One of the hazards of sports broadcasting is that you make your mistakes in public, on live TV or radio. A copy editor can save a sportswriter from referring to Prince Fielder as Cecil Fielder in print, but a broadcaster doesn’t have that safety net.
Tim McCarver, who last week announced this season would be his last as the lead baseball analyst for Fox Sports, has taken his share of criticism in the last few years for making some gaffes on the air. Bloggers and some media critics piled on again after McCarver announced he was ready to retire, saying that decision was long overdue.
Does McCarver pay any attention to the nattering nabobs of negativity who comment on his work? His Fox colleague Joe Buck said McCarver is aware of the criticism and that he knows how to brush it off.
“The word that you use to describe Tim McCarver is tough,” Buck said. “What makes him great is he doesn’t let criticism bother him. He takes it and he moves on. He doesn’t mind the online stuff, which isn’t easy to do in this world. But he takes it, and moves on.
“He’s a man’s man and he doesn’t bow to criticism in this day and age.”
McCarver, who is 71, has lost something off of his fastball, as they say, but there is something admirable about him soldiering on and not changing his style in the broadcast booth after all these years.
Yes, some of his gaffes are near legendary.
During the 2011 World Series, a batter struck out to end an inning. McCarver’s comment: “It’s a five letter word. S-t-r-i-k-e.”
Another misstep came last October, during Game One of the World Series between Detroit and San Francisco. When Giants pitcher Barry Zito reached first on a single, San Francisco fans chanted, “Barry! Barry!”
Buck pointed out that the fans there used to break out the Barry cheer “for someone else around here.”
“When Barry Manilow was here at concerts,” McCarver said.
McCarver, of course, is not the first baseball announcer to make some flubs worthy of being preserved for posterity. Do the names Ralph Kiner, Phil Rizzuto or Jerry Coleman ring a bell? Look up their quotations sometime when you have an hour or two to spend slipping down a Google rabbit hole.
Another McCarver line was positively Kineresque: “I wonder if Cain took the bunt sign as a sign to bunt the ball.”
McCarver did work with Kiner in the New York Mets’ booth in the Shea Stadium days.
And he does have a well-earned reputation for being verbose. Back in 1992, Norman Chad wrote in Sports Illustrated that if you ask McCarver what time it is, “he will tell you how a watch works.”
McCarver does talk a lot, but he also adds a lot to the game. For one thing, his observations have helped casual fans realize how much strategy, anticipation and planning there is in baseball – the mental side of the game. At a basic level, baseball is just throwing, hitting and catching a ball, but anyone who has ever played in high school or beyond knows how many things there are to think about on the field and in the dugout.
Buck last week recalled McCarver’s call of the final pitch in the 2001 World Series: “When that World Series came down to one pitch from Mariano Rivera and one floating base hit from Luis Gonzalez, Tim McCarver said before the final pitch the danger of playing the infield in with Rivera on the mound, saying there are a lot of jam shots with Rivera pitching and that there’s a lot of room behind the infielders.
“That World Series ended on the next pitch the way he described before it happened. That’s just – put your headset down and walk out and know that you’re the best ever to do what you’re doing.”
McCarver has worked for all four major broadcast networks. He did local broadcasts for the Phillies, Mets, Yankees and Giants. He has spent 23 seasons as a local team analyst, 30 as a national network baseball analyst.
There were observers who got tired of John Madden on NFL games, though he raised the bar in that sport also for TV analysis. And Chris Berman, as beloved as he was on ESPN in the 1980s, has more online critics, pound for pound, than McCarver does these days. It seems that the more personality you have on the air, the more you are vulnerable to falling out of favor. Everyone loves you, until they don’t.
No Yankees radio for you
The YES Network means there are no shortage of ways for Buffalo-area Yankees fans to get their fill of the Bronx Bombers on television. Still, there are radio fans who wonder why the Yankees Radio Network doesn’t air here? How can the games air on stations in Rochester, Syracuse, Bath and Elmira, and as far away as Miami?
The answer, as with most things in broadcasting, is money.
The Yankees charge stations a rights fee for airing their games, which the radio stations can try to recoup by selling advertising. The rights fee varies according to market size, so a small station in Bath pays less than a station in Buffalo would.
Why would Buffalo’s radio sports leader, WGR 550, not sign up to carry Yankees games?
“From my perspective, we don’t have the real estate for it on our stations, with our obligations to the Bills, Sabres and Bisons,” said Tim Wenger, operations manager for Entercom Buffalo, whose properties include WGR and AM 1520. “We can’t clear enough real estate for it to make sense.”
In a town like Bath, Wenger said, they are closer to the New York area, meaning they have a higher concentration of Yankees fans than in Western New York.
“Perhaps they can recoup the rights fee in local revenue,” Wenger said. “As a broadcaster, you have to ask if the fee is worth the return you get in ratings and revenue.”
Wenger added that not only does WGR carry play-by-play of the Bills and Sabres, but the station’s audience as a whole would rather talk about its hometown teams than listen to a Yankees game on the average weekday.
“If I’m running WGR and we don’t have the Sabres, Bisons and Bills, and if we were running local sports talk all the time, then I might take a look at getting the Yankees games,” he said. “In that case there might be enough revenue is this market to make money doing that.
“But I can tell you that more people around here want to hear local sports talk. There are many more people who would rather talk about the Bills and Sabres from 3-7 in the afternoon than would listen to the Yankees, even though the Yankees games would certainly get an audience.”
Our market’s sports alternative, the Fan 1270, has just one block of local programming, from noon to 3 p.m. on weekdays. Otherwise 1270 airs content from the CBS Sports Network, and it probably doesn’t have the budget to make Yankees games economically viable.