McCarver’s Expiration Date

Having listened to Tim McCarver a lot back in the 80s, I agree with almost every word of this from the indispensable Joe Posnanski, with the caveat that I was never as enamored of McCarver as a storyteller:

You know, I’ve been listening to Tim McCarver call baseball games for almost 30 years now. One of my best friends in high school, Robert, was the first person I knew who had a satellite dish – this was in the days when you had to be one of those guys in the Apollo 13 room to figure out how to operate the thing. I remember there were a lot of vectors involved. Anyway, Robert was and is a huge Mets fan, and so we watched a lot of Mets games with McCarver calling them.
And I loved McCarver. Absolutely loved the guy. Every at-bat, it seemed, he taught me baseball. It was that way for a long time. I honestly believe that McCarver was one of the great pioneers in baseball commentary, the John Madden of his sport in many ways. He was the first I knew who could really break down what the pitcher was trying to do, why he was trying to do it, how the hitter was trying to counter it, and so on. He broke down the game in a way I can never remember any other color commentator doing it. And he was a good story teller too. If I’m listening the greatest color commentators in baseball history, he’s right up at the top.
Trouble is, McCarver has been doing this a long time. And one of the sad truths is that sports color commentary tends to have an expiration date (and, I’ll admit, sportswriting often does too). There comes a time when everyone has heard the stories, when the insights have become cliches, when the game just changes on you. And if we’re being realistic – and I’m not saying this is true for McCarver because I don’t know – there usually comes a time when longtime color commentators stop doing the prep work, stop working the clubhouses, stop keeping up with the latest news. They rely on their experience, their history. That’s just human nature. I thought it was telling when Terry Francona, who was so refreshing in part because he was so up to date, made the point that Kinsler is one of the best young players in the game. Two days later, McCarver said: “I had never thought of him that way.”
McCarver can still wow you now and again. There was a moment on Sunday when he picked up that Yadier Molina had called a full-count pitch verbally against Nelson Cruz, and McCarver brilliantly deduced that Edwin Jackson was going to throw a slider and it probably was not going to be in the strike zone. Sure enough, Jackson threw a slider out of the strike zone. McCarver still understands the pitcher-catcher relationship better than just about anybody in the business.
But, all in all, he has become a hard listen. Al Michaels*, in explaining the art of broadcasting, explained that he sees the game as the music and the announcing as the lyrics. And by that he means that the lyrics need to fit the music, they need to enhance the music, it must blend together. The worst thing an announcer can do is jolt the viewer out of the moment, stop them cold, take them away from the moment. McCarver does that to me way too often now. I find myself 20 times a game taken away from the ballgame and wondering if what I just heard was (1) True; (2) True but misleading; (3) Significant in any way.

And of course, I endorse his concluding paragraph as well. Read the whole thing.

13 thoughts on “McCarver’s Expiration Date”

  1. McCarver had a lot to do with Steve Carlton’s early success with the Phillies and has been a good commentator over the years, but anymore I almost will not watch a game he is calling.

  2. I keep the sound off when McCarver is part of the announcers. He does not add much value at all.
    I got a copy of the 1960 WS Game 7. What was most telling was listening to the announcer (just one). More significantly was not hearing him talk. It seems now that the announcers need to say something between every pitch. It is annoying. Sometimes silence is the be commentary.

  3. You’re right Lee, especially on TV, we don’t need a description of what the batter is doing…it is on the screen. That being said, that “wonderful MNF game should ahve pushed a LARGE audiance to the WS game last night. It did at my house.

  4. Listening to McCarver beat the same dead horses makes one long for the baseball musings and stylings of Joe Morgan. Ok, not really, but it has gotten at least close to that point.

  5. The comparison to Madden is appropriate. Madden too reached his expiration date – and unfortunately continued working for several years beyond. McCarver needs to realize that his time has come and gone – the next generation of color man needs to be brought in.

  6. I have to confess that I do not understand the criticism of McCarver. I cannot think of a single commentator who even comes close to him for understanding the nuances of the game. In addition to the examples that Posnaski cited, McCarver said during one of the games that he thought the defense should be positioned differently because the hitter – I think it was Andures – would hit the ball to right field. Two pitches later, Andrus reached out and poked the ball to right field. And those litte strategy nuances are what I love about baseball. Even if McCarver repeats stories – I watch a lot of baseball and have never noticed him doing so – I would rather listen to McCarver than any other commentator.

  7. If this was an SAT test question we’d have:
    McCarver is to announcing as
    LaRussa is to managing
    Both have done it for a while and both seem to have a need to prove how smart they are about baseball. McCarver talks too much and LaRussa over manages.

  8. I agree McCarver is well past his prime, but he did correctly foresee in the bottom of the ninth of game 6 that the Rangers had their outfield too far back in a prevent doubles defense alignment, and that did cost them the series, so he still has some brain cells firing.

  9. They were too far back but the run still scores there. It wasn’t going to be caught, it was a 2 out hit that was little more than a very soft liner. Runner with decent speed running on contact isn’t getting thrown out at the plate. He was rounding third by the time the ball hit the grass.

  10. I’m in mexico and I’m watching the games on the local station, their color commentator is at least 85 years old and was constantly telling stories from 60 years ago, so I think the old color commentator problem is universal, but I still thought the series was really good and the games are more than the music,
    I could listen in spanish or turn off the sound and still here the sounds of the stadium, sounds like home.

  11. use to love Mc arver , like I use to love John Madden in the early 80s. The problem is they start off fresh and then become popular and just become parodies of themselves because now they are thinking about sounding smart and generally over thinking instead of just calling the frigging game

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