McCarver’s Special Bond With Hall Of Fame Pitchers
Tim McCarver understands hall of fame pitching.
21 MLB seasons. 1,300-plus games as a catcher, McCarver played with the best of them. Having worn the uniform of four different clubs during four different decades, first as a 17-year-old with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1959 and last as a Philadelphia Phillie in the fall of 1980 at 38, throughout his celebrated career, McCarver seemingly was always surrounded by teammates who would be Cooperstown, New York-bound.
With the Cardinals, one of the game's greatest hitters of all-time Stan Musial was a teammate with a willingness to offer tips for his work in the batter's box, during their parts of four seasons together.
Bob Gibson, as feared a pitcher who has ever toed the pitching rubber, and McCarver were batterymates for one dozen seasons as Cardinals. 3,000 strikeouts and 251 victories later, in 1981 "Gibby" was elected to the Hall.
During the mid-1970's, for four seasons, McCarver caught another future hall of famer when playing in the "City of Brotherly Love." Jim Kaat, with 25 seasons of service time in the big leagues beginning back in 1959 as a Washington Senator, is part of the Hall of Fame's Class of 2022. On the grounds of the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, come Induction Day July 24 this summer, McCarver is planning to be in attendance for his friend and former teammate's big day.
And just as making the trip to Central New York from his home in Sarasota, Florida to show support of "Kitty", getting to see another former Phillie teammate who made it to Cooperstown Michael Jack Schmidt, and relive memories of Cardinals he shared locker rooms with, his late manager Red Schoendienst and teammate Lou Brock, plus there's another person McCarver surely will be found sharing stories from the past with.
"Lefty" Steve Carlton (Class of 1994), winner of four Cy Young Awards, selected for 10 All-Star Games, winner of two World Series championships, 329 MLB victories, and collecting more than 4,000 strikeouts, in all likelihood will be among baseball's returning elite to Cooperstown.
Carlton and McCarver have history together.
" On every level," McCarver said earlier this week during a phone conversation of his playing days connection with the hall of fame hurler. " We never had to explain ourselves."
When asked for an ingredient to the success ratio when he was behind the plate and "Lefty" on the mound, McCarver sums up their results "very simply."
" I called for a slider more than the other catchers. I knew that was his special pitch, at very young time when we played together, beginning in 1967."
St. Louis won the 1967 World Series in seven games over the Boston Red Sox.
Saying they were "spirits that got along", during their times as teammates, McCarver recalls he and "Lefty" going everywhere together. As seasons passed, McCarver, for all intents and purposes, became "Lefty's" personal catcher. It just morphed into a comfortable, and winning pairing.
" They had nothing to do with it," McCarver tells of his Cardinals and Phillies managers purposely matching them up. " He ("Lefty") would just come up to me and say, "Let's win today."
It's clear when listening to McCarver during the early morning hours speak of his pitching pal of decades back, the connection remains solid. The memories even more special. He carefully labels his time on the field with "Lefty" as "very special", no question. Today, living in Southwest Florida, at 80, McCarver, a member of the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame, has very distinct reminders of the wear and tear his body was subjected to from his playing days.
"It may seem, at first, like it all happened in the blink of an eye, but I've had my right knee replaced, and then I think of my other knee that should be replaced. That's when I think otherwise."
The seasons of the "Lefty" and Tim show on dirt remain special to both men. In June, there is a book coming out on their forever connection to one another - "Lefty" and Tim: How Steve Carlton and Tim McCarver Became Baseball's Best Battery (Triumph Books).
After his playing days, McCarver, who has a Triple-A ballpark named in his honor in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, enjoyed success in broadcasting. For FOX, ABC, and CBS, McCarver called 24 World Series, 20 All-Star Games, and earned several Emmy Awards for Outstanding Sports Event Analyst.
In 2012 the Ford C. Frick Award, presented to a broadcaster for their major contributions to baseball, was voted on to McCarver.
The reunion among friends this summer in Cooperstown, with McCarver traveling from Florida, "Lefty" coming in from Colorado, and Kaat driving from Vermont, for that weekend, it's a safe bet that they will go back to the future, and once again feel their playing days ages.
Boys will be boys, knee replacements not withstanding.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter from the Mohawk Valley, now living in Florida. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.