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Tim McCarver, All-Star catcher and Hall of Fame broadcaster, dies at 81

Tim McCarver was honored with the Baseball Hall of Fame's Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence in 2012.Heather Ainsworth/Associated Press

NEW YORK — Tim McCarver, an All-Star catcher and Hall of Fame broadcaster who during 60 years in baseball won two World Series titles with the St. Louis Cardinals and had a long run as the one of the country’s most recognized, incisive, and talkative television commentators, died Thursday. He was 81.

Mr. McCarver’s death was announced by baseball’s Hall of Fame, which said he died Thursday morning in Memphis, where he was with his family.

Among the few players to appear in major league games in four different decades, McCarver was a two-time All-Star who worked closely with two future Hall of Fame pitchers: The tempestuous Bob Gibson, whom McCarver caught for St. Louis in the 1960s, and the introverted Steve Carlton, McCarver’s fellow Cardinal in the ‘60s and a Philadelphia Phillies teammate in the 1970s.


McCarver also played parts of two seasons with the Red Sox (1974-75) in his 21-year major league career.

McCarver switched to television soon after retiring in 1980 and became best known to national audiences for his 18-year partnership on Fox with play-by-play man Joe Buck.

“I think there is a natural bridge from being a catcher to talking about the view of the game and the view of the other players,” McCarver told the Hall in 2012, the year he and Buck were given the Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in broadcasting. “It is translating that for the viewers. One of the hard things about television is staying contemporary and keeping it simple for the viewers.”

Six feet tall and solidly built, McCarver was a policeman’s son from Memphis, who got into more than a few fights while growing up but was otherwise playing baseball and football and imitating popular broadcasters, notably the Cardinals’ Harry Caray. He was signed while still in high school by the Cardinals for $75,000, a generous offer for that time. He was just 17 when he debuted for them in 1959 and in his early 20s when he became the starting catcher.


McCarver attended segregated schools in Memphis and often spoke of the education he received as a newcomer in St. Louis. His teammates included Gibson and outfielder Curt Flood, Black players who did not hesitate to confront or tease McCarver. When McCarver used racist language against a Black child trying to jump a fence during spring training, Gibson would remember “getting right up in McCarver’s face.”

McCarver liked to tell the story about drinking an orange soda during a hot day in spring training and Gibson asking him for some, then laughing when McCarver flinched.

“It was probably Gibby more than any other Black man who helped me to overcome whatever latent prejudices I may have had,” McCarver wrote in his 1987 memoir “Oh, Baby, I Love It!”

Few catchers were strong hitters during the ‘60s, but McCarver batted .270 or higher for five consecutive seasons and was fast enough to become the first catcher to lead the league in triples. He had his best year in 1967 when he hit .295 with 14 home runs, finishing second for Most Valuable Player behind teammate Orlando Cepeda as the Cardinals won their second World Series in four years, defeating the Impossible Dream Red Sox in seven games.

McCarver and winning pitcher Bob Gibson hugged each other after clinching the 1967 World Series with a Game 7 victory at Fenway Park.Anonymous/Associated Press

McCarver met Carlton when the lefthander was a rookie in 1965 “with an independent streak wider than the Grand Canyon,” McCarver later wrote.


The two initially clashed, even arguing on the mound during games, but became close and were reunited in the 1970s after both were traded to Philadelphia. McCarver became Carlton’s designated catcher even though he admittedly had a below-average throwing arm and overall didn’t compare defensively to the Phillies’ regular catcher, Gold Glover Bob Boone.

McCarver liked to joke that he and Carlton were so in sync in the field that when both were dead they would be buried 60 feet, 6 inches apart, the distance between the pitching mound and home plate.

During his 21-year career, in which he also played briefly for the Montreal Expos, McCarver batted .271 and only twice struck out more than 40 times in a single season. In the postseason, he averaged .273 and had his best outing in the 1964 World Series, when the Cardinals defeated the Yankees in seven games. McCarver finished 11 for 23, with 5 walks, and his three-run homer at Yankee Stadium in the 10th inning of Game 5 gave his team a 5-2 victory.

McCarver won six Emmys and became enough of a brand name to be a punch line on “Family Guy”; write a handful of books, make cameos in “Naked Gun,” “Love Hurts,” and other movies and even record an album, “Tim McCarver Sings Songs from the Great American Songbook.”

Many found McCarver informative and entertaining. Others thought him infuriating. McCarver did not cut himself short whether explaining baseball strategy or taking on someone’s performance on the field.


“When you ask him the time, [he] will tell you how a watch works,” Sports Illustrated’s Norman Chad wrote of him in 1992. The same year, his criticism of Deion Sanders for playing two sports on the same day led to the Atlanta Braves outfielder /Atlanta Falcons defensive back dumping a bucket of water on his head.