Tim McCarver, the longtime FOX broadcaster who has been a staple of Major League Baseball’s national coverage since 1984, announced on Wednesday that 2013 will be his final season in the broadcast booth. McCarver, who will turn 72 this October, has told FOX not to renew his contract after this, its final season, bringing to an end a broadcasting career that netted him the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick award in 2012 but also a legion of detractors.
Indeed, McCarver’s retirement will be greeted with elation by many baseball fans who are embittered by McCarver’s omnipresence in MLB’s national television coverage, including FOX’s Saturday games of the week, the All-Star game and postseason telecasts, and especially the World Series. McCarver has called 23 of the last 28 World Series, including each of the last 13, while broadcasting greats such as Vin Scully, Bob Uecker, Jon Miller, and many others, many of whom have since passed away, have been resigned to the radio or their couches. I share that lament, but I don’t blame McCarver for it. Rather, McCarver’s legacy as a broadcaster has become permanently entwined with FOX’s commandeering of the baseball’s national broadcasts dating back to 1996 and exclusive coverage of the World Series since 2000.
McCarver’s is very much a case of familiarity breeding contempt, something which is one of the principle occupational hazards of baseball broadcasting. Broadcasting baseball, particularly in McCarver’s role as color commentator, requires one to talk largely off-the-cuff for three to four hours at a time. Though the conversation is guided by the action on the field and shared with a play-by-play man, that’s still an incredible amount of time to have to fill. Even if the commentator in question has the taste to know when not to speak and has particularly astute insights to share when he does speak, it won’t take long for him to exhaust his supply of amusing and enlightening anecdotes, his analysis will begin to become repetitive, his inevitable mistakes will pile up, and his personal quirks, faults, and preferences will become magnified over the course of a series, a season, and most certainly a career, and McCarver has been helming national broadcasts since 1980, when he was an alternate on NBC’s Game of the Week.
As someone who grew up in the New York area in the 1980s, McCarver, who called Mets games on WOR Channel 9 starting in 1983, was one of the first voices I heard when I got into the game and remained a daily presence on local broadcasts for the Mets and later the Yankees through the 2001 season (after which he spent a final season calling Giants games before stepping away from local broadcasts). Though my knowledge of the game was just forming at the time, I remember the mid-80s McCarver as an insightful, sharp, and highly regarded analyst. As a fan over the last three decades, I have witnessed a decline in his performance and often longed for a replacement for FOX’s omnipresent lead duo of McCarver and play-by-play man Joe Buck.
McCarver’s retirement only solves half of the problem, if that. Buck will surely persist with a new partner, and there’s no guarantee that McCarver’s replacement will be an upgrade. After all, Joe Morgan’s not all that busy these days and the color man on FOX’s secondary team last season was Eric Karros. What FOX should do is take this opportunity to give baseball fans two new voices. When ESPN finally removed Morgan from their Sunday night broadcasts after the 2010 season, they got rid of the excellent Miller simultaneously and brought in an outstanding new team led by Dan Schulman and Orel Hershiser (though they are taking a step back this year, filling the third chair vacated by Terry Francona with John Kruk, more evidence that it could get worse than McCarver).
Even then, FOX’s broadcasters are only a small part of what’s wrong with its baseball broadcasts. It’s the cumulative effect of overblown graphics, gimmicks, self-promotion, a patronizing tone (of which McCarver, admittedly, was often guilty), and a general sense that the action on the field was the least-interesting part of the program and unable to hold viewer’s attention on its own merits, all compounded by the blackouts, late start times, and extended commercial breaks dictated by the network, that trained us to cringe at the sound of McCarver’s Memphis twang. Compare a game broadcast on FOX to one broadcast on the MLB Network, which seems to truly love and value the game on the field, and the difference is stark.
I’m not saying the criticisms of McCarver weren’t valid. His retirement is clearly coming several years too late, but FOX’s baseball broadcasts seem unlikely to improve without him, not unless they take this opportunity to alter their entire approach to the game. Say what you want about McCarver as a broadcaster, but you can’t argue that Tim McCarver doesn’t love baseball.