Man on the Spot in Albertville

updated 02/10/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/10/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

TIM McCARVER IS A REGULAR GUY. BUT lately the gregarious TV baseball analyst has been acting, well, peculiar. He's been wandering around his house in the Philadelphia suburb of Gladwyne like Warren Beatty in Bugsy, muttering strange words to himself. "I'm worried about the names," he explains. "Take Mishkutienok and Dmitriev, the pair to beat in figure skating. I go around saying their names over and over. I don't want to blow it on the air."

CBS doesn't want him to blow it either. In fact, the network is taking a $243 million gamble that, paired with Paula Zahn as prime-time cohost of its Olympics coverage, McCarver, 50, will hook fickle U.S. TV viewers and reel them in for two weeks of Winter Games from Albertville, France. (A preview show will air Feb. 6; the Olympics themselves begin Feb. 8.) A celebrated baseball color man, McCarver will be making a leap out of sports into mainstream TV. Already he has achieved an easy rapport with Zahn, CBS This Morning's coanchor, with whom he has been rehearsing for eight months. "This is the kind of guy Tim is," says Zahn. "He met my 82-year-old Aunt Annie at a party and found out she was a huge Pirate fan but had never been to a game. Two months later, with no prodding from me, he got Annie box seats."

McCarver has also won over Olympics prime-time producer David Winner. "Tim has a genuine curiosity that's freshened by intelligence," says Winner. Curiosity and enthusiasm, McCarver's vaunted double-play combination, are obvious as he discusses the winter Games. "I want the viewer to understand the leverage the downhill skier tries to get with his edges, how each time he cuts sharply he gives up speed for control," he says. "I want him to know why ski jumpers open their skis in V-style fashion—that it's for lift. But I don't want to be in a cave of information when I go on the air. I want to react with enthusiasm."

McCarver grew up in an enthusiastic Irish family of seven in a tough working-class section of Memphis, where his dad, Edward, was a cop, and his mom, Alice, a housewife. On the tough side himself, Tim had his innings with the brothers at Christian Brothers High School. "They gave me exactly what I needed." he recalls. "You know, "Bend over and hold your ankles.' They used paddles made in shop, and boy, could they swing them!"

Tim's older sister Marilyn was the first one to work on his swing. "When I was 5," he says, "Marilyn, being quirky, said, "Why don't you turn around and hit the other way?' It's the only thing I do left-handed." A catcher since age 10, Tim hit well enough at 17 for the St. Louis Cardinals to offer him a $75,000 bonus—an enormous figure in 1959—to sign out of high school. He remembers the fashion statement he made later that year when he came up to the big club from the minors. "I was wearing brown wing tips and yellow socks, gray slacks and an orange Ban-Lon shirt under this plaid jacket," says McCarver, now a natty dresser. "I looked like a billboard. [Teammate] Bob Nieman called me Bush "—as in bush league—"and I thought it was a compliment."

McCarver had a solid major league career that lasted 21 years. He hit .271 lifetime, mostly for the Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies, and appeared in three World Series. In 1980 he began broadcasting with the Phillies. He switched to the Mets in 1983 and started doing analysis for ABC as well in 1984, moving over to CBS in 1990. Meanwhile he was making a nest for himself on the Philadelphia Main Line with the former Anne McDaniel, 49, his Memphis belle, whom he married 27 years ago and with whom he has two grown children, Kathy, 26 and Kelly, 24. Tim, who attended several colleges for six years between baseball seasons but never graduated, has a passion for reading, especially about the Civil War. He also collects wine. "My preference?" he says. "Burgundies and Pinot Noirs."

By all reports, McCarver won't have much time at the Olympics to sample the vintages of France. "We're going to be working 16 hours a day." he says. "But being an athlete has served me well. People talk about the long hours and hard work. Well, they ought to try catching a doubleheader in St. Louis when its 98°F and Bob Gibson is throwing 90-mph fastballs. That's pretty intense. This is a breeze."

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