McCarver transitioned from All-Star catcher to acclaimed announcer

For six decades, Tim McCarver shared the spotlight when baseball took the national stage.

First as a player and later as a broadcaster, McCarver – over and over again – wrote his name into the game’s history book.

McCarver, the 2012 Ford C. Frick Award winner, passed away Thursday, Feb. 16 at the age of 81. A championship-caliber catcher who seamlessly transitioned into the broadcast booth, McCarver enjoyed a career that spanned from the 1950s to the third decade of the 21st century.

“Tim McCarver’s immense impact on baseball spanned generations, from a 21-year career on the field to the broadcast booth, where his insights and passion for the game made him one of its most beloved voices – and the 2012 Ford C. Frick Award winner for broadcasting excellence,” said Jane Forbes Clark, Chairman of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. “Tim enjoyed celebrating the game, and he was a consistent presence in Cooperstown during our annual Induction Weekend events. On behalf of the Hall of Fame members and all of us in Cooperstown, we share our heartfelt condolences with his family and friends, and with all of the fans who he entertained and informed for more six decades.”

Born Oct. 16, 1941, in Memphis, Tenn., McCarver starred as a football and baseball player in high school before signing with the Cardinals right after graduation – pocketing a $75,000 bonus along the way. As a 17-year-old, he hit .360 for Class D Keokuk of the Midwest League in the summer of 1959 before earning a promotion to Triple-A Rochester and then all the way to St. Louis.

Those eight games he played with the Cardinals that September would one day help make him one of a handful of player to appear in MLB games in four different decades.

McCarver would spent most of 1960 and 1961 in the minors – playing in a few games for the Cardinals each season – and played all of 1962 with the Triple-A Atlanta Crackers. But by 1963, McCarver was ready to grab a starting role with St. Louis. When the Cardinals traded Gene Oliver to the Braves on June 15, 1963, the job was McCarver’s for good.

The next season, McCarver hit .288 with nine homers and 52 RBI in 143 games as the Cardinals won the National League pennant for the first time in 18 seasons. In the World Series against the Yankees, McCarver caught every inning of every game – hitting .478 to help St. Louis defeat New York in seven games. His three-run homer in the 10th inning of Game 5 gave the Cardinals a victory and set the stage for their eventual win in Game 7.

McCarver was named to his first All-Star Game in 1966 when he led the majors with 13 triples – the first catcher ever to do so. He helped St. Louis win another World Series title in 1967 and the NL pennant in 1968, finishing second in the National League MVP voting in ’67.  

Traded to the Phillies on Oct. 7, 1969, McCarver eased into a role as a backup catcher – returning to St. Louis in 1973 before heading to Boston as a stretch-drive acquisition late in the 1974 season. Released by the Red Sox on June 23, 1975, the 33-year-old McCarver began exploring broadcasting opportunities before the Phillies signed him a week following his release.

For the next four-and-a-half years, McCarver would become one of the most productive backup catchers in baseball – famously becoming Steve Carlton’s “personal catcher” with the Phillies, who won three straight NL East titles from 1976-78.

After retiring following the 1979 season, McCarver joined the Phillies’ broadcast team in 1980 – but returned to the field for six games at the end of the season so he could become just the 11th player in history to appear in games in four different decades.

He retired for good following the 1980 campaign – a year in which he also got his feet wet on the national broadcast stage on NBC’s Game of the Week.

McCarver called Phillies games from 1980-82 then moved to the Mets from 1983-98. During that time, he moved to ABC, where he worked on Monday Night Baseball and made his debut on World Series broadcasts in 1985. He moved to the Yankees broadcasts in 1999 and the Giants in 2002, while working national games for CBS (1990-93) and The Baseball Network (1994-95).

“He’s a lot better than I was my first year,” said Phillies announcer Richie Ashburn – who also made the transition from the field to the booth – told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1980. “I didn’t have any style or technique. Timmy’s a little more aware of those things than I was.”

An articulate storyteller with a knack for one-liners, McCarver was widely regarded as the gold standard for baseball analysts.

Then in 1996, FOX acquired the main MLB rights package and brought McCarver aboard. He remained with the network through the 2013 season, working a total of 23 World Series (a record at the time of his retirement) and 20 All-Star Games.

“When they asked me if there was any person I wanted to let know before the (Frick Award) announcement became public, I didn’t hesitate to say Joe Buck,” McCarver said of his longtime FOX broadcast partner. “Joe Buck was the only person that was called and speaking with him helped make (that) day very special.”

Following his days at FOX, McCarver called about three dozen games a year for the Cardinals’ TV network.