With Tim McCarver gone, the deafening silence grows
Say you’re a 50-year-old sports fan who came of age in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Here is the soundtrack of your youth during those 30 formative years:
Tim McCarver: 20 World Series. Billy Packer: 29 Final Fours. John Madden: 11 Super Bowls.
Sure, there were other important national sports television analysts before and alongside those three and there have been more since.
But on the occasion of Tim McCarver’s death on Thursday at age 81, let us take a moment to appreciate what has been lost over these past 14 months.
Madden died in December 2021, Packer three weeks ago and now McCarver, three giants gone even as their voices echo in old video clips and in our memories. (Plus a giant among play-by-play men, Vin Scully, who died in August.)
Packer called his first Final Four in 1975 and McCarver his last Series in 2013, a broad swath of TV history during which they and Madden made huge marks.
Each went about it differently, from Madden’s folksy warmth to the clinical chill of Packer.
At times he veered closer to Packer than Madden on the curmudgeon meter, but he found a sweet spot that made him both good company and a good teacher.
There was no one quite like him, from his bona fides as an All-Star player to the Southern-accented charm that made it easier to digest his sharp observations.
He also was versatile enough to do play-by-play, as he did working with Ralph Kiner, whose own late-career success owed much to McCarver drawing him out.
Speaking of which, as much as Madden and Packer and other voices of our pasts resonate regardless of how old we are, McCarver was one of us.
Forget that Memphian stuff. He was an honorary New Yorker after calling Mets games from 1983-98 and Yankees games from ’99 to 2001.
There was a lot of winning and losing during those Mets years, and McCarver was our expert tour guide through it all — and most of all 1986.
In the process, he inspired announcers now viewed as icons in local baseball circles themselves, such as Gary Cohen and Howie Rose.
Rose wrote on Twitter on Thursday, “Tim McCarver was one of history’s most influential sportscasters. He made the analyst the star of the telecast.
“I wouldn’t have become a big league PBPer without the influence of his work. As such, I owe a big part of my career to him. I’m glad I got to tell him that.”
And Cohen, on Instagram: “Tim McCarver simply revolutionized what it meant to be a color analyst on a major league sports broadcast, really baseball or any other sport.”
Cohen added, “He was a great observer, and he was able to relay those things to non-baseball people in a way that allowed us to better enjoy the games that we already loved.
“Not to mention he had a great sense of humor, a great playfulness. He enjoyed life . . . Timmy was one of a kind, and he will be greatly missed.”
The notion of two announcers in their 60s paying tribute to McCarver on Twitter and Instagram obviously would have made no sense when he first called a World Series in 1985.
But again, it speaks to his historical reach both personally and professionally. The guy made his major league debut as a player in 1959, when Cohen was a 1-year-old.
As a catcher, he earned the trust of two famously edgy figures in Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton.
As an announcer, he earned the trust of an even more important constituency: us.
That is the job of the people we invite into our homes on screens and radios, and it is much harder than it looks.
Each in his own way, the genius of Madden, Packer and McCarver was making it seem like the most natural thing in the world.