BOSTON -- When the countdown started, it was measured in months, an abstraction. FOX broadcaster Tim McCarver announced before this season that he was retiring after the World Series. But there were still so many games to cover, so many plays to analyze, so many erudite observations to be made, that it all seemed far away.
Now the time is marked in hours that are tick-tick-ticking away. Maybe Wednesday night, Thursday at the latest, at Fenway Park, the Emmy Award-winning Hall of Famer will offer up his final summation, take off his headset one last time and then ...
What will McCarver do after an entire adulthood of living the baseball life, going directly from the playing field to the broadcast booth, after redefining his craft, after working the World Series a record 24 times? What will he do now that he's 72 years old and no longer tethered to the demands of being onsite for the most high-profile game each week?
Those who know McCarver best believe he'll follow his restless curiosity wherever it leads him, continue to embrace everything this world has to offer. He's a voracious reader who has visited some of the famous Civil War and World War II battlefields. He enjoys music. He plays bridge. He's passionate about good wine and fine dining. He will stay busy.
And it's that wide range of interests, they believe, that has contributed to McCarver's success, lifted his commentary above the obvious and mundane.
"He can talk on a lot of subjects," said Phillies broadcaster Chris Wheeler, his first on-air partner. "I don't think I have a conversation with him to this day where he doesn't recommend a book for me to read. It's just unbelievable how well-read he is.
"I've always felt that he was the John Madden of our industry. When the analysts started to become as big, if not bigger, than the play-by-play guy -- for a long time, the play-by-play guy was the top dog, and then the analyst became huge. John Madden did it in football and I think Timmy did it in baseball."
"That's one of the reasons I enjoyed working with him," said Gary Thorne, who did Mets games with McCarver. "I'm a lawyer. I have many interests outside the game. I think anything you do, the broader perspective on life you have, the better perspective you have on what you're doing at that moment. You don't get lost and wrapped up in a minute or a game or even a season.
"There's a perspective that comes from being involved in other things in life. And it also helps you express yourself better and more freely, because you know this isn't the world. This game's going to end and life's going to go on. And when you have a perspective on that, it makes you a better broadcaster."
Mike Shannon, a St. Louis teammate from 1962-69, said McCarver was well-rounded even as a player.
"He's always been that way," the longtime Cardinals broadcaster said. "Most people who are like Timmy, who are well-read, start at an early age. And it was probably because of his education and his parents.
"In the broadcasting part of baseball, you meet so many different people from so many different parts of life. Politicians, educators, writers, poets -- the list goes on and on. And if you have interest in a variety of things, you can always correlate it to life and to baseball."
McCarver is a proud native of Memphis, Tenn., and still has the drawl to prove it. Wheeler has lived in the Philadelphia area most of his life. A few offseasons ago, the two friends went to Fredericksburg, Va., where the General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia on Marye's Heights decimated the Union soldiers on the plain below in December 1862.
"It takes your breath away, because you look down there and you think of what happened," Wheeler said. "And he looked at me very seriously and said, 'You know, Wheels, I would have been up here and you would have been down there.'"
Last year, McCarver went to France to see the beaches of Normandy, where Allied forces launched what was at the time the largest amphibious attack in history on D-Day in 1944 during World War II.
Then there was the time Thorne and McCarver went out to dinner in Cincinnati after the Mets played the Reds. A lot of front-office members were on the trip and everybody had a wonderful time.
"We end up heading back to the hotel and, lo and behold, there's a horse-drawn carriage with a newlywed couple in it making its way down the empty streets," Thorne remembered. "This is 1 o'clock in the morning. And Timmy and I decided that maybe it would be a good idea to serenade them. So we ran across the side of the carriage and sang what we thought were good Lerner and Loewe love songs, and they applauded and apparently liked it, and we thought it was the perfect ending to a great night."
McCarver has always thrown himself wholeheartedly into whatever he's undertaken. That work ethic and enthusiasm has also been reflected in his broadcasts.
Joe Torre, the former big league manager who now works for Major League Baseball, was McCarver's Cards teammate in 1969 and again in 1973-74.
"He was fierce," Torre recalled. "Whether he played cards or played baseball, he was fierce. He's a fierce competitor. He didn't want anybody messing with him. He wanted to concentrate. Once he started concentrating, he didn't want anybody to take away from that concentration. He was 100 miles an hour all the time."
McCarver is a former catcher who had the whole field in front of him, which may be a reason why he saw the action so clearly as it unfolded.
"He's the master of the first guess. He's had some of the most prescient moments any analyst has ever had," said MLB Network's Bob Costas, the eight-time National Sportscaster of the Year winner. "The one that everyone points to is Game 7 in the 2001 World Series in Arizona with Luis Gonzalez up and the [Yankees] infield pulled in. And he pointed out that with Mariano Rivera's cutter, especially to left-handers, you get a lot of broken-bat bloops, which generally is a good thing, but not with the infield pulled in. And, if you'll remember, that ball landed, I don't think it even hit the outfield grass [to drive in the winning run]. You can't beat that.
"Some of his best moments are some of the best moments that any analyst has had."
Said Thorne: "He knows the game. And he's not afraid to say it. I think that makes an enormous difference. Timmy is as knowledgeable an individual about baseball as I've ever seen. In the years I worked with him, I've never seen anyone who looks as far ahead in the game as he does. He was a manager in the booth. He was always three innings ahead of where the game was and could talk about why a certain decision was made now and how it will affect the game later. It's kind of an inbred knowledge, an instinct about the game that he has. That comes through in his analysis, and I think that's a major reason why he's so good."
McCarver is not without his critics. The primary complaint is that he occasionally overanalyzes.
"People are going to miss him. I know you never satisfy everybody when you do what he does," Torre said. "But he views the game the same way he did when he was behind the plate. He's got a great insight. He maintains a great deal of enthusiasm, which I think is terrific. He's questioned, criticized me and stuff, but that's his job. I would never want him, because we're friends, to not say something that he thinks he needs to say. That wouldn't be fair to him and wouldn't be fair to me."
Added Wheeler: "If you have tremendous love and enthusiasm for something and you're just trying to share it, maybe that comes off sometimes as talking too much. I always think that just comes from your love of the game and your enthusiasm for what you see and you want to share it with other people. So the ones who don't like it will say you talk too much and overanalyze. And the ones who do will sit there and say, 'Well, I didn't know that. I really appreciate that.' I've found over the years you take it personal at first, and after a while, you really don't care."
During a conference call before the World Series, McCarver said he was looking forward to the third act of what has been a remarkable life.
"I'm obviously elated that I've lasted this long. I'm tickled to death to be doing this last Series," he said. "Believe me, I'm elated. I'm delighted."
Back in 1977, McCarver was a 35-year-old backup catcher for the Phillies. Bill Giles, then the team's executive vice president of business operations, had a hunch he might have a future in broadcasting. So one day he walked up and asked him a simple question.
"He asked me what I was going to do with the rest of my life," McCarver related in his Frick Award acceptance speech at Cooperstown, N.Y., in 2012.
Thirty-six years later, the same question arises. And while there's no definitive answer, it's a pretty safe guess that whatever it is, McCarver will handle it with the same style and gusto that he exhibited as a player and broadcaster.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com beat reporter Anthony DiComo contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less