February 17, 2023
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Former Montreal Expos catcher and award-winning broadcaster Tim McCarver passed away on Thursday at the age of 81.
McCarver died of heart failure in his hometown of Memphis, Tenn., according to MLB.com.
As a player, McCarver served as the personal catcher for Hall of Famers Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton and was the starting catcher on two St. Louis Cardinals’ World Series-winning teams (1964, 1967) before being dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies in October 1969.
On June 14, 1972, the Phillies traded the left-handed hitting catcher to the Expos for fellow backstop John Bateman. McCarver, who was 30 at the time, proceeded to bat .251 with five home runs in 77 games with the Expos.
After hanging up his playing spikes in 1980, McCarver evolved into a highly respected TV baseball analyst who broadcast games in 24 World Series and won the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award in 2012.
Between his playing and broadcasting careers, he spent parts of seven decades in Major League Baseball.
“Tim McCarver was an All-Star, a World Series Champion, a respected teammate, and one of the most influential voices our game has known,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement on Thursday. “As a player, Tim was a key part of great Cardinals and Phillies teams in his 21-year career. In the booth, his analysis and attention to detail brought fans closer to our game and how it is played and managed. Tim’s approach enhanced the fan experience on our biggest stages and on the broadcasts of the Mets, the Yankees and the Cardinals.”
Born on October 16, 1941 in Memphis, Tenn., McCarver was a multisport star in high school, excelling in football and baseball. He was attending the University of Memphis when the Cardinals signed him on June 8, 1959.
Just over three months later, a 17-year-old McCarver made his major league debut with the Cardinals. He’d spend the bulk of the following three seasons in the minors before becoming the Cards regular catcher in 1963.
The following year, he helped propel the Cards to the National League pennant and he was at his best in the World Series, going 11-for-23 (.478 batting average) in his club’s seven-game triumph over the New York Yankees.
In 1966, McCarver topped the National League with 13 triples, a rarity for a catcher, and was selected to his first of two consecutive All-Star games. For an encore, he set career-highs with 14 home runs and 69 RBIs in 1967 and also threw out 55.2% of runners attempting to steal off him. His performance earned him a second-place finish in the National League MVP voting and helped the Cardinals to another World Series title.
In 1968, McCarver’s steadiness behind the plate helped Gibson record a miniscule 1.12 ERA, which remains the lowest ERA by a starting big league pitcher in modern history. On October 7, 1969, he was dealt to the Phillies, along with Byron Browne, Curt Flood and Joe Hoerner for Dick Allen, Jerry Johnson and Cookie Rojas. McCarver reported to the Phillies, but Flood famously refused to. The Cards eventually sent Willie Montanez and minor league pitching prospect Jim Browning to the Phillies to complete the trade.
McCarver caught for the Phillies for parts of three seasons before he was dealt to the Expos on June 14, 1972 for catcher John Bateman. It was thought to be a catcher for catcher deal, but Expos manager Gene Mauch had other plans. The veteran skipper proclaimed that rookie Terry Humphrey and backup John Boccabella would continue to be his catchers.
“Tim McCarver is just too good an athlete to be limited to only being a catcher,” Mauch told The Montreal Star. “And I intend to explore some possibilities and see if he can play elsewhere.”
There was talk McCarver would be used at third base and in left field, positions that he’d never played in the big leagues.
For his part, McCarver was happy about his trade to Montreal.
“I’m not just giving you the PR bit when I say I’m delighted it was to Montreal. Not so much the city, but the manager,” McCarver told The Montreal Star. “I respect Gene Mauch more than any man in baseball – although you’d never know it from the things we’ve shouted at each other across the diamond.”
One of the reasons McCarver was not being handed the starting catcher’s job were reports of his diminished arm strength.
“I’ve heard a lot of criticism about my catching . .. that I’m not supposed to be able to throw anymore,” McCarver told The Montreal Star. “Heck, I never did have a great arm. But my plusses always far outweighed my minuses.”
McCarver said he didn’t care where he played as long as he was in the lineup every day.
“I’m looking forward to hitting in Jarry Park,” McCarver told The Montreal Star. “I think I can hit a few homers there, batting from the left side.”
So on June 16, 1972, when McCarver made his debut with the Expos, he played both games against the Atlanta Braves in left field – a position he’d never manned before. He went 1-for-8 at the plate and fielded five fly balls cleanly in the two games.
“I felt comfortable,” McCarver told the Montreal Gazette after the game.
The following day, McCarver, in left field again, belted his first home run as an Expo – a first-inning, solo shot off knuckleballer Phil Niekro in a Braves’ 3-2 win.
True to his word, Mauch did not start McCarver behind the plate for the veteran’s first 19 games with the club. When McCarver wasn’t in left field, he was playing third base. McCarver most often hit third or fifth for the Expos, but he was even used as the club’s leadoff hitter 10 times.
In July and August, McCarver was arguably the Expos’ best hitter and with Humphrey struggling at the plate, Mauch finally handed the starting catcher’s job to McCarver in mid-August.
“It was obvious that we needed some help with our offence,” Mauch told the Montreal Gazette. “Tim McCarver’s bat has helped us in that department. I really believe though that Tim McCarver has improved as a catcher. Perhaps all that extra work we gave him at third base and in left field got him in better shape.”
Perhaps that was the case, McCarver hit .293 with three home runs in 25 games for the Expos in August and continued to be their regular catcher for the rest of the season. He even caught Bill Stoneman’s no-hitter on October 2, 1972 at Jarry Park, which was the first major league no-hitter ever thrown outside of the U.S.
After the season, McCarver was dealt back to the Cardinals for young outfielder Jorge Roque.
“McCarver did an excellent job for us,” said Expos GM Jim Fanning to the Montreal Gazette. “However, because of his age, his future would have been awfully limited.”
McCarver returned to his role as Gibson’s personal catcher with the Cards before his contract was purchased by the Boston Red Sox on September 1, 1974. After beginning 1975 with the Red Sox, he was released and re-signed with the Phillies, where he was reunited with Carlton.
McCarver was primarily a backup catcher in his final five major league seasons, but was behind the dish for the majority of Carlton’s starts.
He initially retired as a player after the 1979 season, but came back to play six games for the eventual World Series champion Phillies in September 1980. This made him part of a select group of players who have suited up for a major league game in four different decades. McCarver competed in his final game and recorded his final hit (a two-run double) in an 8-7 loss to the Expos at Olympic Stadium in Montreal on October 5, 1980.
From there, McCarver’s storied career in broadcasting began, first with the Phillies and then with the New York Mets from 1983 to 1998. He moved on to the New York Yankees from 1999 to 2001 and to the San Francisco Giants in 2002.
He also worked national telecasts for ABC, CBS and FOX. During his career, he broadcast 20 All-Star Games, including the 1991 contest at SkyDome in Toronto, and 24 World Series, including the 1992 and 1993 Fall Classics won by the Blue Jays.
In 2012, he was named the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award winner for broadcasting excellence and he shared the stage in Cooperstown with Bob Elliott (Kingston, Ont.), who became the first Canadian writer to win the Baseball Writers Career Excellence Award that same year.
From 2014 to 2019, McCarver served as a part-time analyst on St. Louis Cardinals broadcasts.
He is survived by his daughters, Kathy and Kelley, and two grandchildren.
Blue Jays brodcaster?
In Tom Cheek’s 1993 biography “Road to Glory,” Cheek wrote that when the Blue Jays hired Hall of Fame hurler Early Wynn as Cheek’s partner in the radio booth in 1977, the club was also considering McCarver, a then-unproven analyst, for the position.