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Q/A with Tim McCarver: On being candid, his critics, and going into the Hall

Note: I’m going to be out for a couple of weeks. However, I’m leaving behind some gifts for the holidays: The best of my Q/As. I’ll feature a new one each day through Jan. 2. Please check in.

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Posted on July 9

Tim McCarver gave me my one and likely only mention during a national telecast of a World Series game. He credited me for a line in the Chicago Tribune during the 1987 Minnesota-St. Louis series on ABC.

I wrote that the teflon roof of the ugly Metrodome “looks like your grandmother’s old jello mold.”

“I remember that line,” said McCarver 25 years later when I reminded him of it.

Whether he did or not, it was quite a thrill for a young reporter to get some exposure on national TV.

Fortunately for McCarver, he has had much better material to work with through the years. It’s been quite a run for the former St. Louis and Philadelphia catcher, who decided to give broadcasting a try in 1980.

The pinnacle comes next week when McCarver will be honored in Cooperstown. He is the 2012 recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award presented by The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for excellence in baseball broadcasting. McCarver only is the second primary television analyst to win the Frick Award, joining Tony Kubek, who received the honor in 2009.

The honor is long overdue. His numbers during a 32-year broadcast career are almost Gretzky-like. Tuesday, he will work his 21st All-Star Game. The next closest are Joe Buck and Curt Gowdy with 14. In October, he will be on the call for his 23rd World Series.

McCarver had a notable 16-year stint working games for the Mets. He has the distinction of being the only MLB analyst to have worked for all four major broadcast networks. Since 1996, he and Joe Buck have been a team at Fox.

Now 70, McCarver remains trim and enthusiastic about his job. Yet with one more year remaining on his contract, he knows he might have a decision to make about his broadcast future after the 2013 season.

I met with McCarver on a Friday morning while he was in town to call a Cubs-Boston game at Wrigley Field. Here’s the first part of our Q/A.

How do you feel about getting this award?

If somebody told me back in 1980 that I would have a 32-year career, and that I’d be receiving this honor, I’d say no way. For three years, I couldn’t even break into the Phillies broadcast booth. I was just hoping to make it, much less be mentioned as a Ford Frick winner. Believe me, when I started out, this award wasn’t even close to being on the radar.

How do you think you’ll feel being up on the stage in Cooperstown?

I’ve only been to Cooperstown once when Steve Carlton was inducted. I suppose it’s a very personal summation of your professional life. It makes me proud of what I’ve accomplished. That’s what makes this award so fulfilling.

How have you viewed your role as an analyst?

I had no training to be a broadcaster. My training came from being behind the plate. When you come to think about it, that’s a good way to be trained.

You see the choreography of the game from behind the plate. Without realizing it, you’re storing up all this information.

You’re looking at all the positions on the field. You see what the shortstop is doing. You see the second baseman cheating in for a doubleplay. So it all gives you an advantage.

Your timing was good. The baseball broadcast in the 80s evolved into putting more emphasis on analysis.

My job was different than the great voices of the game. My job was to explain the how and why. Whenever I’ve gotten into trouble, it’s because I’ve gotten away from explaining the how and why.

People watching on TV can see how something happened during a game. Fortunately, whether they realized it or not, they wanted to know the how and why it happened. I was in a position to explain the game as I saw it, and I saw it differently than a lot of people.

Early on, you had a reputation for being extremely candid, perhaps more so than what was the norm back then. How did players react to you?

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 towards 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.’ That’s what his father told him I said.

I said, ‘I didn’t say that.’ I explained to him what I said and we were fine.

In New York, I guess I got this reputation (for being overly candid). 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.

Some players may be upset with me from time to time, but overall, nobody can question my fairness. I have no regrets in the way I approached things back then and the way I approach things today.

You have your own critics. Some people say you talk too much and overanalyze.

Did I talk too much (when he first started)? Absolutely. I talked too much because of my enthusiasm for the game. That was applicable back in 1985, but then it followed me into the 90s. (By then), it wasn’t true. I learned. Of course, I did. You’re always trying to improve yourself. You’re talking about your business. You’re talking about the way you do your job.

How do you feel about the critics?

Whenever you hear the term human nature, it’s always for something negative. Nobody will ever say, ‘He’s a great guy, but that’s human nature.’ What is it about we humans that we tend to use that term negatively?

I try not to get caught up in it. I don’t read the blogs. I’ve got a job to do. I don’t pay attention to the negative stuff.

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.

 

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