Gus Johnson remembers Tim McCarver farewell to unsung ESPN staffer

In memory of Tim McCarver, the departure of an unsung ESPN employee, Gus Johnson doc: Media Notes

His baseball life was amazing. Tim McCarver played in the major leagues as an exhilarating and hard-hitting catcher for four different decades (1959-80) and found a second American act as one of baseball’s most influential broadcasters. He has called on network television for 29 consecutive MLB postseasons from 1984 to 2013, and his 24 years as a World Series television analyst is a mark that probably cannot be topped. He worked with Joe Buck as the Fox network’s premier national baseball broadcast team for 18 years, having previously worked with Joe’s father, Hall of Famer Jack Buck, for two World Series on CBS. Even his critics—and he had many of them because of his tendency to talk too much on a show—would concede that few baseball analysts were better at making first guesses. As I wrote for Sports Illustrated in 2013:

“The most famous example came at the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. With diamondbacks on each base and the Yankees infield, McCarver told the audience that Yankees ran closer to left-handers Mariano Rivera’s cut fastball inside, often resulting in broken ones racquet hits on the flat outfield. On the next pitch, Diamondbacks outfielder Luis Gonzalez broke his bat on an indoor court by Rivera. The ball flew over New York shortstop Derek Jeter to end the streak.”

McCarver died Thursday morning at the age of 81 in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was with his family.

As for his broadcast teammates, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal wrote a lovely article on Thursday about working with McCarver while both were at Fox. I was always struck by how much Joe Buck admired his time at McCarver. I had a lengthy interview with McCarver in March 2013 when he announced he was retiring from Fox at the end of the year, and I always remembered what Buck told me about McCarver in that article.

“I learned more from him than anyone in this business,” Buck said, “including my father.”

Buck simply texted me on Thursday, “He was a great teammate.”

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Rosenthal: In memory of Tim McCarver, the ideal teammate in broadcasting and baseball

Steve Young, Suzy Kolber, Barry Melrose and Steve Levy. These are names that will be familiar to the readers of this column. Tony Florkowski probably not. But Florkowski is a great example of a person behind the scenes who makes places like ESPN perform at their best and people like Young, Kolber, Melrose and Levy do their jobs to a high standard.

I was struck by a lot of on-air social media tributes to Florkowski last week (as well as one that aired on ESPN), so I wanted to know a little more about his journey. He retired from his job as a sports producer last week after 41 years at CNN and ESPN. Florkowski started as an entry-level producer at CNN Headline News in December 1981 and joined CNN Sports in 1983. He spent his last 22 years at ESPN as an office producer and, like Levy in the following quote, man the production line when it comes to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Florkowski’s career has spanned Super Bowls, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Finals, the World Series, major golf tournaments, major boxing events, and the Olympics. His primary focus at ESPN was the NFL, where he worked on game coverage for Monday Night Football and several NFL studio shows. Florkowski is the opposite of a self-promoter, so it took a little persuading to get him to reply to an email. I asked him what he thought was his most memorable event.

Tony Florkowski

“He made us look good on TV,” says ESPN’s Steve Levy (left) of Tony Florkowski (center), seen here with hockey analyst Barry Melrose (right). (Courtesy of ESPN)

“That’s a tough question to answer, which is a sign of how lucky I’ve been,” Florkowski said. “The mistake of Bill Buckner, multiple Michael Jordan and Tom Brady championships, big news events like Tonya (Harding) vs. Nancy (Kerrigan), the Olympic Park bombing, the destruction of Joe Paterno’s statue, and great Super Bowl moments. But I think the most memorable assignment would be covering a Stanley Cup final. Aside from the physical toll players must take to accomplish the feat of witnessing players pour onto the ice, the extreme luck, the emotional tears and Lord Stanley himself, it is all an incredible sight. To have had this assignment with Steve Levy and Barry Melrose for so long was special. Honestly I’m embarrassed but really honored by the praise. I joined ESPN in September 2001 and it has been my home ever since. It’s an amazing place full of knowledgeable and creative people who push me to be better every day.”

I reached out to Levy to ask what Florkowski means to him and I got an email back shortly after I sent it.

“During the years that we didn’t have NHL broadcasting rights, we still traveled and covered the Stanley Cup Finals and it was me, Barry Melrose and Tony and that was it,” Levy said. “Barry and I talked and Tony did absolutely everything else. He was our producer, but also cinematographer, lighting director and sound. He was like an octopus whose hands were constantly flapping in multiple directions. He brought us highlights, edited our talking points and kept track of segment timing. It wasn’t pretty, but he made us look good on TV.

“On travel days, Tony caught the first flight and had everything set up so the minute we got off the plane we were shooting an off-day segment. There wasn’t a TV truck for us, so Tony had to take the tape to a local ABC affiliate and pass it on from there. He had to transport the equipment from town to town all by himself. That’s a lot of checked baggage. Before you ask, yes we have always offered to help carry the gear. But Tony would just talk us out. A part of me felt that he liked doing everything on his own, like a badge of honor. Walking through media-only neighborhoods, Tony was more famous than Melrose. I think he enjoyed his minor celebrity there, known for his hard work, while loving his anonymity off the rink. We will miss him very much this spring.”

Fox Sports Films will air an hour-long documentary about Fox Saturday at 7 p.m. ET – “Back To School With Gus Johnson,” chronicling announcer Gus Johnson’s year-long Advanced Leadership Initiative Fellowship at Harvard University. Johnson discussed the program at length on the Sports Media podcast last April.

Sirius XM NBA Radio will air the NBA HBCU Classic (Grambling State University-Southern University) Saturday at 4 p.m. ET. Raptors broadcaster (and my former colleague) Paul Jones will be participating in the play-by-play with Suns analyst Eddie Johnson as game analyst and Amin Elhassan as sideline reporter.

Episode 278 of the Sports Media Podcast features a conversation with Fox Sports NASCAR play-by-play announcer Mike Joy and race analyst Larry McReynolds. In this podcast, Joy and McReynolds talk about calling the Daytona 500, which airs Sunday on Fox; how they determine the success of their broadcast; Balancing a show that caters to old-school fans while not overpowering the heads of new or casual fans; how much a new lead producer will change the Fox show; working with Clint Bowyer and Tony Stewart versus a booth with a race analyst; how they view viewership as a broadcaster and whether it affects them; how McReynolds feels about the challenge of no longer being on the track weekly; delight in how long he wants to name races; the induction of Kevin Harvick full-time in the broadcast booth in 2024; the value of three pit reporters; making a NASCAR race feel like an event and more.

Nostalgia is a hard drug. I know that many ex-Sports Illustrated employees like me romanticize our time at the magazine/brand whenever that era was. It was a lifetime dream to work in a place that employed the likes of Tim Layden, William Nack and Craig Neff, and it was even more exciting to work with them. It’s still hard to believe I don’t work there anymore.

Arena Group, the current owners of Sports Illustrated, announced in an employee memo earlier this week that 17 current employees will be jettisoned. That was bloodletting, pure and simple. The memo featured standard corporate jargon about “restructuring,” “evolving the needs of the audience,” and maintaining the “expectations of our existing and long-time consumers,” which, of course, is immediately contradicted by unleashing world-class authors like Howard Beck, Alex Prewitt, and Jeremy Woo and cross-platform editing talent like Avi Creditor, Adam Duerson, Molly Geary, Jarrel Harris and everyone else under the company’s guillotine. It was a day that made me think of the late Grant Wahl, who hosted his own public dance with management.

For all the hiring managers reading this column, there are a lot of people who have been laid off this week who would be a tremendous asset to your company. They take their talents with them and you won’t regret adding them.

Episode 277 of the Sports Media Podcast features Jim Trotter, a reporter for NFL Media and a longtime NFL reporter with stints at ESPN and Sports Illustrated, among others. In this podcast. Trotter opens up about his interaction with Rihanna that went viral; having a video viewed by millions; his question to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about the NFL’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and the fact that in Trotter’s five years with NFL Media there has not been a black senior executive in the newsroom; how to ask Goodell a question at this press conference; why he asked the question; how he felt about Goodell’s response; whether Patrick Mahomes will be a Hall of Famer when he retires today; how voting works in the Pro Football Hall of Fame; why this vote is not public and more.

You can subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher and more.

(Photo: Heather Ainsworth, File/AP Photo)