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Tim McCarver to retire from Fox at the end of the 2013 season

Mar 27, 2013, 1:02 PM EDT

This is pretty major news in the world of baseball broadcasting:

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.

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