Tim McCarver in 1965 the year after the Cardinals defeated the Yankees in the World Series

I’ve been sending and receiving many texts and emails these past few days from friends discussing the death of baseball player and announcer Tim McCarver. One of the things that touched me the most was that he died in Memphis, where he had been born and raised. To the best of my knowledge he did not live there once his long career began. I assume he returned once he knew the end was near and to come full circle. He was of course a fine ballplayer–you don’t play 20+ seasons in the Majors and win two World Series if you’re not. His biggest contribution to the game though was in the booth. Indeed he is in the Hall of Fame as a broadcaster. The closest parallel to what he accomplished would be John Madden in football. Both simplified the action on the field for listeners without dumbing it down. Fans expect the local broadcasters to be homers on some level, which is natural given that the hometown listeners are by definition the primary audience. McCarver though was unafraid to challenge and call out what he regarded as lackadaisical play. The Mets famously let him go in 1999 after sixteen season due to complaints from players. Think about that.

Some friends of mine once had a brief conversation with him at a Barnes & Noble on the Upper East Side as the they all waited in line to speak to the clerk about finding what they were looking for on the shelves. They said he could not have been more delightful. McCarver wasn’t perfect, because no one is. The tension between him and boothmate Jack Buck was sometimes palpable. And as a friend and I were saying the other day, sometimes the quips and puns were a little forced and premeditated. I suppose there’s a thin line between preparation and spontaneity. Still, as I told my friend, the occasional linguistic overindulgences were a small price for listeners to pay for everything Tim McCarver provided us.