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Double Play

Fox sports announcers Joe Buck and Tim Mccarver aren’t just the oddest couple to call the World Series, they’re also the happiest.

Author Adam K. Raymond Illustration Barry Blitt

TIM MCCARVER IS SEARCHING for the perfect word. He’s telling a story about the first time he met Joe Buck, his partner in the Fox baseball broadcasting booth, and he’s fallen silent. He just finished recounting the day in the 1970s when, as an aging catcher in the twilight of his career, he first saw a three-foot oddity running around the clubhouse.

“I asked someone who the funny- looking kid was and they said, ‘Oh, that’s Jack Buck’s son,’” McCarver says, referring to the legendary St. Louis Cardinals announcer. “He had this head on him that looked just like a watermelon. He had a watermelon head sitting on top of a…on top of a, uh…” As McCarver searches for the right word, a grown-up Joe Buck, now 41 and one of the most successful members of the baseball broadcasting club, leans in with particular interest. His head, as it sits on his body today, is no longer abnormally large.

“He had a watermelon head sitting on top of a cucumber body,” McCarver finally blurts out before being overtaken by laughter. Buck looks at him sideways and says, “I never knew what a deformed child I was.”

Thirty-five years later, this odd couple is preparing to man the microphones at the World Series for the 13th time—Buck as the play-by-play man, responsible for recounting the action on the field, and McCarver as the color man, adding illustrations and folksy elaborations along the way.

Right now, it’s July, and the All-Star Game is minutes from starting. Buck and McCarver are engaged in the pregame ritual of hair, makeup and banter. Buck puts on his headset and checks the mic in the voice of a 1920s detective. “Hellooo, folks. Welcome to the ballpaaark.” McCarver chuckles and shakes his head. “I love it when he does that,” the old catcher says. McCarver is 28 years older than Buck and a much more commanding physical presence. One look at the two men and it’s not hard to tell who spent 21 seasons as a catcher in the major leagues and who was an English major at Indiana University. A producer counts down, the camera flicks on, and they’re underway.

For more than a decade, to baseball fans across the country, the sound of Buck and McCarver at the start of a game is the surest indication of important baseball. And for McCarver, who has a shock of red hair, this season’s Fall Classic will be his 21st as a color man.

That sort of devotion has led to moments of clairvoyance, like when McCarver called the game-winning hit of the 2001 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks before it happened.

“It was the bottom of the ninth inning,” McCarver says, “and Joe Torre had pulled the Yankees infield in.” Calling the game from the booth, McCarver said, “The problem with bringing the infield in against a guy like Rivera is that left-handed hitters tend to get a lot of broken-bat hits to the shallow part of the outfield.”

And that’s exactly what happened. The D-Backs won.

“That’s the best moment in the history of broadcasting,” Buck says. “I’ll never forget it.”

McCarver was 17 years old when he joined the St. Louis Cardinals in 1959. He eventually called games for the Mets, Yankees and San Francisco Giants before landing at Fox. Buck’s career also started with the Cardinals, where he called an inning on his 18th birthday, a surprise gift from his father, who walked out of the booth and told his son to start talking. “It was the worst inning of play-by-play in the history of broadcasting,” Buck says.

In some ways, McCarver has replaced the late Jack Buck as Joe’s father figure. He gives the younger Buck career and life advice. They behave more like poker buddies than coworkers, constantly needling each other and never passing up an opportunity to tell an embarrassing story. Ask them what it’s like to work apart, as they do about a dozen times a season, and they gush.

“When you’re not with the best, you miss it,” McCarver says. Buck jumps in. “It’s like driving a Lamborghini and trading it in for a Pinto,” he says. “Tim’s always in my foxhole. I’m not afraid to say I love the man.”

On the surface, Buck and McCarver’s “bromance” seems unlikely. They come from different eras, but the generation gap usually works to their advantage.

“I think of Tim like a really, really older brother.” Buck says, causing McCarver to let out a rumbling laugh before falling forward and slapping his knee. “If I reference a Foo Fighters song, Tim won’t know what I’m talking about.”

“No idea,” McCarver says. “But I like that. Joe keeps me young.”

McCarver’s reference points lie in the ’60s and ’70s, when he was shuffling around the country as a catcher for the Cardinals and Phillies. Things were a little tougher for players back then. That’s why McCarver gets so upset if he sees a player loafing. He’s no fan of showboating, hot-dogging or strutting, either. And quitters? McCarver once called Manny Ramirez “despicable” for “refusing to play” while in Boston.

During games, Buck’s banter flows between pop stars and pop-ups. His dry humor is one of his hallmarks. “Baseball can get monotonous, and there’s a redundancy inherent to broadcasting the game,” he said. “If you watch a pop fly hit to second, do you really need me to tell you there was a pop fly hit to second?”

Not everyone is a fan of their approach. They have large anti-followings online who ridicule their every broadcast. But neither seems to care.

“Not all of that stuff is bad,” McCarver says. “It’s good to see what people think of your performance, even if they don’t like it.” But he’ll admit he’s happy that ShutUpTimMcCarver.com, a website that chronicles his “McCarverisms,” hasn’t been updated in almost five years.

The anti-Buck sites remain more active. Popular sports blogs like Deadspin and Awful Announcing have made ridiculing Buck a recurring feature. Surprisingly, Buck doesn’t sweat it, and though at times he’s defended himself online, he says he’s also paid heed to his critics.

“I’ve grown from it,” Buck says. “For example, I listened in particular to the criticism about how I try to be too funny. I thought the person had a good point, and I’ve tried to tone it down.”

In the booth at least. Sit down with him and McCarver for an hour and the jokes flow as liberally as the compliments. But again, this is how two men engaged in the throes of a bromance behave. Right, Tim?

“I don’t know what that word means,” he says. And Joe smiles knowingly.

New York–based writer ADAM K. RAYMOND’s head is large, but not abnormally so.

CALL OF THE WILD

Baseball’s three greatest broadcasting moments

1951: When New York Giant Bobby Thomson, who died in August, hit “The Shot Heard ’Round the World,” above, announcer Russ Hodges could say only one thing: “The Giants win the pennant!” So he said it over and over…and over.

1960: When Bill Mazeroski hit the first walk-off home run to end a World Series, the only person more excited than Maz was Chuck Thompson, who screamed, “Back to the wall goes Berra…it is…over the fence! Home run! The Pirates win!”

1988: Two announcers react to Kirk Gibson’s game-winning shot in the World Series: Jack Buck is incredulous (“I don’t believe what I just saw!”), and Vin Scully is poetic (“In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened”).

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