Show: FRESH AIR
Date: AUGUST 07, 1998
Head: Marty Moss-Coane Interviews Former Major League Player Tim McCarver
MARTY MOSS-COANE, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Marty Moss-Coane sitting in for Terry Gross.
Tim McCarver knows baseball from the inside and out. From 1959 to 1980, he was a Major League catcher, playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Montreal Expos and the Boston Red Sox. During those 21 years, he distinguished himself on the field and ended his career with a 0.271 lifetime batting average.
Not long after he retired from baseball, McCarver was hired by the Mets as a member of their broadcast team. Now, you can catch him doing analysis for the game of the week, the all-star game and Fox Television.
As an announcer, McCarver is known for his candor, his ability to turn a clever phrase, and his deep understanding of the physics and psychology of the game. He also writes about baseball, and earlier this year, came out with book: "Baseball for Brain Surgeons and Other Fans."
I asked Tim McCarver what it was like to go from playing to talking about the game.
TIM MCCARVER, BASEBALL ANNOUNCER; AUTHOR OF "BASEBALL FOR BRAIN SURGEONS AND OTHER FANS": It's a different ballgame from upstairs. Not only do you have -- do you have obviously nothing to do with the game or the outcome of the game, you see the game differently.
Often, the dugouts of Major League Baseball fields are the worst places to view a baseball game when you're -- when you're looking to see if an outfielder is playing straight away; if an outfielder is shading a hitter to pull; or if he's shading him the other way. Sometimes your focus is confusing when you look at it from the dugout.
When you look at it from upstairs, the view of the game is different. You see -- you see more of an overall -- a team concept.
MOSS-COANE: Now, as a broadcaster, you work standing up. Are you just too antsy, too excited to sit in a chair during a game?
MCCARVER: I squatted for 21 years.
MOSS-COANE: So you're happy to stand up.
MCCARVER: And so I'm finally standing up in life. You know, I caught from the time I was 10 years old. I turned professional when I was 17, out of high school. And then I caught professionally for 21 years. So, that's 28 years or 29 years on your haunches.
And I was a fast runner when I broke in. I was not a fast runner when I retired because the ordeal and the grueling position of catching takes its toll primarily on the ankles and the knees, and you don't really have a chance to stretch your legs out as much as you would like to.
But I did a lot of stretching the last five years of my career, but it's still a very, very difficult position. And that, I think, is one of the reasons that I stand up when I broadcast.
MOSS-COANE: Well, you talk about the importance as a catcher of -- when a runner's coming home, of standing on home plate.
MCCARVER: Mm-hmm. Of blocking...
MOSS-COANE: Of blocking home.
MCCARVER: ... the plate.
MCCARVER: Of putting -- I see a diminishing number of catchers blocking home plate. The last catcher that was terrific at doing so was Mike Soccia (ph) of the Los Angeles Dodgers. I've talked to Mike extensively about that, and the catchers that put their weight on their -- on their left leg when receiving throws from either left, center or right field can ward off baserunners in that fashion.
If you put your leg on -- if you put your weight on your right leg, as an example, you can have your left leg in the baseline. But when the runner slides straight in, and these guys are going full speed, and you're standing still, they can spin that left leg out of their, and that's why it's very important to keep the weight on the left leg.
But there are a number of catchers who don't do that. They make swipe tags with that catcher's mitt, and I think it's the wrong way to go about it. And unfortunately, I see more and more of that today -- the swipe-tags at home plate -- instead of guys who just hang in there and take their punishment.
An interesting story, back in the early '70s -- and I've said this during the broadcast many times, the Met broadcast -- that Tommy Agee actually stuck in my shinguards two different times, to give you an idea of the force that a runner has when he comes into a catcher.
MOSS-COANE: And by that you mean his -- his cleats...
MCCARVER: His spikes.
MOSS-COANE: ... his spikes were in your shinguard?
MCCARVER: His spikes were actually in my shinguards and it loosened the spikes from the shinguards. I had to take the shinguards off. But that gives you an idea of why -- why a lot of catchers have knee problems and stuff like that because of -- you know, Tommy Agee was a 215-pound, 6' 2" with thighs like most players' waists. He was big. He was fast. And that's a perfectly clean play.
And interestingly, Tommy Agee told me about three years ago that the guy who taught him how to do that was a catcher, John Roseboro of the Dodgers.
Catchers shouldn't teach runners how to slide into them.
MOSS-COANE: And that comes from a former catcher -- our guest today Tim McCarver. He's now a baseball analyst. He played in the major leagues for 21 years, and he's just written a book called Tim McCarver's "Baseball for Brain Surgeons and Other Fans."
Well, let me get to the -- the pitcher-catcher relationship, because as you write about it, it seems that it's the job of the catcher to handle the pitcher and to, I think as you say, to keep them honest. You're also quoted as saying that the catcher's job is to cut through the crap, which I assume is to keep it to the kind of essence of baseball.
You caught for both Steve Carlton and Bob Gibson. How -- how different were they? And how did you handle each of their personalities? And they're very different personalities.
MCCARVER: Yeah. Very different. Bob Gibson, perhaps the most aggressive, dynamic personality that I've ever run into in my life, on or off the field -- he was also a very gifted athlete. He played three years for the Harlem Globetrotters in his early days while he was still a young pitcher out of Creighton University in Omaha.
He was very difficult to handle when I was young. Bob found me very difficult to handle, too, and we clashed.
And now, I think Bob -- I consider Bob Gibson one of my top five friends in life. You become very, very close to the pitchers, but just because you're close friends doesn't mean that -- that pitchers snapping at catchers or catchers snapping at pitchers doesn't happen all the time.
In 1965, there were -- it was a 1-1 game in the eighth inning at old Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, and there were two men on -- second and third.
We elected -- "we" meaning Bob Gibson -- elected to pitch to Roberto Clemente. He hit a fast fall on the outside corner, as Clemente could do. He hit it about a 38-hopper through the hole on the right side, two runners scored. And that made the score 3-1 Pittsburgh.
Well, Bob Gibson went to back me up, and as he's going back to the mound, he said -- and no expletives deleted or anything like this, and no profanity -- but there was profanity when he said, "You've got more than one finger back there," which meant that I could call for something other than a fast ball.
MCCARVER: And I said, "You've also got a head on your shoulders, and you can shake me off if you like, also." And we were arguing to the point where both of us dropped our gloves between home and the pitcher's mound and almost came to blows. And I didn't speak to him until his next start.
MOSS-COANE: Well, let me ask you, too, about the trepidation you used to feel when you had to go out to the mound to talk to Bob Gibson, 'cause he never wanted to hear anything you had to say.
MCCARVER: No, he didn't. Bob was never intimidated by anybody -- by managers, by opposing hitters or anything.
I went out to the mound to try and slow him down, because I was encouraged to do that by our manager Johnny Keene (ph). Well, Bob used to like to work very rapidly.
MCCARVER: They called him "Rapid Robert," as a matter of fact. Rapid Robert Gibson was called that because he worked so quickly.
And sometimes, he would actually go into his windup before I put the signs down -- meaning he threw everything for the most part at the same speed. But he loved to work fast.
Well, I went out to the mound, and I said: "Bob, I'm out here to slow you down." And he said: "Get on back behind the plate. The only thing that you know about pitching is that it's hard to hit."
I didn't like to hear that. Johnny Keene continued to try to encourage me to slow him down, and I told John: "Look, he doesn't want to be slowed down. If you want to slow him down, you slow him down. Don't be telling me to do it."
MOSS-COANE: You also say some interesting things about Steve Carlton and his ability to concentrate, and that when he was pitching, he essentially made the batter disappear -- that it was you and he playing this rather sophisticated game of catch.
MCCARVER: That's -- that was one of Steve's lines before the game. He would say: "Timmy, let's go play some pitch and catch."
MCCARVER: It was almost as...
MOSS-COANE: Forget -- forget the batter, right?
MCCARVER: Forget the batter. The batter was almost like some alien that had plopped down with a piece of wood in his hands. And if -- the obvious inference there is that if Steve makes his pitch, nobody's going to hit it. But Steve Carlton was ahead of his time as far as his imagery was concerned.
He would sit in the clubhouse, and he would visualize the outside two inches of the plate and the inside two inches of the plate with the theory that if he did that, he would stay away from the middle 13 inches of the plate.
And you know what? He didn't throw too many balls down the middle of the plate.
MOSS-COANE: That's interesting.
MCCARVER: The plate's 17 inches wide, but only four inches are the pitcher's -- the outside two and the inside two.
MOSS-COANE: And he said he rarely ever heard the crowd. I know he rarely ever acknowledged the crowd.
MCCARVER: He wore earplugs.
MOSS-COANE: Right. Just to be able to focus that kind of attention to what he had to do, I assume.
MCCARVER: Either focus on keeping the crowd out of his ears or me.
MOSS-COANE: I'm curious about something that you write about, which is the catcher trying to influence the umpire, and even making comments as the pitcher is pitching the ball, hoping somehow to, I don't know, I guess, put some sort of influence into the -- into the umpire's brain. Did you do that a lot?
MCCARVER: I think all catchers try to persuade the umpire through body movement, through the movement of the mitt, or through something that could be said while the ball is on the way to the plate. For instance, if -- if on an 0-2 pitch or a 1-2 pitch -- one ball and two strike pitch -- you are sitting outside the strike zone, and you know that the pitcher is going to throw to your glove outside the strike zone -- say, two inches off the outside part of the plate -- as the ball is on its way, by saying, "Yes, sir," you would perhaps influence an umpire to call the pitch a strike, even though the pitch is two inches outside, because primarily the pitcher is hitting your mitt and the umpire doesn't think that you would set up in an area where the pitch is not a strike, because normally you wouldn't do that.
But since you're ahead in the count, you have the luxury of sitting outside the strike zone, and perhaps either having the umpire call the ball a strike, or having the hitter swing at a ball, and perhaps hitting it off the end of the bat and thereby keeping the ball off the fat part of the bat.
So there are ways to influence umpires, but most of the umpires know the tricks. I think the younger the umpire, the more influenced he is; the older the catcher, the more he can influence an umpire...
MCCARVER: ... which makes kind of -- you know, makes all the sense in the world.
MOSS-COANE: As a catcher, can you actually see the ball come in?
MCCARVER: Are you kidding? You better be able to see it.
MOSS-COANE: Well -- and I guess by that I mean I know you see it, but I'm -- what I mean, I guess, is see it in all its detail or...
MCCARVER: Absolutely. You can see the seams on it. You can see the -- No. 1, you know the movement of the pitch.
MCCARVER: You perhaps have caught this pitcher -- in Gibson's case, in Carlton's case, I caught them nine or 10 years, and you're talking 35 to 40 starts a year. In those days, there were four-man rotations. So you -- 35 to 40 starts a year, and in every game, they threw anywhere from 110 to 135 pitches.
So you know these pitchers very, very well. You know what they're pitches do. Now obviously, they're not going to do the same thing all the time. But they do have -- they have tendencies.
Bob Gibson's slider was a big slider, for instance. Steve Carlton's slider was a tightly wrapped spin.
Bob Gibson's slider coming in with the seams as they rotated was more of a quarter or half-dollar spin. That's normally -- and what I mean by that is that the seams spun in a loose fashion and the appearance was that you could fit a quarter in this spinning fashion or in this -- the spin of the baseball because of the seams.
And what that meant was it was loosely gripped. Steve Carlton, on the other hand, had a slider whose spin was so tightly wrapped that the spin looked like a dime -- that you could fit a dime on the tightly wrapped slider.
Now, normally speaking, the dime spin on a slider is the best pitch to throw because it has more movement. But in Gibson's -- in Gibson's case, his slider was so erratic and unusual that it actually served better for him because of its erratic movement.
It would back up occasionally. It would slam -- it would break a foot, sometimes. When he struck out Willy Horton (ph) to end the first game of the 1968 World Series, for example, he set a Major League record for strikeouts in a single World Series game -- 17.
MCCARVER: It was a remarkable accomplishment. And Willy Horton -- to this day, I can still hear Willy Horton go "Umph." He thought the ball had hit him, and the ball was a strike over the middle of the plate. That's how much the ball broke.
MOSS-COANE: We'll talk more with Tim McCarver after a short break.
This is FRESH AIR.
Tim McCarver is our guest, and his book is called "Baseball for Brain Surgeons and Other Fans." And he's a baseball analyst for TV and played major leagues for 21 years.
You grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. You were one of five children. And it actually was your sister, as I understand it, that really taught you to play baseball. Is that true?
MCCARVER: My sister -- Marilyn -- was perhaps the best athlete in our family. Of the five children, four were boys. I was the next to the last. My sister was the next to the oldest. And all of my brothers were right-handed throwers and hitters. I was a right-handed thrower, but at 4-years-old, you don't really realize whether you're going to be a left-handed hitter or a right-handed hitter.
And she used to take me and roll groundballs to me, from about 10 feet, and I would swing at these ground balls left-handed and became very adept. I never really knew how to hit right-handed because she wanted me to be different. And sure enough, I had an inclination to hit left-handed, and that's why I do everything else right-handed, but swing a bat 20 years ago and swing a golf club now.
MOSS-COANE: Do you think she was right to do that at a very young age?
MCCARVER: I thought she was left to do that.
MOSS-COANE: But did it turn out that that was good advice for you?
MCCARVER: Oh, I think so.
MCCARVER: I mean, I think left-handed hitters in baseball have a decided advantage. My broadcasting partner, Ralph Kiner, says that the reason left-handers have an advantage is that they're closer to first base. Very simple, really.
MOSS-COANE: Interesting, interesting. Now, you started in the majors right out of high school. How ready were you at the age of 17 to be a professional baseball player? How much did you know about the world?
MCCARVER: The farthest...
MOSS-COANE: I guess not much, right?
MCCARVER: ... the farthest west I'd ever been was West Memphis.
MCCARVER: And I'm saying that seriously. I didn't travel that much as a kid -- didn't have the money to travel anywhere. But I was -- I was as green as green could be. Nine days after I graduated from high school, I started my career in Keokuk, Iowa.
And later that year, I was to go to Rochester, and I joined the major league club, the St. Louis Cardinals, in Milwaukee. And my -- I think from an illiterate -- I couldn't talk real well until I was about 7 years old. I was "tongue-tied," as we used to call it.
And I could not pronounce my S's. I would...
(SOUNDBITE OF LISPING)
... for my S's. S's came out as a "t-h." And the -- I was a huge baseball fan because my sister -- and we used to listen to Harry Caray of the Cardinals in Memphis only 290 miles away. And the name that was easy for me to pronounce was -- was Hank Aaron. And I guess if I had an idol, Monty Irvin (ph) and Hank Aaron -- they were easy for me to pronounce. So I came up thinking that Hank Aaron and Monty Irvin were my favorite players, without knowing their credentials.
Well, as I was sitting on the bench in Milwaukee for my first game in a gray Cardinal uniform, Aaron came up and I -- I yelled "Come on, Henry." Well, obviously, I'm a St. Louis Cardinal -- a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. And Alex Grammis (ph) came over. He was a shortstop for the Cardinals in those days. And he said, "Up here, son, we root for our own teammates, not for the other guys."
It was very embarrassing. But I was very green. I spent parts of 1959, '60 and '61 with the big team. And then in 1963, I was with the Cardinals to stay for a number of years.
MOSS-COANE: Were there initiations or hazing for you or things that...
MCCARVER: Oh, yes.
MOSS-COANE: ... to sort of get you into adulthood, I guess?
MCCARVER: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I did not have a part in my hair 'til I was 23 years old. I wore a crewcut. And I think my first -- my first road trip as a Major League player, I had on wingtips -- brown wingtips -- yellow socks, gray slacks, this off-kind of an orange-red banlon shirt that was in style in those days, and a plaid sportcoat.
MOSS-COANE: Oh, I bet you thought you looked just great, too.
MCCARVER: Oh, I was styling, let me tell you. And Bob Nieman, who was an outfielder, called me "bush." And for about two years, that name hung with me, and "bush" is obviously the connotation of that -- is that you're a "bush leaguer," which was a denigrating term, but I didn't realize the significance of the term because I was too green to understand. And it was all done in fun, and not only did I allow it, but I was kind of proud of that name.
MOSS-COANE: Hmm. Well, final question to you -- what's your favorite time in a ballpark?
MCCARVER: During the game -- when the game's going on. I -- you know, I love the game. I love the nuances of the game. I love to watch the things that are away from the ball.
I think one of the great exercises that fans could perhaps enjoy at a baseball game is like you may zero in on an interior lineman in football -- a pulling guard, for instance -- instead of the guy with the ball -- is to divert your attention away from the ball and look what the center fielder's doing when he's playing the count, for instance.
By that, I mean if the batter is ahead in the count, the center fielder would play him more to pull. If the batter is behind in the count, because he's in a defensive posture, he would play more to hit the ball the other way.
Andy Van Slyke was particularly adept at that particular defensive positioning. Things of that nature -- that's the beauty of the game. There's so much to the game than just home runs ...
MCCARVER: ... and shutouts and no-hitters.
Those are the glamour parts of the game, sure, and I love those. But the game has so many other nuances that make baseball a -- such an enjoyable sport that I could obviously go on and on and on. And that's why it's been such a part of my life for 39 years.
MOSS-COANE: Sure, sure. Well, I appreciate you going on and on with us today on the show. Thank you very much, Tim McCarver.
MCCARVER: I enjoyed it, Marty. Thank you.
MOSS-COANE: Baseball analyst Tim McCarver. His book is "Baseball for Brain Surgeons and Other Fans."
I'm Marty Moss-Coane, and this is FRESH AIR.
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.
TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS
Dateline: Marty Moss-Coane, Philadelphia, PA
Guest: Tim McCarver
High: Fox sports commentator Tim Mccarver talks to Marty Moss-Coane about his life in baseball. He recently wrote a book on the topic called "Baseball for Brain Surgeons and Other Fans" (Villard Books). McCarver is a commentator during the New York Mets season for WWOR. He played major league baseball from 1959-1980 for the St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies, Montreal Expos and Boston Red Sox. He also wrote the book "O, Baby, I Love It!"
Spec: Sports; Tim McCarver; Media
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Marty Moss-Coane Interviews Former Major League Player Tim McCarver