered to be baseball’s version of football's John Madden. McCarver had a way of simplifying the game of baseball for the average fan; his use of the English language was impeccable, punctuated by a touch of friendly Memphis drawl.

McCarver was awarded the Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award in 2012 for his Emmy-winning work in the booth. In 2016, he was inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

"Tim McCarver was an All-Star, a World Series Champion, a respected teammate, and one of the most influential voices our game has known," Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "As a player, Tim was a key part of great Cardinals and Phillies teams in his 21-year career. In the booth, his analysis and attention to detail brought fans closer to our game and how it is played and managed. Tim’s approach enhanced the fan experience on our biggest stages and on the broadcasts of the Mets, the Yankees and the Cardinals.

"All of us at Major League Baseball are grateful for Tim’s impact on sports broadcasting and his distinguished career in our National Pastime. I extend my deepest condolences to Tim’s family, friends and the generations of fans who learned about our great game from him."

McCarver worked as an analyst and play-by-play voice for the Phillies, Mets, Yankees, Cardinals and Giants from 1980-2019. It was his work as a broadcaster with the Mets that gained McCarver fame and earned him an opportunity to become an analyst for ABC, CBS and FOX, which lasted a combined 28 years, calling a record 24 World Series and 20 All-Star Games. McCarver worked his first World Series game in 1985 as a late replacement for Howard Cosell, and he set a record in 2003 by broadcasting his 13th Fall Classic on national TV, surpassing Curt Gowdy.

James Timothy McCarver was born in Memphis on Oct. 16, 1941. Like many analysts in baseball, he preceded his time behind the microphone with years behind the plate. He spent 21 years as a Major League catcher for several teams, including the Cardinals, Phillies, Expos and Red Sox. His best years were with the Cardinals, with whom he won World Series titles in 1964 and ’67. In the ’64 Series against the Yankees, McCarver shined at the plate, going 11-for-23 with five RBIs and a home run that broke a tied score in the 10th inning of Game 5. He even stole home in Game 7. He won another Series ring in ’67, the year he earned his second All-Star selection and finished second in National League MVP voting, and he went 9-for-27 with a homer and four RBIs in the Cards’ seven-game World Series loss to Detroit in ’68.

“We were saddened to learn today of the passing of Tim McCarver,” said Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. “Tim was a very popular player with the Cardinals and a key member of our World Series Championship teams in 1964 and 1967. He remained a fixture in the game following his playing career, earning Hall of Fame recognition as a national broadcaster, and in later years as a Cardinals television analyst and a member of the Cardinals Hall of Fame. On behalf of the entire Cardinals organization, I would like to express our deepest condolences to the McCarver family.”

McCarver had his most success in catching two of his era's most difficult pitchers, Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton. In 1968, with McCarver as his primary batterymate, Gibson posted an astounding 1.12 ERA, which is still a live-ball era record. That same year, Gibson set a World Series record by striking out 17 batters in one game against the Tigers. Gibson died in 2020.

“What made Tim special was, after maybe an inning, we were pretty much on the same path," Gibson told FOX in 2013. “I guess, after 50-something years, we are definitely the best of friends in the world right now, and I think it’s going to stay that way.”

McCarver would later become Carlton’s personal catcher when both were with the Phillies. He was in the starting lineup from 1976 through most of '79 almost whenever Carlton was on the mound. During that period, Carlton was 48-26 with McCarver behind the plate.

"When Lefty and I leave this world," McCarver liked to joke, "they should bury me 60 feet, 6 inches from him."

McCarver retired from playing after the 1979 season and moved into Philadelphia's broadcast booth, where he quickly prospered, though he ended up returning to the playing field for six games for the World Series-champion Phillies in late 1980, making him one of the few players to play in the Majors in four decades.

"The Phillies are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Tim McCarver and extend our most heartfelt condolences to his family, friends, former teammates and colleagues," Phillies owner John Middleton said in a statement. "Tim joined the Phillies at the height of his career and returned for his final six seasons as a veteran leader, helping the club to three straight NLCS appearances and, ultimately, their first-ever World Series title. Following his playing career, fans throughout the world, including here in Philadelphia, listened to him describe their favorite team’s most iconic moments with professionalism and class. For Tim’s leadership, friendship and voice, the Phillies are forever grateful."

In all of his broadcasting jobs, McCarver wasn’t afraid to say what was on his mind or to be critical. He drew the ire of numerous players, including Deion Sanders, who doused McCarver with ice water following the Braves' celebration of their 1992 National League Championship Series victory. McCarver had criticized Sanders, a two-sport athlete, for playing for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons earlier in the day.

After leaving the Phillies' booth, McCarver was a staple on Mets broadcasts from 1983-98, working with Ralph Kiner and Fran Healy. He moved to the Yankees from 1999-2001, working with Bobby Murcer, and then the Giants in 2002. He is one of three sportscasters to have covered the Mets and the Yankees, along with Healy and Tom Seaver.

“Tim McCarver simply revolutionized what it meant to be a color analyst on a Major League sports broadcast,” current Mets broadcaster Gary Cohen said in a video SNY posted on Twitter. “Some people laid the groundwork earlier like Tony Kubek, but nobody brought the insight and honesty and the granular nature of the game, and nobody did it with more enthusiasm than Timmy did. He was a great player in his own right -- having played in four decades -- but he was able to see things. He was a great observer and he was able to relate those things to non-baseball people in a way that allowed us to better enjoy the games that we already love.”

McCarver was in the booth with Al Michaels and Jim Palmer in 1989 when the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake struck minutes before Game 3 of the World Series between the Giants and the A’s at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. McCarver, who was analyzing Game 2 for ABC when the earthquake struck, could be heard fumbling his words before Michaels broke in and announced that they had witnessed an earthquake. Major League Baseball ended up postponing the World Series, which resumed 12 days later, with Oakland sweeping the Series.

Tim McCarver (left) and fellow Frick Award winner Jack Buck broadcasting the 1991 MLB All-Star Game in Toronto.

From 2000-17, McCarver hosted “The Tim McCarver Show,” which was syndicated. On it, fans saw him interview sports figures from around the world.

Although he left FOX after the 2013 season, McCarver continued his broadcasting career with the Cardinals. He left the booth after the ‘19 season because he wanted to protect himself from COVID-19. He never formally retired.

For Major League broadcaster Gary Thorne, McCarver was more than just a baseball player and broadcaster; he was a great friend. McCarver and Thorne worked together in the Mets TV booth from 1994-98.

“He was one of those people you could count on. His word was good,” Thorne said. “He was great fun to work with. He had a great sense of humor. We laughed a lot. From a professional viewpoint, he understood baseball as well as anyone I have ever been in contact with. Every game was a learning experience working with Timmy. We had a great time doing it.”

Yankees manager Aaron Boone received word about McCarver’s passing Thursday morning. Boone knew McCarver dating back to when he was a young child and his father, Bob, was teammates with McCarver on the Phillies from 1975-80.

“Timmy was such a charismatic guy and me growing up in the clubhouse with him when he was a catcher with my dad in Philadelphia, I just remember his charisma, even as a little kid, was something that struck with me. Awesome guy," Aaron Boone said.

“Obviously, not only did he put together a great career -- I always think of him and Bob Gibson in that same breath as that battery, or Steve Carlton -- but then becoming the broadcaster that, when I was jumping into the business, he was who you looked to as how it's done, and one of the all-time greats in that analyst role. So it's a sad day for the baseball world, and it was difficult news to get this morning.”

McCarver leaves behind two daughters, Kathy and Kelley, with his former wife, Anne McDaniel, and two grandchildren.