Every St. Louis Cardinals fan, or baseball fan for that matter, has an opinion on Tim McCarver as a broadcaster. That meant there were already opinions aplenty about him making his debut on FOX Sports Midwest last night to begin the 30 games he’ll broadcast with Dan McLaughlin this season.
I’ve never been reluctant to share my feelings about the quality of the broadcasters at FOX Sports Midwest — in a nutshell, as Cardinals fans we deserve better — nor that I take every opportunity possible to listen to optional broadcasts when I can, such as when the Cards play the Cubs or Brewers.
Yet I was curious to hear McCarver last night, willing to forego the chance to listen to FOX Sports Wisconsin. Yes, I too often found him annoying when he did games on FOX all these years. But the games on FOX Midwest are different since they’re local and not national. Would he be different too? (Plus, really, how could he be any worse than what we have to endure with whatever combination of McLaughlin, Al Hrabosky and Ricky Horton is on the air any given night?)
It didn’t take long to notice a difference from the usual broadcast. McCarver impressed me right away when he said that no only did he watch Wacha’s last start against the Mets, but he also picked up the phone and called Bob Gibson to talk more about Wacha’s pitching line from that day as well as his curveball and why he was throwing so many in the game. When the wind is in your face, Gibson said according to McCarver, that’s when your curveball works the best. And the curve worked both to Wacha’s benefit and detriment that day, as he was wild with it also.
Look at that — insightful broadcasting. Beats the heck out of hearing Al read yet again from that day’s media notes. And McCarver mentioned numerous times Cardinals games he’d watched this season and cited specific examples.
In addition, working with McCarver made McLaughlin sound better too. The sixth inning was a good example. As Wacha faced Cards killer Aramis Ramirez with two on and threw the first two pitches for strikes, McLaughlin asked McCarver what Wacha should throw in the situation. “Something out of the strike zone,” he said, although clarified that “it’s not so much pitch selection as it is pitch location when it’s 0-2. You don’t want to pitch a guy like it’s 2-0. You have room to work. Expand the strike zone.” Which Wacha did, with a ball in the dirt, so McCarver said he should do it again. Unfortunately, the next pitch hit Ramirez, the second hit batsmen of the inning, to load the bases. Still, actual game conversation and strategy questioning/talk — not something we’re used to hearing.
One improvement of the FOX Midwest broadcast this year that was noticeable during both Ramirez’s and then Khris Davis’s at-bat to follow in the sixth inning: situational stats on screen, such as batting average with runners in scoring position and two outs. I’ve also noticed on-screen charts showing, for example, the direction in which Jhonny Peralta or Yadier Molina have hit the ball this season. Nice additions.
At times, it just seemed like McCarver was simply enjoying himself — and maybe that’s why it’s such a refreshing change to have him on the broadcast. Yes, we know Al is the “Mad Hungarian” and wants to uphold that type of persona, but it was just entertaining to listen to McCarver following Allen Craig’s home run in the bottom of the sixth. Prior to Craig’s infield hit in the fourth, McCarver and McLaughlin had been discussing his struggles at the plate and McCarver said an infield hit or flare to the outfield could be the type of thing to get him going — with Craig delivering on cue. Then came the homer. McLaughlin’s response was, “Well, you said it,” to which McCarver replied, “This is such a zany game at times. Who knows anything? The more games you see, the less you think you might know.” He then recounted the previous conversation, ending with “it’s just a stupid game at times — but beautifully stupid … that’s part of the fun of the game.”
And it was definitely fun and interesting to listen to the broadcast. Change of pace, change of tone, change of discussions — all good. The game on the field last night — not necessarily beautiful to watch, sometimes stupid and more ugly stupid the longer it went. But that too is all part of the game.
Which is why, in an evening filled with such good and bad and ugly play by the Cardinals, it was nice to have more than the previously typical kind of broadcast to listen to on FOX Midwest.
Nice work in getting McCarver on board — and I’ll definitely be foregoing the FOX Wisconsin broadcast again tonight as a result.
Christine Coleman is the lead writer for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow @AMilesFastball for the latest updates and like AMF on Facebook if you don’t already.