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Category Archives: Deleted Scenes

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

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.

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2013 in Deleted Scenes

 

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Deleted Scenes: The 2012 Oakland A’s

When Spring Training 2012 began I wrote a series of six articles for SI.com, one for each division, that took a look at the “big question” “big battle” and “big prospect” for all 30 teams. I wrote the AL West first, because the A’s and Mariners were opening the season early in Japan. In the short time between when I submitted it and when it was published, the A’s signed Yoenis Cespedes, forcing me to scrap my “big question” section for something on Cespedes. With the A’s having clinched a playoff berth Monday night, I thought it would be interesting to see what wound up getting scrapped. Here it is:

Oakland Athletics

The Big Question: How much of a step back did the A’s really take? Hope springs eternal in February, and in that spirit, it’s possible to squint at the A’s 2012 roster and see a team that hasn’t lost much ground compared to the year before despite trading Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, and Andrew Bailey and losing Josh Willingham, David DeJesus, and, eventually, Hideki Matsui to free agency. It might not happen this year, but Jarrod Parker, obtained from the Diamondbacks for Cahill, could be as good or better than Gonzalez. Brad Peacock, part of the package received from the Nationals for Gonzalez, could be as good or better than Cahill. Brian Fuentes has plenty of experience closing ball games. Free agent signings Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes could form a platoon that is more productive than Willingham was last year (see below), and DeJesus and Matsui had lousy seasons last year, setting the bar low for new right fielder Josh Reddick, acquired from Boston in the Bailey deal, and whoever fills Matsui’s spot in the lineup.

I didn’t exactly nail it. Peacock was lit up in the Pacific Coast League and didn’t throw a single pitch for the A’s. Fuentes saved just five games before being released in mid-July. Gonzalez was a Cy Young candidate for the Nationals (though Parker did compare favorably to Cahill). Meanwhile, the A’s won just 74 games in 2011, so “hasn’t lost much ground” is still a huge miss, but I feel as though I was one of the few mainstream writers who was even remotely positive about the A’s offseason, at least prior to the Cespedes signing (you know, the guy who filled Matsui’s spot in the lineup). Here’s the version that was published in February.

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2012 in Deleted Scenes

 

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Deleted Scenes: It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over

The following is a previously unavailable portion of my chapter on the 1964 National League pennant race from the Baseball Prospectus book It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over. Though portions of what follows, including the entire first and last paragraph, included here for context, did make it into the book, most of this background information on the changes in the Phillies’ ownership during World War II, the contemporaneous state of race relations in the city, and the Phillies’ and Athletics’ refusal to integrate, was cut.

That stretch, from 1918 to 1948, was the worst period of losing that any major league franchise has ever endured, expansion included. Just once in that span did the Phils finish above .500, that coming in 1932 when they were 78-76. Their fourth place finish that year was also their best of that era. Along the way, they suffered five separate seasons in which the club failed to win 30 percent of it’s games, including a combined .279 winning percentage in the nearly identically dismal seasons of 1941 and 1942.  The Phillies’ five-year streak of 100-loss seasons from 1938 to 1942 remains a major league record.

It was in this atmosphere that the team and its city missed a historic opportunity. As the game’s top stars went off to war, the competition in the all-white major leagues was declining. Connie Mack’s Athletics, with whom the Phillies shared a city and Shibe Park, were rivaling the futility of their NL counterparts, and Phillies owner Gerry Nugent had accrued $256,000 in debt. With Nugent looking to sell, both Bill Veeck, the 28-year-old owner of the minor league Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association, and Eddie Gottlieb, owner of the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro National League and later a key figure in the creation of the National Basketball Association, attempted to buy the team. Both men planned to stock the club with the Negro Leagues’ best players.

Had either succeeded, they not only would have integrated baseball four years before Branch Rickey eventually did with the Dodgers, but, given the quality of play in the war-time major leagues, would have all but guaranteed the Phillies their first World Championship. In his autobiography, Veeck as in Wreck, Veeck claimed that his plans were foiled when he made the fatal mistake of informing Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis of his intentions as a courtesy. Whether or not that’s true, Landis handed control of the Phillies over to NL President Ford Frick, who promptly sold the team to a group headed by lumber dealer William D. Cox, a good friend of Branch Rickey’s.  After two seasons, Cox was banned from baseball by Landis for betting on his team. Cox’s share was subsequently purchased by 28-year-old DuPont heir Bob Carpenter.

Four years after Veeck and Gottlieb’s plans were foiled, Rickey put Jackie Robinson in a Dodger uniform and Robinson immediately led Brooklyn to the pennant, their first of six in Robinson’s ten years with the team. Then a curious thing happened. Although Carpenter declined to have his team participate in Rickey’s noble experiment, the Phillies became competitive in its wake. After an 81-73 third place finish in 1949, the club’s first winning season since 1932 and best record since 1917, the Phillies came out of nowhere to win the 1950 pennant with a young team lead by 23-year-old future Hall of Famers Robin Roberts and Richie Ashburn and 25-year-old slugger Del Ennis. Philadelphia’s “Whiz Kids” were swept by the Yankees in the World Series that year, but, in a cruelly ironic twist, the fact that the Phillies went to their second-ever World Series with an all-white team that also happened to be the youngest pennant-winning team ever emboldened the franchise against integration.

Philadelphia, which sits just 15 miles north of the Mason-Dixon line, has a complicated racial history. By 1920, Philadelphia was home to the largest African-American population in the United States, a population which nearly doubled in both sheer number and as a percentage of the city’s total population by 1940. In August 1944, during Cox’s ownership of the Phillies, the Fair Employment Practices Committee ordered the Philadelphia Transportation Company to promote blacks to the then all-white positions of driver and conductor, resulting a city-wide strike of more than 10,000 white transportation workers that devolved into violence forcing President Roosevelt to send in federal troops to restore order. Three years later, the mistreatment of Jackie Robinson during his rookie year by the Phillies, led in practice by manager Ben Chapman an in spirit by general manager Herb Pennock, was far beyond what he experienced anywhere else.

As Philadelphia’s black population, originally concentrated in the area just south of Shibe Park known as Lower North Philadelphia, began to migrate north (in part due to misguided urban renewal efforts that demolished old housing without plans to build anew), the city’s failing baseball franchises refused the obvious salvation that Veeck had envisioned a decade earlier. Octogenarian Athletics owner Connie Mack passed on opportunities to sign Larry Doby, Minnie Minoso, and Hank Aaron before being forced into retirement by his sons after the 1950 season. The A’s finally integrated in September of 1953, but, having missed its opportunity, the team fell on such hard times that Mack’s sons opted to sell the franchise following the 1954 season. New owner Arnold M. Johnson moved the club to Kansas City, where it would become best known for funneling talented players (most of them white) to Casey Stengel’s Yankees. The Athletics left Philadelphia having employed just two players of color, just one of them African American. The Phillies stayed put and were even less progressive.

Having dethroned the integrated Dodgers of Robinson, Don Newcomb, and Roy Campanella (the last a Philadelphia native who attempted to sign with the Phillies under Nugent) with the all-white Whiz Kids, Carpenter, who assumed the role of general manager after Pennock’s death in 1948, foresaw the dawning of a new era for his club. Instead, his obstinance would be the team’s undoing, and the 1950 pennant would be the last won by an unintegrated National League team.

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2012 in Deleted Scenes

 

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