MLB.com Columnist

Marty Noble

Passion for game still resonates in McCarver

Passion for game still resonates in McCarver

NEW YORK -- The men who were the game before the landmark Messersmith-McNally decision of 1975 had significant influence on players often have lamented a number of changes in how their successors operate on the field. The inability to bunt, hit the cutoff man, pitch beyond the sixth inning and make consistent contact bothers those whose careers preceded the advent of free agency. More often and more generally, players from the 1940s through the late '70s bemoan what they perceive to be a diminished passion in the game and apathy for playing the game properly.

Theirs is a lament that is pervasive in other walks of life, the "my generation had it right" perception that applies to justice, ethics, music, style, art, morals, etc.

Tim McCarver avoids that phrasing. Moreover, he hates it. "I don't want to sound like that," he said. "It suggests you haven't stayed current." But truth is truth, and he hardly stands alone in his opinion that the game is suffering from widespread flawed fundamentals and growing ignorance of the game's finer points.

So it was Monday and Tuesday afternoons at Citi Field; McCarver was there preparing to provide insight, commentary, salient information, telling anecdotes and occasional humor for the telecasts of Cardinals games against the Mets games for Fox Sports Midwest. And, of course, he would provide passion for the game and, if warranted, a worrisome sense that the game isn't played properly by this generation of big leaguers.

McCarver spoke Monday of a baserunning blunder he recently had witnessed in a televised game. It had him speaking to -- well, yelling at -- the monitor. "How could that happen?" was his rhetorical question Monday after he had explained the faux pas. McCarver spoke in that wonderfully incredulous tone we all recognize from his years doing national telecasts. "It made me sick for 48 hours."

As much as anyone anywhere, McCarver cares about baseball; he has since his days catching the likes of Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton. One of his books was entitled "Oh, Baby, I Love It!" for a reason. Working 40 Cards games this year, McCarver remains a most astute observer, an ever-willing commentator whose 21-year playing career began 16 years before arbitrator Peter Seitz struck down baseball's reserve clause and lasted for five years after that momentous decision.

McCarver said nothing about passion in his two pregame conversations. Instead, he demonstrated his uncommon zeal for the game that belies the data on his birth certificate. He is 73 and as sharp as Carlton's nastiest slider. McCarver's recall of detail is astonishing; so too his passion. His voice rises a few octaves anytime the generic game is tortured by a skilled player with little sense of what is needed. Sometimes, McCarver's reaction to a misguided play is as simple as "Oh, boy!"

When Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy charged rather than covering first base on a bunt play in the Cardinals' six-run sixth inning on Tuesday -- Murphy later called it "the wrong play" -- McCarver must have delivered an impassioned "Oh, boy!" Terry Collins probably did too.

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"I've never not cared about how the game is played and the minutiae the game engenders," McCarver said. A telling and intriguing thought.

And because he cares, he has a suggestion for the game's managers, coaches and tutors -- classes aimed at improving the baseball intellect of the players. "I think it'd be a good idea," McCarver said.

Since his initial thoughts about Baseball 101, McCarver has become aware of such sessions in the NFL. Teams have special meetings -- even special rooms -- for quarterbacks, wide receivers, linebackers, offensive and defensive lineman. "Why not borrow a page from the NFL and have those meetings or skull sessions in this game, too?" McCarver asked on Monday.

Big league teams do have meetings for pitchers and catchers, others for hitters. McCarver, noting the absence of pregame infield drills, a longtime staple of preparation, endorses baserunning meetings. "You can't practice baserunning," he said. "So why can't there be occasional meetings to teach or reinforce what should have been learned by the time they get to the big leagues -- when to tag up, when to go halfway. I'm not sure everybody playing today is familiar with what's necessary in all situations.

"With runs down as much as they are, running the bases properly becomes much more important," McCarver said.

McCarver learned his baseball with the Cardinals, the organization that routinely fields players with high baseball intellect -- McCarver, Joe Torre, Ted Simmons, Andy Van Slyke, Yadier Molina, Tommy Herr and so on. Smart baseball is the legacy of the late George Kissell, who began his coaching career in the early 1940s when Branch Rickey ran the Cards. Kissell had a master's degree in education.

"He knows there's a right way," McCarver said years ago about Kissell. "That's what he teaches. He breaks it down. He presents his lesson based on the [player's] level of intellect. He didn't just tell us how to play. He taught us how to think."

McCarver said lessons he learned from Kissell long ago influenced his play and still influences his announcing. "No one ever prodded my thinking like George," McCarver said. "A lot of us, guys who were exposed to George ... when we get together, we'll talk the game. Examine it.

"Does that still happen? I don't know. But it ought to."

Marty Noble is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.