Tim McCarver

March 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.


  1. for some reason when I was 5, my favorite player was Bruce Kimm, who was Mark Fidrych’s personal catcher.

  2. He’s become Fox’s personal catcher…and he still suuuuuuuuuucks. 🙂

  3. I saw you made that list and thought, Oooh, I get to use my “What, no Troy O’Leary?” joke, but I see you beat me to it… One of my favorite comments ever to come out of another fan’s mouth at Fenway: “Luck o’ the Irish, Troy!”

  4. He wasn’t really a 4-decade player. He retired after the ’79 season and spent it as a Phillies broadcaster. At the end of the year, after the Phillies had clinched, he came back and got into 6 games.

    It was a publicity stunt. Imagine that. He might have played in 4 decades, but he wasn’t a true 4-decade player any more than Minnie Minoso was a 5-decade player.

    Says a lot about McCarver, if you ask me.

  5. Carlton Fisk and Jerry Reuss are also four-decade guys. I liked having players who were in the major leagues years before I was born still playing when I was in college.

  6. kieser78:
    I actually didn’t know the Bird had his own guy. Thanks for that info.

    That seems to be the general consensus. Many years ago, I actually liked him a little, when he used to do Mets games.

    I wonder if O’Leary ever inspired any trips to the ballpark along the lines of one taken by a father of an Italian friend of mine, who along with some other of his Italian buddies trekked to Brooklyn one day to see the guy who was their favorite player because he was exactly like them, Italian. But Roy Campanella was not what they expected. I guess such things tended to happen more in the pre-TV days, but I’m sure more than a few people got confused about Troy. I think, actually, when I read the earliest box scores, I figured Trot Nixon and Troy O’Leary were black and white, respectively.

    Now that you mention that, it sounds familiar. I don’t begrudge McCarver doing it. He had just played the previous year, so it wasn’t quite like Minoso coming back several years after hanging it up. But it’s true, it’s not like Ryan or Williams or (I just thought of him now) Rickey Henderson.

    Any other four-decade guys?

  7. piehead:

    Right, I always forget Fisk with his sip of coffee in ’69! I even once lost a bet about that, embarrassingly. Reuss I had forgotten about, if I ever knew.

  8. Jim Katt.

  9. charlie hough and tommy john almost make it

  10. The baseball-reference bullpen has a list at http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Four-Decade_Players

    I should have known the 1970s-2000s guys, but I never would have guessed Bill Buckner had played in the 60s or the 90s.

  11. I count twelve guys who played in the 1980s who played in a game last year. If Rudy Seanez can hang around until next year, he’d be the most obscure four-decade player.

  12. Thanks for that link, piehead. It’s nice to see on this St. Patty’s Day the Orator O’Rourke was the first 4-decade guy.

  13. FYI, I just got an email from a blogger who had this nice post last year about guys still around from the ’80s:
    I Love the 80s

  14. I always wanted to like Tim McCarver. He clearly loves being around the game, he was a sympathetic figure when Deon Sanders dumped water one him…. but I just can’t stand him doing the games. I think everybody’s on the same page as to why, no need to rehash his failings, I suppose, but mostly, I always associate him more than anybody with the “Captain Calm Eyes” mythology stuff with Jeter.

  15. I think Tim McCarver has a place in baseball..it’s just not on the grand stage of postseason baseball. I think Joe Morgan is fast approaching that realm too. It’s nothing against old people either. With retired players like Al Leiter, Sean Casey, Jim Rice et al who are great or improving by day, they have such a better grasp on the game today. It seems players they interview can discuss things on a much more even level. Also, the more-recent-than-1970s players who decide to get behind the mic seem to have a natural ability to explain things better.

    I think McCarver could be a Pesky-like Ambassador for a few different teams. A link between yesterday & tomorrow. That link shouldn’t make me want to turn the volume off on a playoff game.

  16. McCarver was widely heralded as a breath of fresh air when he started doing Mets games a quarter of a century ago. Unless jocks make the transition to play-by-play (this happens more often in football), I think they have a shelf life in the booth. McCarver could talk about Rusty Staub because he played againnst him. What the hell does he know about John Lester?

  17. To tie McCarver back to Josh Wilker even further than the ex-waitress girlfriend, McCarver wrote the forward to “Stepping Up”, the biography of Curt Flood written by Alex Belth, also formerly of Baseball Toaster.

  18. One way to look at it, there are really only seven true four-decade players — everyone else needed cameo or stunt appearances to qualify. Ranked in order of 1st+4th decade contributions (one humble opinion):

    1. Ted Williams
    2. Nolan Ryan
    3. Jack Quinn
    4. Rickey Henderson
    5. Willie McCovey
    6. Mike Morgan
    7. Jesse Orosco

  19. sansho1:
    Great list. I’d vote for Rickey ahead of Quinn. I have to admit I didn’t know much about Quinn, but when I checked him on BB-ref it looks like he was 9 and 5 in his first decade and 17 and 18 in his 4th. That’s pretty good for a young guy/old guy, but Rickey had a season comparable to a 9 and 5 season in ’79 (33 steals, .279 BA) and in his 4th decade stole 72 bases while keeping his OBP in the .360-.370 range.

  20. Hey Josh. Great to see you still generating delightful and unique prose. I have missed your column for a while, due to a horrendous divorce (for over 18 months now) as you were aware of. (Men NEVER get married!) I’m glad to say I live in Costa Rica now (had to escape). . . and I’ll start reading your wonderful column again.

  21. catfish326:
    Welcome back, dude. I hope Costa Rica is working for you as a nice landing place after that rough passage. Any baseball down there?

  22. “Right, I always forget Fisk with his sip of coffee in ‘69! ”

    His number that year: 40. (Which Dewey Evans also wore at the beginning of his career.)

    There’s a great (color) shot of McCarver from the ’67 WS. It’s him making a basket catch on a foul pop, but all you see is him, and the first few rows of fans. The way he’s standing, it looks like he’s doing some kind of one-man Shakespeare performance, with the crowd all in their ties on the edges of their seats. Can be found on corbis.com. Lots to look at in what at first appears to be a pretty basic shot.

  23. Forgot to mention–it’s at Fenway, not at St. Louis.

  24. Jaime Moyer is signed through next year I believe…that might make him the next obvious one.

  25. Not only was McCarver Carlton’s personal catcher, but you want an even more obscure specialty role in baseball, then try Bill Robinson’s role in the mid-’70s as Carlton’s personal “invisible batter.” Before games, Lefty would warm up with McCarver along the first base line and Robinson would simply stand at “the plate” and enable Carlton to hone his ability to completely block out the hitter!

  26. “They’re playin’ too deep Ralph, I tell ya, they’re playin too deep” – Tim McCarver in roughly every other Mets broadcast, circa 1987.

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