It was one of the five nice days we get in Chicago: A cloudless sky with just enough of a breeze to knock the humidity out of the air.
Over breakfast on that June day, I had spent more than an hour talking to Tim McCarver. It was after 10, and I could tell he was getting antsy.
“You have to get out to the park, right?” said McCarver, who was going to be on the call for the Cubs-Boston game Wrigley Field the following night.
“Yes. I want to get some information of (Cubs pitcher) Jeff Samardzija,” he said.
I asked him: Do you still like the work?
“Not only do I like it, I think it is as important as it was 30 years ago,” McCarver said. “Yes, absolutely. You can tell when someone isn’t informed.”
Therein lies the secret of lasting 32 years in broadcasting, with the last 27 or so as baseball’s leading analyst. It all culminates next week when McCarver will receive the Ford Frick Award for excellence in broadcasting at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Yesterday, in part 1 of my interview, I talked to McCarver about his broadcast style and how he viewed his role. Today, he reflects back on the start of his career, his broadcast partners, and at age 70, how much longer he wants to work.
Do you remember your first game?
In 1980, my first year (as a broadcaster with the Phillies) I did an inning in spring training. I went to Richie Ashburn for some some advice. He said, ‘You know, the best advice I can give you is, ‘If you don’t have anything to say, don’t say it.’
I said, ‘Is that all you have for me?’
Richie said, ‘Come to think of it, yeah.’
That’s how I got started in broadcasting.
How did you hook up with the Mets?
In ’82, the Mets called me. They wanted me to work with Ralph Kiner. I was interested, but my kids were in school and we didn’t want to move. The Mets called again after the ’82 season. By that time, (Phillies exec) Bill Giles said, ‘We’ll keep you, but we really don’t need you.’
I said, ‘I get it.’ It was time to make the move to New York.
You were with the Mets for 16 years. What was it like to work with Ralph Kiner?
Ralph and I clicked right away. Neither one of us had a lot of play-by-play experience. With our styles, it ended with me doing the bulk of the play-by-play.
The Mets teams were extraordinary. The Mets owned New York. The Yankees weren’t even on the radar until 1995. We had a lot of fun.
Ralph’s non-sequiturs were part of his charm. Gary Cohen always said, ‘He’s so comfortable in his own skin.’ That’s as accurately as you can put it.
He used to call me Jim McCarthy. One time, he said, ‘Now I turn over the play-by-play to my good friend, Ken MacArthur.’ The Mets were getting blown out that night.
I said, ‘Earlier in the evening, you referred to me as Ken MacArthur. ‘You must have been thinking of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. One of his lines was, ‘Chance favors a prepared man.’ The Mets obviously weren’t prepared tonight.’
Without missing a beat, Ralph said, ‘MacArthur also said, ‘I shall return, and so will we after this break.’ It was brilliant.
In 1985, you did your first World Series for ABC. What do you remember from that experience?
We worked the second game of the World Series in 1985. Al Michaels said to me, ‘Is it tougher to play in a World Series than announce in one?’
I said, ‘Are you kidding? Announcing is tougher. You can’t do anything about the outcome. When you’re playing, you can do something about the outcome.’
I felt it was tougher back then, and you know what, I still feel that way today.
You’ve said Michaels had a big influence on you. How so?
He taught me more about the business than any announcer I ever worked with.
I learned television from Al. I learned how to take my time, to take a step back. I learned appropriateness. If you listen to Al, his appropriateness with his remarks is incredible.
What was it like to work with Jack Buck?
He was the voice of a franchise for 48 years. Think about that. His presence was something else. Reggie Jackson used to say (Yankee Stadium public address announcer Bob Sheppard) was ‘The voice of God.’ Believe me, I’ve worked with a few voices of God in baseball, and Jack was one of them.
Then a few later, you work with his son Joe. How would you describe your relationship with him?
I knew from our first telecast Joe and I would hit it off. It’s amazing how close you become when you’re under the pressure of calling a World Series or an All-Star game. Joe found that out later.
When Kirby Puckett hit the homer (to win Game 6 of the 1991 World Series), Jack said, ‘We’ll see you tomorrow night.’ Then to be with his son 20 years later, and David Freese hits a homer in Game 6 and Joe said, ‘We’ll see you tomorrow night.”…To sit next to father and son (and hear those lines). You talk about serendipitous. Wow.
How much longer do you want to work?
I don’t have an answer to that. My contract runs through next year. I don’t know. Like anyone else, your health is paramount. I hope I’m clear enough to say, ‘I’ve had enough. This is it.’ I’m good at that. I’ll know.
You’ve been in baseball since breaking into the big leagues in 1959. After all these years, how do you view yourself: As a player or a broadcaster?
I severed that relationship (of being a player) a long time ago, the minute I entered the booth. I didn’t intentionally do it, but I did it. I realized it was a different job. I had to take on a different intensity.
I’ve been extremely lucky. I don’t take any of this for granted.
How much has the game changed?
It’s changed a bit. The players make a lot more money. But the player really hasn’t changed. He still wants to get a hit and win the game. It’s still the same.