Should we miss Tim McCarver? A point/counterpoint

Hunter Martin

On Wednesday, longtime baseball broadcaster and noted mistake-smith Tim McCarver announced that he will retire after the 2013 season. To Grant Brisbee, he was errant and largely forgettable, and to Jon Bois, he was an errant delight.

WON'T MISS HIM:
Grant Brisbee.

In the end, there was no flame of anger and rage. The malapropisms, the odd banter, the boiling cauldrons of wrong that McCarver reliably tipped over the castle walls and into my living room … it wasn't enough to make me upset anymore. McCarver was a pitcher shaking off signs before the catcher came out for a visit in the middle of an at-bat. He was a fake-to-first, fake-to-third non-pickoff move. He was something I could certainly do without, but he was also something I could ignore.

That's, like, the worst description possible for an announcer.

Think about the job of a color commentator. He has to find something to say every minute of a three-hour game, whether he has something to say or not. Of course he's going to make a lot of slip-ups. Of course he's going to repeat himself, whether by spouting off the same anecdotes or rehashing his same philosophies and views.

And for a while, these things are fresh annoyberries, ripe on the bush, ready to nourish you and, in some sick, perverted way, add to your enjoyment of the game. That kind of odd love/hate relationship lasted for decades. When McCarver would say something like …

In my view, what he was searching for with that bunt, wasn't what the searchee had planned when he picked up the sign from the coach down the third-base line.

… it was spit-take worthy. He never actually said that, but you can read it in his voice, right? And when he said something like that, you might have said, "Whaaat?" and guffawed or rolled your eyes, complaining to the person next you. Complaining? Hell, you were yelling.

Compare that with something Tim McCarver would say today:

/sound of adult talking in Peanuts cartoon

/sound of air conditioner rattling

/sound of the limitless void ... cold and inviting, repugnant and revealing

It's not like I had to train myself to ignore McCarver. It was a callous that built up, covering my delicate sensibilities. When he made a gaffe, for a brief moment my brain would flash something like, "McCarver gonna McCarver", and for a few seconds, I'd be terrified that my brain was speaking in Internet clichés. But then the thoughts would go away, and I'd resume not thinking about McCarver.

The job of color commentator is almost impossible to get right. Either the person needs to be brilliant and endlessly compelling (one in a million) or completely loathsome and annoying. In the end, McCarver was neither. I was too familiar with him. He was Tim McCarver, the rosin bag of announcers. He was a part of baseball, but not a part that I really thought about. I didn't hate Tim McCarver anymore. That was the problem.

WILL MISS HIM:
Jon Bois.

My favorite Tim McCarver moment falls on a Saturday in 2005. Mets reliever Dae-Sung Koo stands in against Randy Johnson, the most intimidating pitcher of his era. Koo's up there in a Starter jacket. It's only the second time he's ever held a bat in the Majors. He takes ball one with flat feet. Strike one hits the middle of the zone, and it seems evident that Koo is happy to walk back down the steps without swinging.

"I'm just gonna go out on a limb," says McCarver, "and say that this is, uh, thus far in this young season, this is the biggest give-up at-bat." Between "at" and "bat," it happens.

McCarver cracks up laughing. Later, Koo and his Starter jacket surprise everyone in the stadium by advancing late on a bunt and sliding in safe at home. You hear Shea Stadium roar, but you also hear McCarver giggling uncontrollably. He is delighted to have been wrong.

Delighted, wrong. The former is an innate quality of McCarver's, the latter is a thing he is a lot. He's probably called Bronson Arroyo "Brandon Arroyo" 40 times by now, which probably matters a lot to a certain set of viewer who can't believe he thought "strike" was a six-letter word. It requires a superhuman to sit in front of a microphone, without a script, and talk for three hours. Perhaps he isn't quite a superhuman.

I certainly thought he was wrong to go after Deion Sanders for playing for the Falcons and Braves on the same day, and when Sanders threw a bucket of water on him during the Braves' NLCS victory celebration a few days later ... maybe McCarver deserved just a little bit of it. But I wince at it today. It's like watching your grandpa get fired from the K-Mart.

McCarver knows a lot, and thinks he knows even more than that. But his delight in the game is what I love about him now, and remember about him when he walks away. "Be happy, love the game, enjoy it." That's a terribly low bar to set for a baseball broadcaster, and it's one that a mess of them bump their heads on every August evening. We listen to you for longer than we call our mothers, so enjoy yourself, appreciate where you are, and know what you are to us, please? Tim McCarver does, and for my entire baseball-watching life, he always has.

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