I know many of you will respond with snark to this because McCarver has become a popular target of scorn in recent years. But it’s probably worth pausing for a minute and realizing (a) just how long McCarver has been the top national color guy in the game; and (b) just how thoroughly he changed the nature of that job during his time on the scene.
When he came onto the broadcasting scene in the late 70s and early 80s, the ex-jock in the booth was almost a comic relief role. They told anecdotes of their playing days and offered an analysis, of sorts, of what just happened on a given play. But so much of it was superficial and so much of it was subjective. A lot of “hoo-boys!” and “that was a nice pitch” kind of commentary. It was usually a friendly voice, but not a necessarily informative one.
McCarver changed that. Especially in his early days, he would break down strategies and pitch sequences in ways that most color guys weren’t really doing. We take so much of it for granted now, but he really did work to explain what was happening in a game and why and how one thing would lead to the next in ways that TV viewers rarely got.
It’s inescapable that in recent years he’s lost a couple of ticks on his fastball. Part of it is age. Part of it is that the broadcast is so filled with graphics and things that there’s less room for McCarver to talk his way through a thought and reach an interesting conclusion. Some of it is merely relative: we as viewers have so much more information at our disposal that the points McCarver makes may seem somewhat pedestrian or in some cases unnecessary. But that says more about where we are than were he is.
No, McCarver is not my favorite TV presence. But one need look around at other ex-players following in his footsteps to realize that McCarver is still, to this day, pretty darn good at what he does. For every Ron Darling or Keith Hernandez — ex-players who have taken things to the next level — there is a Rick Sutcliffe and a John Kruk, harkening back to those days when the ex-ballplayer was presumed to have insight and legitimacy in the role simply because he played, not because he was particularly insightful.
But McCarver wasn’t like that. He was the real deal: an intelligent guy who helped viewers understand what they were seeing better than they had before. And no matter how annoying some of his excesses or his less-trenchant recent analysis can be at times — and no matter how easy a target he has become simply because of his ubiquity during the playoffs — we should all probably appreciate that when we take our shots we’re taking shots at one of the better ones.
And I have this feeling that we’ll appreciate that all the more come this time next year when Fox announces his replacement.
Today is the anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s Iron Man streak ending
Today is a significant baseball anniversary. On this day in 1939 Lou Gehrig asked out of the lineup as the Yankees played the Tigers in Detroit. It both ended his Iron Man Streak at 2,130, but also marked the beginning of Gehrig’s very public acknowledgement of ALS, the disease which would come to bear his name. Gehrig would never play again.
While it was clear that Gehrig’s body was betraying him and his baseball skills were abandoning him in the first few games of the 1939 season, some say the ultimate impetus for Gehrig asking out of the lineup happened earlier that day. The story goes that Gehrig collapsed on the grand staircase of the Book-Cadillac hotel where the Yankees were staying and that later, as he sat in the hotel bar, he told manager Joe McCarthy that he couldn’t play anymore.
The Book-Cadillac is still there. It deteriorated over the years and then was renovated. It’s a Westin now — the Westin Book-Cadillac. It’s a wonderful hotel and the bar area still has much of its old charm, but the grand staircase is gone, replaced with a couple of escalators. I stay there whenever I’m in Detroit. I’m friends with one of the Book-Cadillac’s bartenders and I try to see him whenever I’m there. When I sit in that bar I often wonder if Gehrig sat near where I was, telling McCarthy that he just couldn’t do it anymore. There are a lot of ghosts in Detroit. Gehrig’s is mostly in New York, but there’s a little bit of him in Detroit too.
Cal Ripken would later break Gehrig’s record. I doubt anyone breaks Cal’s. But in some cases the record holders are less interesting than those who were surpassed.
At the end of March we linked a story from Rob Arthur and Ben Lindbergh at FiveThirtyEight which sought to figure out why home run rates have spiked. Their theory was that it was either randomness or a juiced ball. They tested baseballs and found no evidence of a different ball, so that seems to have ended that.
It’s all based on exit velocity of baseballs, which Passan notes has spiked. He doesn’t come to any conclusions — just not enough data — but the very act of asking the question in a column and Passan’s acknowledgment that he sounds like a conspiracy theorist tell you that that’s his hunch. And it could be the case. I still think the ball got juiced in 1987 and again, on a more permanent basis, in 1993, but there’s no evidence to really support that. Just one of those “can’t think of anything better” sort of situations.
For now, though, it’s May 2. And I suspect that for as long as there have been May 2nds in a baseball season, people have looked at the stats and suspected something weird was afoot. Maybe something weird is afoot. We just can’t really know.
Alex Rodriguez had a big night in a losing effort last night. He homered and drove in four. In the past week or so he’s raised his average over 50 points and may be finally shaking off the offseason rust. When you’re over 40 it takes you longer to do everything.
But even if it takes his reflexes some time to get up to speed, you can never take away the knowledge and experience of a savvy veteran with a high baseball I.Q. For example, whether he’s hitting or not, the man knows that it’s important to keep your bat dry on a rainy night:
In early April the Dodgers agreed to a minor league contract with pitcher Sean Burnett after he didn’t make the Washington Nationals’ roster out of spring training. He was assigned to Triple-A Oklahoma City. As is usually the case, veterans like him have an opt-out if they don’t make the big club after a certain amount of time, and Burnett has opt-ed out, realizing that he’s likely not in the Dodgers’ plans.
But he could be in the Braves’ plans. They stink on ice. Ben Nicholson-Smith reports that he’s signing with them and will report to Triple-A Gwinnett tomorrow.
Burnett, 33, hasn’t appeared in the majors since he pitched three games for the Angels in 2014 and hasn’t pitched regularly in the bigs since 2012. Tommy John surgery will do that to a guy. He did toss eight and two-thirds scoreless innings for the Nationals during spring training and has allowed only two earned runs in seven and two-thirds innings of relief work for Oklahoma City. There may still be something there. Innings will need to be eaten in Atlanta this year. Burnett may be able to eat them.