When Tim McCarver receives the Ford C. Frick Award for major contributions to baseball broadcasting, it will cap a remarkable career that began 53 years ago with the Cardinals.
McCarver, 70, will be honored on Saturday, July 21, at Cooperstown, N.Y. He will become the third former Cardinals catcher, joining Joe Garagiola and Bob Uecker, to receive the Frick Award.
As a youth in his hometown of Memphis, McCarver was influenced early by Cardinals broadcaster Harry Caray (who also is a Frick Award winner). In his book, “Oh, Baby, I Love It” (1987, Villard), McCarver wrote:
I got an early start on my announcing career while playing cork ball, imitating Harry Caray on the play-by-play. Harry was something of a hero in our house.
At Christian Brothers High School, McCarver was a standout athlete. He received football scholarship offers from schools such as Notre Dame, Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky. But professional baseball offered an immediate opportunity to earn an income.
“Money was the deciding factor, plain and simple,” McCarver wrote.
The best baseball offers came from the Yankees, Giants and Cardinals. The scout trying to sign McCarver for the Yankees was Bill Dickey, a Hall of Fame catcher. But St. Louis’ offer of a $75,000 signing bonus and a guaranteed annual salary of $6,000 per year for five years convinced McCarver and his parents he should join the Cardinals.
McCarver signed in June 1959 and was sent to the Cardinals’ Class D minor-league affiliate at Keokuk (Iowa) of the Midwest League. Unfazed by professional pitching, McCarver hit .360 in 65 games. He committed 14 errors.
When Rochester (N.Y.) catcher Dick Rand dislocated a right index finger, McCarver was promoted to the Class AAA International League club to replace him. He hit .357 for Rochester in 17 games and made no errors.
In September, three months after he had graduated from high school, McCarver, 17, was promoted to the Cardinals and joined the team in Milwaukee. Wrote McCarver:
When I arrived at the Cards’ team bus for the first time, I was nervous enough. I didn’t know these guys and I wanted to impress them.
On Sept. 10, his first day in a big-league uniform, McCarver marveled from the dugout at Milwaukee’s County Stadium at being in the presence of two of his boyhood heroes, Stan Musial of the Cardinals and Hank Aaron of the Braves. Wrote McCarver:
So when Hank came to bat for the first time that day, I leaped from my perch in the Cardinals’ dugout and did what I always did when I listened to the Braves play the Cardinals. “Come on, Henry,” I yelled. “Come on, Henry.” The action seemed natural to me, but some of my teammates weren’t amused.
In the ninth inning, with two out, Bill White on second base and the Cardinals trailing by three, manager Solly Hemus sent McCarver to make his major-league debut as a pinch-hitter for pitcher Marshall Bridges. Wrote McCarver:
So there I was, younger than Musial’s own son, picking up a bat and advancing to the plate. As I stepped in to face Don McMahon, a veteran right-handed relief pitcher with a commanding fastball, my knees literally shook with fear.
Quickly, McMahon got two strikes on McCarver. Then the teen swung at a curveball and lifted it to right field, where the game-ending catch was made by none other than Hank Aaron. Boxscore
The next day, Sept. 11, 1959, at Chicago against the Cubs, McCarver got his first big-league start at catcher. Batting in the No. 2 spot, he went 0-for-4 against Bob Anderson. The Cardinals’ starting pitcher was Bob Miller, 20. According to The Sporting News, Miller and McCarver formed the youngest battery in big-league history. Boxscore
To put that into comparative perspective, the combined ages of McCarver and Miller (37) were younger than the individual ages of two of their teammates, Musial (38) and George Crowe (38).
On Sept. 13, McCarver, batting lead-off, opened the game with his first big-league hit, a single against the Cubs’ Glen Hobbie. Boxscore
McCarver played in eight games for the 1959 Cardinals, hitting .167 (4-for-24).
Described by The Sporting News as “one of the finest catching prospects the Cardinals have brought up in many years,” McCarver had stints with St. Louis in 1960 and ’61, then spent all of 1962 in the minor leagues before earning the Cardinals’ starting catcher job in 1963.
After a 21-year big-league playing career, he went into broadcasting and remains the lead analyst for FOX on its national baseball telecasts.