Sports isn’t the only place where trusted, familiar voices make a difference in our world. I remember an endless string of weekends in the ’70s and ’80s, listening to Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40,” wondering if REO Speedwagon was ever going to supplant Kim Carnes at No. 1.
My father used to go to sleep every night to “The Tonight Show.” He reasoned, “As long as I hear Johnny Carson telling jokes, no matter how lousy the world seems, I figure we’ll be OK.”
But if you are a sports fan, that’s where the voices truly resonate, especially the local ones. When a certain generation of Rangers fans watches a game, there’s still a part of their brain that hears Jim Gordon and Bill “The Big Whistle” Chadwick describing the action. Marv Albert hasn’t called a Knicks game in 19 years, but you can swear that whenever a big basket drops you hear “Yes!” in the back of your subconscious.
That’s the gift Tim McCarver leaves behind. His wasn’t a career highlighted with catch phrases, though there were certain subjects he would hammer again and again — the difference between errors of “omission” and “commission,” never making the first or third outs at third base — that those of us who grew up on him can still recite like the Baltimore Catechism.
When McCarver passed away this week, it wasn’t just an accomplished ballplayer or a famous announcer we mourned, it was someone who most of us never met who had somehow become a good friend because we’d watched so many baseball games together.
I did have the great fortune of knowing McCarver, long after I’d listened to McCarver, long after I’d received the equivalent of a postgraduate baseball degree by listening to him call so many baseball games for so many years.
“I assume I’m not the first person to tell you how much baseball I learned from you,” I told him one time in the press dining room at Yankee Stadium, prior to a Yankees-Red Sox playoff game.
“There are a few things you never get tired of hearing, like when your daughters tell you they love you,” McCarver said. “And when perfect strangers stop me on the street and tell me, ‘You were right. Darryl Strawberry always did play too deep in right field.’ ”
“You get the idea. Their gratitude is humbling to me, it really is. And I want to tell every one of them, it means the world to this old catcher to hear that.”
It’s true, too, by the way. McCarver’s style was one of the things that endeared him to New York baseball fans. He didn’t make excuses for the locals. It used to drive Davey Johnson crazy that every time he’d mention that Strawberry was playing too deep, within seconds Willie McGee or Jody Davis would seemingly dunk a two-run single a few steps in front of him.
McCarver’s death inspired memories of his prescient warning in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series that Joe Torre was playing with fire playing the infield in, a few seconds before Luis Gonzalez blooped one to where Derek Jeter would’ve otherwise made the catch. But he did that all the time. It didn’t endear him. A few years earlier, Frank Torre once confronted him for second-guessing his brother one Sunday afternoon in the Yankee Stadium dugout.
“Frank,” McCarver said, “you know that was a mistake.”
“Sure it was,” Frank admitted. “But why did you have to say it on the air?”
Nobody ever definitively proved that it was Bobby Valentine who finally got McCarver taken off Mets broadcasts, but what is certain is that more than once in McCarver’s last year with them, Valentine would answer a pointed postgame question by saying, “You’re watching too much TV.” No misinterpretation what he was referring to with that one.
Such was McCarver’s appeal that when he finally was forced out of the Mets’ booth — taking his microphone to The Bronx for a few years — even the formidable presence of Tom Seaver, his replacement, couldn’t assuage angry viewers. It was like losing your seatmate at the ballpark. It wasn’t ever the same.
It is good that his work lives on in old YouTube games, where you can see how he helped revitalize the great Ralph Kiner, the two of them playing off each other wonderfully. In its own way, McCarver’s voice for me was like Carson’s to my dad: No matter how lousy the game, McCarver would make it all seem OK. What a gift.
As much fun as it would be to write about the Aaron Rodgers s–tshow next year, the Jets really should sign Derek Carr.
Best wishes and a speedy recovery to the Mets’ first All-Star starter, Ron Hunt, who is recovering from a stroke in a St. Louis area hospital. Hunt is still sixth on the all-time list with 243 career hit-by-pitches. He is expected to be released in the next few days.
I’m way deep into both “1923” and “Shrinking,” which means in my dreams at night I sometimes see Harrison Ford in a cowboy hat, carrying a rifle and inviting me to sit on his couch and pour out my heart to him.
I’ll admit it: I’ve watched that “Breaking Bad” Super Bowl PopCorners ad more than a couple of times this week.
Richard Siegelman: I looked up “crocodile tears” in the dictionary; the entry was illustrated with a photo of Kevin Durant. Then I looked up “loyalty” …
Vac: At least he didn’t say he felt “disrespected” here, so that keeps him a lap or two ahead of the other guy.
Gary Schwartz: As horrible as trading for Frankie Montas is and will be, Brian Cashman not trading for Justin Verlander in 2017 will go down as his worst decision ever. Just imagine.
Vac: Even with the elbow miseries, it’s hard to dispute that one.
@mnolan49: I’m getting the feeling the Knicks will be a very tough out in the playoffs.
@MikeVacc: He added the “fingers crossed” and “praying hands” emojis after this, and that’s appropriate. But also a worthwhile hope.
Hugh McGovern: Great article on the Knicks and Knickanova. Donte DiVincenzo should be available by the end of the year. What a great addition he would be — another hard-nosed, 100 percent-effort player.
Vac: The way things are going, I’d also be on board adding John Pinone, Eddie Pinckney and Tom Greis to the roster, too!
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