Commentary: McCarver was baseball's best analyst
Last updated 2/18/2023 at 2:08pm
The snapshot of Tim McCarver penetrating our mind when we heard of his death at the age of 81 Thursday afternoon, was first meeting him while he was standing on the press level of Shea Stadium squinting out at the sun while spitting tobacco juice into a Styrofoam coffee cup.
We listened to that Memphis twang reach a higher pitch when a point needed to be made. Between spits, Tim McCarver had a lot to say. It was always better to concentrate on his words and not interrupt. It didn't matter whether you caught his monologues in person or coming through a TV screen.
Simply put, Tim McCarver was the best analyst to ever grace a baseball microphone. Second place doesn't matter.
McCarver revolutionized the "position" of baseball analyst. He still is the measuring stick for all who followed him into a baseball broadcast booth across the Major Leagues.
He had the ability to foresee things developing and uncover elements of a game no one else could see.
And there was always a dedication to fearlessly first-guessing. Through all the games he broadcast, McCarver would present original analysis, on the fly.
Not easy in a game capable of producing the unexpected each and every pitch.
Most importantly, in a baseball industry full of politricks and power plays, McCarver was fearless, a serial truth-teller. And it didn't matter if he was being paid by a team or had to get a team's or MLB's approval to land a gig. Telling his version of the truth from the booth meant everything to McCarver.
"My job is to tell what I perceive as the truth," McCarver once said. "The truth may be glowing and it may be bad. A lot of people ask the question, 'What do you think?' And you know they want you to think like them. It's not diplomatic to say 'Yes' or 'No.' What people want is a soft landing. I know some people don't want to hear the truth at times but it's part of being me - for better or worse."
Deion Sanders didn't like hearing the truth (McCarver ripped Sanders for playing baseball and football the same day) so he dumped a bucket of water on McCarver's head in the Braves clubhouse.
Bobby Valentine didn't like hearing the truth (McCarver first-guessed Valentine's decision to bring in Mel Rojas to pitch to Paul O'Neill who promptly homered) so he complained to Mets management, which eventually fired McCarver.
Sometimes, McCarver went too far. Like when he berated Manny Ramirez for simply playing the outfield with a small bottle of water in his back pocket.
Nonetheless, McCarver was so committed to his craft he believed others in the business should live up to the same standards. It didn't matter if it was other broadcasters or management. It didn't matter if it was producers and directors from the various channels the Mets or Yankees played on or national networks like ABC, CBS, and Fox.
"If you've been in broadcasting for 10 or so years, you can show up and get by," McCarver once said. "I hear some broadcasters and I know they're getting by. You don't need a trained ear to tell. I'm never satisfied until I prepare the way I prepare. If I go on the air and there's one thing I didn't know, it's like dammit, why didn't I know that?"
Critics of McCarver often pointed out how he was prone to repeating a point he wanted to emphasize, whether it was the depth Mets outfielders were playing. Or how a manager was misusing his bullpen.
Yet, as his career progressed it became evident McCarver was elevating baseball analysts into the stars of the booth. That not only affected perceptions in the industry but the individual analyst's earning power too.
Yet if Vin Scully was the play-by-play voice of baseball summers, Tim McCarver was the first broadcaster to reach that stratosphere in the analyst category. That's darn good for a guy who just wanted to deliver the word from game to game.
"I have no goals," McCarver once said. "Goals can be restrictive."