It’s Not Tim McCarver’s Fault You Hate Him

27 Mar

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 principal 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.


Posted by on March 27, 2013 in Deleted Scenes


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7 responses to “It’s Not Tim McCarver’s Fault You Hate Him

  1. Ken King

    July 22, 2013 at 10:06 am

    Cliff, for the record, McCarver was wholly and entirely unlistenable back in the Met’s days as well. You hit a home run when noting that contemporary announcers seem to think that their banter is more important than the play on the field. McCarver originated and perfected this ‘talent’. The sad part of this is that McCarver could – if he shut the heck up – provide quite a bit of germane commentary. But he had to drown the pint of good with hundreds of gallons of unnecessary drivel.

    It is said that the best baseball umpire is invisible throughout the game. So it should be for broadcasters, who are able to give balls, strikes, and a bit of insight without turning the game into their own personal Lady Gaga stage show.

    • qotita

      December 25, 2014 at 5:32 pm

      nope. he was terrific with the mets in the 80s, and got increasingly insufferable over the years. the piece is dead-on.

  2. Ed

    July 24, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    I fully agree – they are treating baseball like football now – you are not allowed to watch the game, you are just being hyped for what’s next, what new shows are coming up on the network, who the stars are and what they are doing off the field, etc. Just let us watch the game, can the shiny graphics, and watch the ratings rise.

  3. Blanche Starbong (@kreider65)

    July 26, 2013 at 3:47 am

    Wrong. He has sucked from the beginning. He was worse early on. How can one have played the game and yet be so inept in his opinions. He has been despised for…ever.

  4. Mr. Wonderful

    July 27, 2013 at 6:58 am

    While I’m not a McCarver fan, your reference to Jon Miller sent shivers up my spine. That clown never shuts up!!!!

  5. chuck

    August 5, 2013 at 11:22 pm

    The fact is, he’s a color commentator who’s not colorful. But we have to give credit where credit is due…he used to be very prescient when it came to situations, noting body languages, tells that would give away a runner taking a steal…..the potential to take an extra base….shading guys….and especially how a Catcher was handling a Pitcher. I learned a good deal from TM, i am 37, and grew up with him from 1980 on. I will not miss him. I will miss Vin Scully.

    Vin is a national treasure, and i wish that teams would open up their minds to having just one easygoing continual voice who had respects for all the proper starts and stops in the action. Two voices is overkill at times, especially if a guy puts in the background work Vin does. Vin tells you stories on every player that comes to bat or pitches….like he grew up across town from the subject of the story. The old booths of Baseball’s golden age had just 1 voice….Barber, Scully, Harwell…i mean ballplayers get paid a ton, this color job money grab has gone on long enough…sometimes it’s like the Naked Gun scene with 13 guys in the booth.

    I live out East and make sure to watch Vin at least 50x a summer….nothing like firing up MLBTHE SHOW on the big screen and firing up Vin on the computer and listening…i don’t even need to watch the game if it’s on TV. Because Vin does the game in such a way that it’s the radio broadcast as well. It’s worth the sleep deprivation.

    Oh yeah, and Vin has said this’ll be it, though he said that last year too….i say a prayer each October to my non-denominational deity, and i ask for one more year of Vin. It’s one of the last bastions of a better era that wasn’t dominated by kneejerk screeching.

  6. TishTash

    July 2, 2014 at 1:27 am

    You guys are all nutso. McCarver was/is great as a broadcaster; you guys can’t see a good thing if it bit you in your ***.


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