Friday, March 22, 2013

#520 - Tim McCarver

Lots of people know this guy, even ones who weren’t around when this card came out. There are very few regular watchers of baseball over the past 30 years or so who don’t have a strong opinion of Tim McCarver, and that opinion is probably pretty balanced between like and dislike. I’m probably in the former camp, but I’ve always been happy to hear someone talk baseball who knows more about it than I do. And Tim is and has certainly been a talker. Even back in ’73 he was always good for a sound byte. He spent that year back in St. Louis for the first time in a few years after being spirited away by the Phillies in ’70. This time around Ted Simmons was the regular guy behind the plate so Tim put in most of his time at first with Joe Torre. He put up his best numbers since his old Cards days but his stay this time wouldn’t be crazy long as he’d be moving on again before ’74 was out. Tim shows his lefty batting stance at Candlestick. It’s an appropriate pose because a big Lefty would help extend Tim’s career for a while.

Tim McCarver grew up in Memphis where he was a big deal football and baseball star at Christian Brothers High School. He got lots of D-1 offers for full rides in the former sport but when the bonus numbers got big – he signed for either $65,000 or $75,000 depending on the source – he opted to sign with the Cards in ’59. He then hit .360 in D ball and .357 in a few games in Triple A before making his debut that September in St. Louis when he was only 17. He’d put in a few more games up top the next couple seasons but put in most of his time in the minors. In Double A in ’60 he hit .347 and then in ’61 and ’62 came down to earth a bit in Triple A with a .229 and .275 respectively, though the second season he added a bit of power with eleven homers and 57 RBI’s. After that year he was ready to go topside for good.

McCarver pretty much stepped into the starting role in ’63, replacing Gene Oliver as catcher. He put up some pretty good offensive numbers starting that season but what really ingratiated him to his teammates was his work behind the plate. Soon after getting his regular spot – and according to the book “October 1964” with some tutoring regarding his Good Ole Boy ways – he became tight with Bob Gibson which could be a tough thing to do back then. After hitting nearly .290 his first couple years he went to the Series in ’64 where he hit .478 with a game-winning homer against the Yankees. In ’66 he had his first All-Star year and led the NL in triples, a first for a catcher. In ’67 he had his highest average as he returned to the All-Star game and came in second in MVP voting to teammate Orland Cepeda. St. Louis also returned to the Series that year and the next and while Tim didn’t hit too well the first year, he did win another ring. He hit .333 in the ’68 loss to Detroit. In ’69 he put up better regular season numbers and then was part of the big trade between St. Louis and the Phillies in which Dick Allen became a Card and Curt Flood a Phillie, but not for long.

McCarver’s time in Philadelphia didn’t start off too well as a broken hand early in the season pretty much wrecked his year and had the Phillies scrambling to find replacements. He came back to start in ’71 and got into a mid-season fight with ex-teammate Lou Brock. In ’72 after starting off as the regular guy, he was traded to Montreal in June for John Bateman and the rest of the way caught and played a bit in the outfield for the Expos. After the season he returned to the Cards for Jorge Roque, a young outfielder. In ’74 Tim’s playing time contracted significantly after Torre moved to first full-time and Simmons rarely sat. After hitting .217 in just over 100 at bats, he was sold to Boston in September to help fill in for the injured Carlton Fisk. While hitting .250 for the Sox down the stretch it was rumored he was also next in line for the Boston manager gig when Darrell Johnson was having a tough time. But after hitting .381 as a pinch hitter in ’75 and with the Sox making their big pennant run, Tim was released in June. He was picked up by the Phillies shortly thereafter and in pretty much the same role hit .254 the rest of the way.

Beginning in ’76 McCarver took on the role that he would have the duration of his playing career as Steve Carlton’s personal catcher. Tim and Carlton had been in the same battery in both St. Louis and earlier in Philadelphia and for the next four years most of Tim’s starts would be when Lefty was on the mound. The first couple years Tim would make the most of the opportunity offensively as well, posting a .300 average with an over .400 OBA while putting up 59 RBI’s in 324 at bats in ’76 and ’77. Both seasons Philly made the playoffs as well as in ’78, when Tim’s average slipped to .247. After hitting .241 in ’79 he retired – during their time together Carlton went 77-41 – until he was brought back for a couple games in ’80 so he could be a four decade guy. Tim finished with a .271 average on 1,500 hits, 97 homers, and 645 RBI’s. He stole 61 bases and had a .337 OBA. Defensively he led the NL in assists once and fielding percentage twice. In the post-season he hit .273 with two homers and 12 RBI’s in 28 games.

McCarver began his broadcasting career while playing – it was in his contract – doing some spot work for the Phillies in ’78 and ’79.  He then stayed with the Phillies full-time through ’82 before moving on to the Mets (’83-’98) and Yankees (’99-2001). During that time he also did post-season work for all the networks and since 2002 has been working games for Fox. He has won three Emmy’s as a sportscaster and was inducted into the Hall as one in 2012.

Tim gets a good star bullet and an irrelevant cartoon. He stayed in Memphis a lot longer than I’d have expected. In that “October 1964” book Tim is described as an eager guy with a temper. In a few instances teammates had to talk to him about keeping a cool head during his first couple seasons.

How about using a guy for who McCarver was traded:

1. McCarver and Dick Allen ’75 to ’76 Phillies;
2. Allen and Bill Sharp ’73 to ’74 White Sox.eHHeHYeHJh

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