Tim McCarver, who played with the Phillies in nine of his 21 seasons in Major League Baseball, passed away today. He was 81 years of age. This piece will served as his becoming the 25th entry in my “Philography” series of Phillies mini-biographies. Each of the others can be found below.
McCarver was a rare four-decade big-league player. He first signed with the Saint Louis Cardinals out of high school in June 1959. Three months later he debuted, receiving an eight-game cup of coffee with a Cards ball club that struggled to a seventh place finish.
Within a few years, Saint Louis would emerge as a contender in the National League as McCarver grew to become their regular catcher. He was a key starter on teams that would win three NL pennants during the 1960’s and capture World Series championships in both 1964 and 1967.
In 1965, a 20-year-old southpaw pitcher named Steve Carlton would make his own big-league debut in Saint Louis. McCarver and Carlton quickly established a friendship that would extend later to their years together in Philadelphia and on through the rest of his life.
In October 1969, McCarver was part of what became one of the most important trades in MLB history. In that deal, the Cardinals sent a package of the 28-year-old, two-time NL All-Star with three-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove center fielder Curt Flood, outfielder Byron Browne, and pitcher Joe Hoerner. The return was led by controversial three-time All-Star and 1964 NL Rookie of the Year Dick Allen (then known as ‘Richie’), and also included second baseman Cookie Rojas and young pitcher Jerry Johnson.
At the start of May in 1970, McCarver suffered a broken finger during a game at San Francisco. In a freak coincidence, two batters later his backup, Mike Ryan, also suffered a broken finger on a play at the plate. Ryan would return in July and take the starting job until McCarver himself returned in September.
McCarver was the Phillies starting catcher in both 1971 and 1972 as the franchise opened Veterans Stadium in South Philadelphia. Just prior to spring training for that 1972 campaign he was reunited with Carlton when the 27-year-old southpaw was obtained from Saint Louis in a trade for righty starter Rick Wise.
The Carlton-McCarver reunion would only last for a few months. In mid-June, McCarver was dealt away to the Montreal Expos for catcher John Bateman. McCarver became the starting catcher for the Expos, who also utilized him in left field for 14 games. It was the first time that he played anywhere other than behind the plate in his MLB career.
After that 1972 season, Saint Louis re-acquired McCarver from Montreal for prospect outfielder Jorge Roque. McCarver played in 130 games in 1973 with the Cardinals, serving as a backup at catcher and first base to future Hall of Famers Ted Simmons and Joe Torre.
After being used almost exclusively as a pinch-hitter by Cardinals Hall of Fame skipper Red Schoendienst in 1974, McCarver had his contract purchased by the Boston Red Sox on September 1. The Bosox would win the AL pennant the following year, but McCarver wasn’t around to enjoy it. Released on June 23, he signed back with the Phillies a week later.
As the Phillies rose to become contenders and then won three straight NL East Division crowns, McCarver became a key contributor as both a pinch-hitter and as Carlton’s “personal caddy”, catching most of the left-hander’s starts.
As his playing career wound down, McCarver’s keen insight and conversational style were put to use in the club’s broadcast booth. He joined Harry Kalas, Richie Ashburn, Andy Musser, and Chris Wheeler as an analyst on radio and TV broadcasts. McCarver also became the host of “Race for the Pennant“, a baseball program featured on the fledgling HBO cable network. In November 1979, McCarver was released by the Phillies, apparently bringing his playing career to an end at age 38.
And then, suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly, 10 months later he was back on the field. With the Phillies taking part in what would become a down-to-the-wire divisional race, McCarver was signed on September 1, 1980 to return as a player. He would serve as a veteran voice in the clubhouse, a lefty pinch-hit bat, and emergency insurance at first base and catcher. Having already appeared in September 1959 and then through the 1960’s and 1970’s, his six September 1980 appearances made him a four-decade player.
McCarver’s final hit came in his final game. It was the day after the Phillies had clinched the division with a dramatic extra-innings victory at Montreal. In that final game of the regular season, McCarver lashed a two-out, two-run double off Steve Ratzer to put the Phillies up 4-2 in a game they would eventually lose 8-7. He was not carried on the postseason roster as the Phillies went on to win the first World Series in franchise history. Instead, he joined the broadcast team in the radio booth for that postseason run.
Over the course of his playing career, McCarver appeared with four organizations: Saint Louis for 12 years, the Phillies for nine, Boston for two, and part of one season with Montreal. He amassed 1,501 hits and had a career .271 average over 6,206 plate appearances. He was an NL All-Star in both 1966 and 1967, leading all of baseball in triples with 13 during that 1966 campaign.
Over the next four decades, McCarver would become one of baseball’s most respected analysts, broadcasting games for all three major networks at various times. He also worked two different Olympic Games broadcasts. And during that time he worked as an analyst at various times for the New York Mets as well as the Cardinals and Phillies.
Retiring from his national broadcasting career after the 2013 season, McCarver continued to appear on a few dozen Cardinals broadcasts each year through 2019. He sat out the full 2020 season due to the COVID pandemic, and then finally announced last April that he had fully retired from broadcasting.
In 2012, McCarver was enshrined into the Baseball Hall of Fame broadcasting wing as winner of the Ford C. Frick Award. He was also a three-time Emmy Award winner as Outstanding Sports Event Analyst.
Phillies owner John Middleton released the following statement:
“The Phillies are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Tim McCarver and extend our most heartfelt condolences to his family, friends, former teammates and colleagues. Tim joined the Phillies at the height of his career and returned for his final six seasons as a veteran leader, helping the club to three straight NLCS appearances and, ultimately, their first-ever World Series title. Following his playing career, fans throughout the world, including here in Philadelphia, listened to him describe their favorite team’s most iconic moments with professionalism and class. For Tim’s leadership, friendship and voice, the Phillies are forever grateful.“
McCarver was married to his high school sweetheart, the former Anne McDaniel, since 1964. The couple has two grown children, Kathy and Kelly. He will be remembered by younger fans as a respected veteran analyst. To those who got to see him play here in Philly, Tim McCarver will also be remembered as a solid role player for the winning Phillies teams of the late-1970’s. May he Rest in Peace.
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12.12.2014 – Grover Cleveland Alexander
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