On September 10, 1959, Tim McCarver, age 17, broke into major league baseball. The St. Louis Cardinals sent the youngster up to pinch-hit for Marshall Bridges in the 9th inning of their game against Milwaukee. McCarver flied out to right to end the game.
For the Braves, it was their fifth straight victory and it lifted them to within two games of the league leading San Francisco Giants (the Dodgers also won to remain tied for second with Milwaukee). For the Cardinals it was just another loss on the way to a disappointing seventh place finish (Stan Musial batted only .255, falling short of the .300 mark for the first time in his then-17-year career). Under these circumstances, it made sense to give the teenager from Memphis, whose organized baseball experience consisted of 65 games in class “D” and 17 in Triple A, a chance to show his stuff and see what the big leagues were about.
McCarver would start the next day, going 0-4. He batted second in the line-up, a sign that he was a new breed of catcher (or perhaps a throwback to some catchers of dead ball era) who, like Johnny Roseboro of the Dodgers, could run and handle the bat. In 1966, McCarver would become the first catcher to lead the National League in triples.
McCarver made it to the big leagues to stay in 1963. His last season was 1980, which makes him a “four decade” player. As a player, McCarver is best remembered for his key role on three Cardinal pennant winners (and two world champions) during the 1960s. His 10th inning home run won game 5 of the 1964 World Series. His prowess behind the plate was admired and relied upon by two great but particular pitchers, Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton.
McCarver went on to become a prominent baseball announcer/analyst, as well as the host of a nationally-broadcast sports interview show. As a color commentator, he’s not everyone’s cup-of-tea, and he gets on my nerves at times. However, I think it’s fair to say that his insightful commentary, with its focus on how the pitcher is trying to deal with hitter, took the in-booth analyst’s job to a new level of sophistication.
McCarver accomplished this, moreover, without losing his persona as in ex-player. In other words, McCarver provides a thinking man’s perspective on the game without coming across as a geek. I still think of him as an athlete, though not as a “jock.”
UPDATE: McCarver apparently began his sportscasting career with the Phillies where his partners were Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn. What a trio!
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