Baseball: Past and Present

Editor’s note: Please welcome the latest from Doug Bird.

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As many baseball fans may be aware, Tim McCarver received the Ford C. Frick Award for his broadcasting, Saturday in a ceremony at the Hall of Fame. I have heard much criticism of McCarver’s broadcasting skills over his 20-plus years behind the microphone.  His many critics lament him for explaining the painfully obvious far too often and for the fact he can’t seem to stop talking about catching for Bob Gibson on those great St. Louis Cardinal teams. I’ve always enjoyed his easy southern style and his obvious love of the game. All I can say is that it can’t be easy trying to find a spot to sit in the broadcast booth beside the massive ego of fellow announcer Joe Buck. Anyone who can accomplish that Saturday after Saturday and during the World Series deserves any baseball award he might receive.

Putting all of his broadcasting accomplishments aside, I believe that Tim McCarver should be in the Hall of Fame for his playing career. His accomplishments as one of the best catchers of his era and as he has stated many times, his catching of the legendary Gibson and Steve Carlton show something of the winning character and ability of McCarver on the baseball field.

McCarver played briefly in the majors from 1959 and returned to the minors until making the Show for good in 1963. He played his last full season in 1979 and briefly came out of retirement in September 1980 making him one of only 29 players to have played in four different decades.

McCarver, along with Detroit Tiger star Bill Freehan, was considered one of the best catchers in baseball during the 1960s. Their statistics rank among the best at that position for that era, an era when offense was considered merely an afterthought for a catcher in the big leagues. McCarver’s stats don’t jump out at you, certainly not by some of today’s standards. His stats were solid and consistent giving him a career batting average of .271 and 97 home runs. To maintain such an average over so many seasons and so many games behind the plate in my opinion, elevates such statistics  to higher heights than merely raw numbers.

He was considered a team leader by teammates and a fierce competitor by those who played against him.  Often intangibles are used as justification for those players elected into the Hall of Fame when those type of debates are bantered back and forth as to the merits of this player or that. I myself have been guilty of claiming that this player or that simply doesn’t have the numbers which should be required to get the necessary votes. But on occasion I believe such an argument is valid and goes beyond mere numbers.

McCarver  had, and has, a deep understanding and appreciation of what it takes to play many seasons in the major leagues. McCarver has the championship rings to prove he was a winning player and a player who represented all that we hold dear in a professional baseball player. I feel his playing career has been sorely overlooked and forgotten.



12 Comments so far

  1.    Tim Newey on July 22, 2012 2:25 pm      

    I really like his tv show. He is such a nice guy and I think his genuine appreciation for the success of all types of athletes shows through. Well deserved in my opinion!

  2.    BENJAMIN RAUCHER on July 24, 2012 2:36 pm      

    I have lots of respect for Tim McCarver. Not sure if he is Hall of Fame material.

    BENJAMIN RAUCHER

  3.    stratobill on July 24, 2012 8:59 pm      

    This writer appears to believe the following:

    A) Carlton and Gibson were great pitchers (true enough)

    B) McCarver caught a lot of games pitched by Carlton and Gibson (also true)

    C) Since A and B are true, McCarver must have been a GREAT catcher ( A and B alone aren’t nearly enough to prove this is true)

    There are at least 50 pitchers in the Hall of Fame. Many of them had catchers who caught them regularly. That doesn’t mean that all those catchers were therefore great catchers. It just supports what the Ol Proffessor (Casey Stengel) once said about the importance of catchers. It was something to the effect that without a catcher there’d
    be an awful lot of balls rolling to the backstop.

    McCarver was a very good ballplayer and is a very good announcer, but I don’t think he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

  4.    Slats Murphy on July 25, 2012 7:33 am      

    So, based on your feelings (and not much more), it should be expected that Mike Shannon is the next to be inducted ??? . . .

  5.    Alvy on July 25, 2012 12:58 pm      

    Strato, there’s no doubt that being a catcher for greats like Carlton and Gibby would never be something that would get a catcher in the HOF. It’s a point well taken. But I think you could have stated it without being rude, sarcastic and also stretching the point Doug made as it if were only one of two total points that he made to represent his case. Not fair at all. It’s clear to anyone who read the article that Doug made a number of points; many were well taken. You may not agree with them, but it sure would be great if we could tone down the nasty rhetoric.
    I’d take issue with old Casey’s comment about catchers as well. He was great manager, but his pov does not count as proof. And I’m sure there are many that would take issue on either side. Personally imho there are some catchers that made a number of pitchers performance a great deal better by their calling of the game and excellent knowledge and intuition about how and what to pitch to a given batter, their control of the field, the base-runners, fielding and many other tangibles and intangibles. The position of catcher has to be one of the most wearing and difficult in the game. I’m sure at least Johnny Bench and all those great catchers in the HOF would have a great deal to say about that.
    Although I was a big fan, personally I don’t think Tim McCarver quite measured up during his career as a player to deserve a place in the HOF. Although I agree that he and Freehan, Joe Torre were among the elite catchers of the 60′s prior to Johnny Bench– the former would all probably qualify for the HOVG as players.
    Thanks Doug. I think you made as good a case as you could. Nice to read about a former all-star from the 60′s.

  6.    Brendan Bingham on July 25, 2012 8:19 pm      

    Let’s expand on Doug’s statement about Tim McCarver, “His stats were solid and consistent giving him a career batting average of .271 and 97 home runs. To maintain such an average over so many seasons and so many games behind the plate in my opinion, elevates such statistics to higher heights than merely raw numbers.”

    In other words, McCarver’s HOF case would seem to rest largely on the combination of his exceptionally long career and his sturdy hitting.

    Let’s look first at his longevity. McCarver’s career in “four decades” includes many seasons in which he was a part-time player. His 1387 games played as a catcher rank 41st all time. Eleven of the 40 players ahead of him on the list are already in the Hall (Fisk, Carter, Lopez, Ferrell, Hartnett, Bench, Schalk, Dickey, Berra, Lombardi, and Cochrane), and Ivan Rodriguez and Mike Piazza surely will be when they become eligible. So, McCarver had a long career, but 27 other non-HOF catchers played more games at the position.

    Second, McCarver’s hitting. Let’s express his offensive numbers in terms of OPS+. The era adjustment central to this stat works to McCarver’s benefit, since he played in the offense-poor ‘60s and ‘70s. McCarver’s career OPS+ was a solid 102. Of the 27 non-HOF catchers with longer careers than McCarver’s, seven had a higher career OPS+. They are Jorge Posada (121), Ted Simmons (118), Wally Schang (117), Darrell Porter (113), Bill Freehan (112), Lance Parrish (106), and Sherm Lollar (104). Maybe McCarver was a better defensive catcher than some of these men (Posada, at least, perhaps others). Nonetheless, the HOF argument for McCarver would seem to drag about a half dozen other catchers to Cooperstown, not just his contemporary Bill Freehan.

  7.    W.k. kortas on July 27, 2012 1:45 pm      

    I would agree with those who have McCarver in the “Good, yes–Cooperstown, no” camp. B-R shows him with 26.2 WAR, which is Manny Sanguillen territory (and B-R has Manny as one of McCarver’s top ten comps, none of whom except Al Lopez is in the Hall of Fame.) There are certainly several catchers ahead of him in line for enshrinement who are not exactly first-ballot HOF players, such as those listed by Mr. Bingham (and I think Del Crandall’s case would match up with McCarver as well.) McCarver was a fine player who was an integral part of several pennant winners, but there are any number of players who have that resume who are not Cooperstown worthy. McCarver is simply one of them.

  8.    stratobill on August 2, 2012 5:52 pm      

    Alvy, I am bemused by your response to what I considered
    a very mild comment on my part. Perhaps you should re-read
    what I wrote. I did, and I don’t find a single word or sentence
    that was “nasty”. If, as you suggest, I had toned it down any
    more than I did it would of been totally vapid.

    The author provided several arguments/justifications for why
    McCarver might deserve HOF consideration, one of which (the Gibson/Carlton
    connection) I felt was based on very shaky logic, so I responded to it by
    trying to point out why it was so weak. What’s wrong with that? I
    didn’t assail the honor of the author, insult his mother, or cast
    aspersions on his writing ability. Nor did I slam McCarvier. I merely
    pointed out what I thought was fallacious reasoning.

    If you or I or anyone else posts an article arguing for a certain position,
    we’d better be prepared to have our position challenged. The fact that
    I responded to only 1 of his points doesn’t mean that I felt the rest of
    his article was flawed. I suspect that Doug’s skin is thick enough to
    handle my comment in the spirit in which it was intended.

    And you entirely missed the point of the Stengel comment regarding catchers. As with
    many of his comments, he was using exaggeration and humor to entertain the
    sportswriters, he wasn’t trying to make a serious commentary. I included
    it as a lighthearded conclusion to my response and am surprised you read
    more into it than that!

  9.    Alvy on August 3, 2012 10:21 pm      

    Strato you may not have meant any ill will. I hope so. But to me and I know to some others, your opening remarks did make it seem, whether or not you intended it to be so, as if this one comment was the basis of Doug’s argument. The overall tone of your comment seemed to me more sarcastic than it was a challenging debate over the content of Doug’s piece. Challenging is great and there’s nothing like an articulate debate over sports. It is part of the fun of being a fan that we’ve all gotten into since we were kids. You may have indeed meant the Stengell comment as exaggeration and humor, but again– it didn’t seem like good hearted humor but more sarcasm or at least a pretty severe opinion about catchers. It’s hard on the printed page to know what intention people have when writing. I think that’s why it behooves us to try and think about how we are coming off on the page. We can’t see the person’s face, hear the tone, feel the intent. I try, and have failed myself to do so many times. Also, I have to add that it’s important to try and give one another the benefit of the doubt whenever we can. And perhaps there I have failed you. I think though that there is sometimes a fine line between what we think is funny and what can be perceived as mean-spirited that’s all to easily taken the wrong way.

  10.    Mike on August 11, 2012 11:55 am      

    An unrelated recent run-in with McCarver has extremely soured me toward someone I enjoyed listening to as a youth.

    I attended a recent low-key baseball gathering where one of McCarver’s former teammates was being honored. It was a small gathering and McCarver wasn’t announced as a guest. Knowing that there was a chance that he might attend, I brought one baseball card of McCarver with me in case he showed.

    McCarver was there and once the ceremony had finished, there were exactly three people, one with a ball, two with napkins / pieces of paper who very politely asked McCarver for his signature. He angrily scowled at them, “I’m not here to sign autographs, get away from me.” Meanwhile, his former teammate right in front of him signed for anyone who asked.

    I was leaving at the same time as McCarver, so when we both got outside, it was just him and myself, so I figured away from the venue, that he would sign. He gave me the same line, in a really unfriendly tone and proceeded to pace up the street.

    I could see if there was a crowd of hungry autograph seekers, but there was really no reason for McCarver to be so rude. After talking to a few others who have approached McCarver in the past, they too said he is one of the rudest once the cameras are off of him.

    I can’t even shake this off to him having a bad day, as he was in a great mood talking with his former teammate. I’ll never ask him again, which I guess would please him, but it did change my opinion on him.

  11.    Alvy on August 12, 2012 1:43 pm      

    That’s sad to hear Mike. Too bad McCarver couldn’t have found a decent way to just say that he wasn’t into signing. I’ve seen that a few times where some ballplayers don’t like to sign, but would happily instead offer to shake your hand or even chat a bit.

  12.    FishStick on August 31, 2012 8:53 pm      

    Tim McCarver was a decent ballplayer. Even good at times. Rather than break down numbers that dont need broken, lets just remind ourselves what the Hall of Fame is and is not.

    The Hall of Fame is an enshirement and celebration of the best that ever played the game.

    The Hall of Fame is not Hall of the Good, Hall of the Mediocre, Hall of Guys-With-a-Couple-Real-Good-Seasons.

    I read the case attempted to be made, and in no way whatsoever should TM be in the HoF, except as a guest. McCarver in the Hall would be a travesty as big as the luxury tax.

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  • Written by Graham Womack