St. Louis Post-Dispatch - April 18, 1980

Tim McCarver:  At Peace With His Past And Present


By Tom Barnidge


Tim McCarver, catcher-turned-broadcaster, pondered the question with deep, probing thought. How much different did the game appear from his new perch in the press box?


"There is one thing that I see now that I never saw from behind the plate," he volunteered, with a poignant pause. "Fans' backs."


What does he most enjoy about his new life away from the locker room?


"Showering alone," he answered.


And what is his most difficult task?


"Calling the pitches," he said.


"Of course, I had trouble with that when I was playing, too."


The athletic divorce – player from his game – is a sometimes-traumatic, often-saddening sight. Retirement has such a ring of finality. Regret is such a ready commodity. The transition at hand requires more than removal of jersey.


It can be fairly reported, however, that Tim McCarver, late of the Philadelphia Phillies, has fallen prey to none of the pitfalls of parting. He is, as his sense of humor suggests, at peace with his past and his present. The game hasn't changed, after all. It's just his role that's changed.


"I haven't allowed it to bother me," the former Cardinal said at Busch Stadium the other day. "I've kept myself busy, and I've stayed close enough to baseball that I'm still involved.


"Some contend that managing is the next-best thing to playing. I contend this job is. I'm out of uniform, but I'm still in the game."


McCarver's job is behind the microphone with the Phillies' radio and television broadcast teams, which means that he finds himself in a sometimes-delicate situation. The players that he critiques were teammates only a season ago. The pitchers that he analyzes are still off-field friends.


"I don't imagine that I'm as objective as I will be in live or 10 years," he admitted. "I'm still awfully close to the guys. But you have to be honest.


"Your praise won't be worth much unless you're able to criticize, too. I'm not a critical person by nature, but when a guy screws up, he screws up. You have to be able to talk about the errors."


As the season progresses, McCarver will be doing more and more of the talking, too. His employers recognize a marketability in his name and his style. His ability to analyze is a yet-untapped asset. So, when Phillies home games are dispersed over cable television this season, McCarver will be at the microphone. When radio and TV provide simulcasts, he'll handle five innings per game.


For the moment, he is color commentator. But play-by-play duties are just around the next base.


"The job doesn't frighten me," he said, "but I'll admit to being a little apprehensive. These are things I haven't done before. It's like being a rookie all over again. "


McCarver has not been a rookie, of course, since 1959, a year that looms with more significance than immediately apparent. Because he appeared in the major leagues that season, because his career spanned the '60s and '70s and because the '80s have now dawned, he is within one major league appearance of a milestone. Tim McCarver could become a four-decade performer – and the only catcher in baseball history to do so.


The eventuality has not escaped his notice. Nor the Phillies'. Already, the club has indicated its readiness to welcome the old catcher back on the roster when the player limit expands to 40 in September.


McCarver smiled wistfully at the possibility. It is a record he would like to set, he conceded. Still, there are several ifs and buts to be considered. "If it's tasteful for me to join them again, I'd like to to do it," he said. "If I'm in decent shape and if my hand-eye coordination won't embarrass me, I'd welcome the chance. They're leaving it up to me, and I'm glad for that. I haven't made up my mind yet."


Tim McCarver clings tightly to his pride. He said he'd like to be remembered as a "conscientious" ballplayer. He files away each of his seasons with a certain dignity and respect.


"While you're playing the game," he said, "you always hear players moaning and groaning about how tough they have it. But when you get out of it and have to lead a normal life, you learn how good that life was.


"Baseball players are pampered. They travel with their friends. They work in a happy environment. It's not a real world."


So, it's easy to reflect with fondness on the other life he lived. And McCarver does so, without reluctance.


"The best team I ever played on," McCarver said, "was the '67 Cardinals. That team got the absolute most out of its ability.


"As far as talent goes, there probably are four teams in the division right now that have more than we did then. But as far as playing together, nobody could match us. Maxie and Javier on the double play... Gibson on the mound... and Shannon, learning to play third base. You could see the intensity on his face. That team just never made any mistakes."


It was, by McCarver's reckoning, the most agreeable, adaptable atmosphere he experienced in all those decades on the field.


And Tim McCarver has had a few experiences worth remembering. He played on World Series teams in 1964, 1967 and 1968. He played on division winners in 1976, 1977 and 1978. He played in the National League, he played in the American League and he played in two All-Star games.


A pretty lucky guy, by baseball standards.


McCarver agreed, but only partially.


"You know what they say about fate," he said. "Fate is the residue of design.


"No question, opportunity has been on my side. But I think it was more than chance that I wound up on all those clubs. In sports, you have a chance to determine your destiny."


The words slipped through the air neatly, propelled by the voice of a professional. McCarver has been that, without question.


On the field. And now off.