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From Ponce de Leon to Cooperstown
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Forsyth County News

Here’s a trivia question for you: name the three Atlanta Crackers in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The first two have been in residence there for quite some time: Eddie Mathews and Cumming’s own Luke Appling.

Mathews remains part of another trivia question. He is one of only two men to hit a home run into the magnolia tree that stood in center field in old Ponce de Leon Park.

The other was Babe Ruth.

The magnolia still stands, at the edge of a parking lot in the shopping center built on the old ballpark site, directly across the street from the old Sears building.

But we digress. The third Cracker joined the Hall over the weekend, when Tim McCarver received the 2012 Ford C. Frick Award and entered the Broadcasters Wing of the Hall.

McCarver played in Atlanta 50 summers ago, when the Crackers, of the AAA-level International League, constituted professional baseball in Atlanta. The Crax were an institution from 1901 until the Braves arrival in 1966.

That summer evolved as an exciting one. The Crax went 83-71 and finished third in the standings, easily reaching the playoffs. Once there, they knocked off the Toronto Maple Leafs in six games, and the Jacksonville Suns in seven for the league championship.

Then they met the American Association champion Louisville Colonels. They won the final two games in Louisville by identical 2-1 scores, winning the Junior World Series in seven games.

It would be Atlanta’s last championship until 1995.

McCarver caught 116 games, and hit .275 with 11 home runs, 57 RBIs and 65 runs scored.

Those stats enabled McCarver to replace Gene Oliver as the St. Louis Cardinal’s regular catcher in 1963, and he hit .289. He hit .288 in 1964, but saved his best till last.

His three-run homer in the 10th inning won Game 5 of the World Series, and he hit .478 as the Cards beat the Yankees.

By 1966, he was an All-Star and the first catcher to lead the league in triples. In 1967, he finished second to teammate Orlando Cepeda in the MVP voting, as he helped lead the Cards to the first of two straight pennants.

All the while, he became a keen observer of the game. As he told Richard Sandomir of the New York Times over the weekend, being a catcher "you visualized without realizing it that this choreography was going on behind the pitcher, where you inadvertently learned all the positions and their responsibilities."

He earned the respect of Cardinal ace Bob Gibson, even though Gibson would shoo him away from the mound snarling, "Get back behind the plate. The only thing you know about pitching is that it’s hard to hit."

McCarver always called Gibson the Luckiest pitcher he ever saw, because Gibson always pitched when the other team didn’t score any runs.

McCarver also earned the respect of Steve Carlton. The two would team up later in Philadelphia, and McCarver would always be Carlton’s personal catcher. That spurred the observation that they would some day be buried 60 feet, six inches away from each other.

In his final season, 1980, McCarver spent part of his time in the Phillies broadcast booth. There he studied under the legendary Harry Kalas. "Harry did his job," McCarver told Sandomir, "and that alone, just listening to his cadence, his rhythm, that was enough."

He also got advice from the Phillies other announcer. Richie Ashburn told McCarver, "Pal, if you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say it!"

From there, McCarver forged a 32-year career broadcasting for the Phillies, Mets, Yankees, Giants and all four major networks.

He’s called a record 22 World Series and 21 All-Star games.

"All I did was announce the game the way I thought it should be," he told Sandomir. "I found very early on that my observations were different from others. Not better or worse, just different."

For example, McCarver first pointed out the now standard shot of the shortstop, with his glove in front of his face, signaling the second baseman to indicate who will cover second in the event of a steal.

He seemed so knowledgeable in the Mets booth that general manager Frank Cashen would ask his advice on player acquisitions. Which was more respect than he got from his broadcast partner, Ralph Kiner. Over the years, Kiner variously referred to McCarver as Sid, Ted and Jim. When he did get the Tim right, he’d then call him McArthur.

But McCarver always saw the humor, just like the time American Cyanamid popped up as a sponsor. Sure enough, Kiner intoned, "The Padres make a pitching change, and this is brought to you by American Cyanide."

"We were advocating cyanide pills!" McCarver told Sandomir. "That’s how bad the Mets were playing!"

Humor, insight, longevity. That’s how Tim McCarver made the 50-year trip from Ponce de Leon Park to Cooperstown.