Tim McCarverMarch 17, 2009
Very few men have ever spanned four decades in their major league baseball playing careers, and of those few I would hazard to guess that Tim McCarver is the least renowned. The two besides McCarver that I can think of off the top of my head, Nolan Ryan and Ted Williams, are of course both legends. Minnie Minoso actually appeared in major league games in five decades, but when he surfaced in the 1970s for 8 at-bats and again in the 1980s for 2 at-bats he was largely taking part in a publicity gimmick. But Minoso, while not in the league of Williams or Ryan, is in many expert eyes, including those of Bill James, a Hall of Fame caliber player. Tim McCarver on the other hand . . . not so much.
But McCarver was actually pretty damn good for a while, especially in his early days with the stellar Cardinals teams of the 1960s. McCarver even led the league in triples one year, the first catcher to ever do so, and batted .295 in the Cardinals’ World Championship season of 1967. By the time this 1979 card of him giving someone the stink eye came out, he had long since been removed from every day duty, but had lingered on and on because he continued to have value as a guy who could catch once in a while and also swing a decent bat from the left side of the plate. In 1977, for example, a 35-year-old McCarver helped the Phillies win a division title by hitting .320 in a backup role to Bob Boone. His average tapered off to .247 the next year, but he continued to hold down a spot on the Phillies roster because he had by then become the personal receiver for the most valuable pitcher on the team, if not the league, future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton.
In fact, I think of McCarver to this day to be the most famous personal catcher of all personal catchers, even though I have fairly recently lived through my favorite team, the Red Sox, chartering a flight and supplying a police escort from the airport for the newly reacquired Doug Mirabelli, who was being rushed to the park to catch, as no one else had proven able to, the unpredictable fluttering knucklers of his erstwhile personal battery mate, Tim Wakefield. It’s an endearing part of the sport, I think, if you are able to deal with the faintly homoerotic nature of the coupling. The pitcher seems to be the imperious “top” in this scenario, declaring that no one may deign to catch his pitches but a doughy shlub who would be nobody special—and might not even have a job at all—if he hadn’t somehow caught the fancy of the finicky hurler.
Anyway, for whatever reason it exists, I like the idea of a personal receiver. What can I say? I’m a romantic. I always have been, I guess, believing that there’s a match out there for everyone. But lest you think this suddenly sappy post be better suited for Valentine’s Day, rather than for the day it is appearing on, St. Patrick’s Day, let me return briefly to a St. Patrick’s Day thirteen years in the past. Back then, I thought I had found my personal battery mate, but then one night she arrived with a can of beer for me, an anesthetic, and told me that it was over. When dumped, one must go out and have a beer in a bar. You go somewhere dark and you listen to the juke box play songs about broken hearts and you drink. These are the rules. However, this dumping happened to have occurred on St. Patrick’s Day, so I had to sit there trying to drink alone in the midst of throngs of pale screaming revelers in green plastic bowlers and a violent bout of vomiting in their near future. I don’t recommend it.
A couple years later I had another battery mate, briefly, until our pairing ended under the umbrella of another, bigger holiday (there was a fight after the Christmas party held by the restaurant where she worked). Before things fell apart, however, she told me that she once served Tim McCarver at her restaurant. She said he drank a pretty fair portion of wine and that he was not the greatest tipper.
Anyway, happy St. Patty’s day to all. Though Tim McCarver played for the Red Sox for two seasons (amassing just 49 total at-bats), he did not make the cut for the St. Patrick’s Day all-time Irish guy Red Sox team I posted today at Baseball Digest.