With McCarver, you know more, you can say more
Frick Award winner shares vast knowledge from decades of playing, broadcasting
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Newspapers have my heart, always will. You can't swat a bug on the wall or line the bird cage with the internet. And cyberspace makes lousy packing. But papers, the best of them, appear to be beyond the point of diminishing return. As circulations shrink, so do news holes. Column inches always have been a finite quantity anyway, even when print journalism was the primary source of information and before the ink turned red.
"You've got 700 words," the desk would say after a game. And I would plea: "But it was great game, I've got good quotes and I think I've got two elements no one knows." And the response would be "All right, you can have 710."
No one who believes he has something to say easily tolerates such limits.
These days, many of us, the knights of the keyboard, opt for cyberspace because it has a rosier future and only arbitrary limit. We can type 24/7 until Mike Trout has a plaque in Cooperstown and never be restricted by the unyielding truth -- "It won't fit." Deadlines still weigh heavily and sometimes interfere with the creative process. But unrestricted space is a grand blessing.
Radio and television also have limits, as do baseball games; hours and innings respectively. So those who bring the game to us electronically also deal with the frustrations of "It won't fit." No one who believes he has something to say easily tolerates limits of any kind.
All of which brings us to Tim McCarver, who almost always has something -- candid, insightful, valuable, enlightened, baseball-profound and/or entertaining -- to share. Usually he has more to say than will fit in nine innings.
He will receive the Ford C. Frick Award on Saturday and thereby officially become what he has been for decades, a Hall of Fame broadcaster. That McCarver finally is to be recognized for his splendid work in the booth prompts two reactions -- "Why, of course!" and "What in the names of Steve Trachsel and Mike Hargrove took so long?"
A renaissance man and former catcher, McCarver has changed the televised game more than The Babe changed the generic game. He has enriched the baseball intellect of anyone with functional ear drums and a desire to grasp and appreciate all aspects of baseball.
Indeed, what took so long? And too bad he is restricted by the limits on his on-air time.
McCarver has worked enough games -- Phillies games at first, then Mets games from 1983-98, Yankees games for three years, Giants games for one, 22 World Series, 21 All-Star Games and all those other postseason games -- and provided enough insights to drain the brain of your everyday baseball aficionado. But he always has a deep reserve, a residue of perceptions made by a bright man who played the game so well beginning in 1959 and into 1980.
He is one of the few four-decade men the game has known. And during his 22 years wearing a mask and chest protector, he gained 100 years of baseball knowledge. McCarver played with or against Musial, Gibson, Brock, Carlton, Schmidt, Bench, Rose, Spahn, Mays, Banks, Koufax, Mantle, Aaron, Jenkins, McCovey, Berra, Mathews, Cepeda, Marichal, Yastrzemski, et al. And he has reported or commented on hundreds more, often providing insights unknown to the viewing proletariat.
Just the other day, McCarver reminded me that Mays always had manicured fingernails (only the opposing catcher could know for sure) and noted that Aaron always cleared his throat before the first pitch of an at-bat. "You'd hear 'Ahem,'" McCarver said. "And then you'd watch a double."
And he exposed one of the habits of Billy Williams. "He'd put half a stick of gum in his mouth -- not a whole stick when he was in the dugout and about to hit," McCarver said. "When he got to the plate, he'd spit it out, flip the gum in the air and hit it into the visiting dugout. He did it every at-bat."
If McCarver were given the opportunity, he could fill verbal cyberspace with such priceless anecdotes, tales from scores of dugouts, clubhouses, pitchers mounds, charter flights and batter's boxes. And he'd enjoy it.
Some would not, however -- those who don't know James Timothy McCarver but hold him in disdain because, as they say, he talks too much. Goodness, there's even a website, created in 2001, that decries how much he says and even the content. As if they know more.
McCarver's off-base detractors ought to recognize that catchers not only see more of the game than all other players, but they have more responsibility than any player other than, perhaps, the pitcher. They know more, thus they have more to say. McCarver is at his best when nuances of the game must be explained or when he takes his audience into the clubhouse or the dugout.
He knows more than the next guy even when the next guy is Joe Buck or Ralph Kiner or Harry Kalas. Therefore he has more to say. Let the only limits on his genius be those imposed by the length of innings and the needs of his network.
Not every player can move so smoothly from the field to the booth, and fewer are those who then make the move to Cooperstown (see Tony Kubek). The Hall will be better with McCarver in it.
Though he was an effective catcher and serviceable hitter with a strong baseball acumen, his performance as a player prompted little Hall of Fame support -- one year on the ballot. Again, he speaks the truth:
"I don't belong in the Hall as a player," he said last week. "I was a good player, not a great player."
And as a color commentator?
"I do deserve to be in as a broadcaster. My training as a player made me a broadcaster. I learned to think the game. ... I was so influenced by the position I played. You don't realize it, but you're so involved in the game, the choreography of how it's played, that you inadvertently learn the other positions too."
So yield the floor to the catcher's catcher. Learn from him. Let him speak. In this case, let him testify in his own defense. McCarver is aware of the Joe Jones "You talk too much" criticisms directed at his early work in the booth. He has reduced his words-per-inning ratio over the years. Now he thinks he's got it down. And, to make that point, he relies on the Great American Songbook. (He has recorded an album of standards, but that's another story.)
Let his detractors say what they will. His work in the booth has sent him to the Hall of Fame. He uses Ira Gershwin's lyrics of "They All Laughed" as his response:
They all laughed at Christopher Columbus
When he said the world was round
They all laughed when Edison recorded sound
They all laughed at Wilbur and his brother
When they said that man could fly
They told Marconi
Wireless was a phony
It's the same old cry
They laughed at me wanting you
Said I was reaching for the moon
But oh, you came through
Now they'll have to change their tune
They all said we never could be happy
They laughed at us and how!
But ho, ho, ho!
Who's got the last laugh now?
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.