Tim McCarver is one of baseball’s best known broadcasters. Working mostly for Fox, he has been behind the mike for 23 World Series and has received a Sports Emmy Award three times. His role is color commentator, the expert. It is a role requiring perceptiveness and insight. Those are qualities that escaped him on the night of America’s bicentennial (July 4, 1976) during a doubleheader between the Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium.
McCarver had a storied career in Major League Baseball, spanning four decades from 1959 to 1980. Most of his best years were with the St. Louis Cardinals. Twice he represented the Cardinals in the all-star game and he was their regular catcher in both 1964 and 1967 when they won the World Series.
After 10 years with the Cardinals, McCarver was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1970. His career waned after that and he moved to Montreal, back to St. Louis and then on to Boston. He was pretty far down the pecking order, third string catcher, at Boston when he was released and joined Philadelphia for the second time.
During his end of career stint with Philadelphia he was primarily known as Steve Carlton’s personal catcher. The Phillies ace preferred the veteran McCarver over the team’s regular catcher Bob Boone.
That’s why McCarver was behind the plate for the first game of a doubleheader at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium on Bicentennial Day.
An Associated Press story describes what happened:
“It isn’t every day that you hit a grand slam home run in the major leagues. It’s even more rarely that it turns into a three-run single
“That’s what happened Sunday to Tim McCarver of the Philadelphia Phillies in a National League baseball game.
“After McCarver hit the ball 380 feet into the right field seats at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium, he inadvertently passed team-mate Garry Maddox as he rounded first base.
“McCarver was immediately called out by home plate umpire Satch Davidson and his drive was reduced to a three-run single.”
Maddox had been on first base and had slowed down to see if McCarver’s shot would be caught. It would have been McCarver’s first home run of the year. He ended up only hitting one homer in the 47 games he played for the Phillies that year. His baserunning guffaw proved to have little effect on the outcome of the game. His bases loaded ‘single’ put the Phils ahead 4-0 in the second inning and they would go on to win 10-5. The Pirates came back to win the second game of the twinbill.
But on that night, McCarver showed another quality that would stand him in good stead in his later career as a broadcaster: some good humor. He told Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter Bill Lyon: “”Hey, what could I do except laugh about it?
“I mean, you screw up right out in front of 30,000 people it’s kinda tough to hide. Besides, how can you dig a hole in artificial turf?
“Anyway, it’s definitely the longest single I’ve ever hit. I knew it was gone (McCarver had hit 83 previous homers, five of them grand slams) and I’m into my Cadillac trot, head down.
“First time I notice Garry is when I’m even with him. I tried to back-pedal but Ed Vargo (first base umpire) looks at me and says I’m out.
“I guess the moral is to hit ’em so they get out of the park quicker.”
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