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Voices of the Game, day 13: Justin Morneau to Roy Smalley

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A Ford C. Frick Award winner joins a pair of Twins in today’s installment.

Minnesota Twins vs California Angels
Roy Smalley
Photo by Rick Stewart/Allsport/Getty Images

I’m starting to see the end in sight here. But there won’t be an installment tomorrow because of Thanksgiving. Go eat your turkey and have fun. I’ll have more broadcaster bios on Friday.

If you want to catch up on earlier entries, you can check out the StoryStream. And if you want the rules of the road, check out the first entry.

21. Justin Morneau. Minnesota Twins. WAR: 27.2

Morneau was born and grew up in British Columbia and like all good Canadian boys, played hockey as well as baseball. He was a member of a title-winning junior hockey team in 1998. Morneau is quick to point out he was the third-string goaltender who never played, and that probably convinced him that his future was in baseball.

The Twins took Morneau out of high school in the third round of the 1999 Draft. He quickly established himself as one of the Twins’ top prospects and made his major league debut in 2003. Morneau struggled in 40 games with the Twins that season, but he returned to Triple-A for the 2004 season and hit .306 with 22 home runs in the first half. The Twins then made a pretty historic four-team trade that sent starting first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz to the Red Sox to make room for Morneau.

The left-handed first baseman quickly became one of the most feared hitters in the league. In 2006, Morneau hit .321/.375/.559 with 34 home runs and 130 RBI, winning the American League MVP Award. Morneau was a four-time All-Star, making the team every year between 2007 to 2010. He hit 140 home runs in the five seasons from 2005 to 2009.

In 2010, Morneau was having the best year of his career, hitting .345/.437/.618 with 18 home runs in the first 81 games. Then on July 7, he slid headfirst into second base in Toronto. His head hit the knee of Blue Jays second baseman John McDonald. The collision didn’t look bad at the time, but Morneau had suffered a concussion that would cost him the rest of 2010. He was never really the same after that.

Morneau was declared free of concussion symptoms to start the 2011 season, but he twice went on the disabled list with a neck and a shoulder injury. In August 2011, the concussion symptoms returned. While not as serious as the year before, Morneau was out for the rest of the year again.

Morneau was healthy for 2012 and 2013, but he had become a pretty pedestrian first baseman by then. With free agency approaching and the Twins going nowhere, Morneau was traded to the Pirates on August 31, 2013.

The Rockies signed Morneau as a free agent after the season and he had a comeback year in 2014, winning the National League batting title with a .319 average. But his 2015 season was cut short by another concussion.

Morneau signed a free agent deal with the White Sox for the 2016 season, but only played 58 games because of an elbow injury. He returned to play for Team Canada in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, but no teams were interested in signing him that year. He officially retired before the 2018 season.

Morneau’s career stats were .281/.348/.481 with 247 home runs over 1,545 games and 14 seasons.

Morneau joined the Twins’ front office immediately after retiring. He calls an occasional Twins game on television as well.

20. Tim McCarver. St. Louis Cardinals. WAR: 28.3

I’m going to assume you’re familiar with Tim McCarver the broadcaster, so I won’t go into that much. But unless you’re at least approaching your 50th birthday, you likely don’t remember McCarver the ballplayer.

McCarver was a top athlete out of high school in Memphis, Tennessee, making All-State in both baseball and football. The Cardinals signed him for a $75,000 bonus in 1959 (huge for the time) and he made his major league debut in September of that year. He was still only 17.

I don’t know why the Cardinals rushed McCarver to the majors — he was probably there to sell some tickets. But McCarver clearly wasn’t ready to play in the majors that year and he wasn’t ready to play in the majors in 1960 or 1961, even though he got cups of in both of those seasons as well.

After spending the entire 1962 season in Atlanta (hard to believe it was still a Triple-A city then), McCarver was finally ready to take over as the Cardinals starting catcher for the 1963 season. He hit well for the “Second Deadball Era” with a line of .289/.333/.383, but it was his defense that had all his coaches and teammates raving.

The Cardinals won the 1964 World Series with McCarver as their starting catcher. McCarver was a beast in the seven-game series win over the Yankees, hitting .478/.552/.739 with a double, a triple and a home run in 23 at-bats. The Series MVP went to Bob Gibson, but they probably should have given it to McCarver, who hit a three-run home run in the top of the tenth to win Game 5.

McCarver was the Cardinals starting catcher through the 1969 season. He made the All-Star Game in 1966 and 1967. The Cardinals won another World Series title in ’67 and McCarver had his finest season, hitting .295/.369/.452 with 14 HR and an OPS+ of 136. He finished second in the MVP balloting that year behind teammate Orlando Cepeda.

During that time, McCarver served as the Cardinals’ representative in the founding of the MLB Players Association. He was one of the 20 union members who hired Marvin Miller from the Steelworkers Union.

In 1970, the Cardinals traded McCarver and outfielder Curt Flood to Philadelphia as part of a package for Dick Allen and two other players. That trade is best known for Flood’s refusal to go and the Supreme Court case surrounding it, but McCarver reported to Philadelphia. Unfortunately, he played only 44 games for Philadelphia that year because of a broken finger.

The Phillies traded McCarver to the Expos at the trade deadline in 1972. After half a season in Montréal, McCarver was traded back to St. Louis for the 1973. The Cardinals sold him to Boston in September of 1974. He played 11 games for the Red Sox in ’74 and then just 12 games in 1975 before he was released.

When the Red Sox released McCarver in 1975, he thought that at the age of 33, his career was over. He started applying for broadcasting jobs. But before he went to any interviews, the Phillies asked him to return as their backup catcher. He stayed in Philadelphia through the 1979 season where he famously served as Steve Carlton’s personal catcher.

McCarver took a job broadcasting for the Phillies in 1980, but his career wasn’t quite over. The Phillies were heading towards their first-ever World Series title that year, but they decided that their ace Carlton would feel more comfortable throwing to McCarver down the stretch. The Phillies talked McCarver out of retirement. He only played in six games in 1980 and didn’t play in the playoffs, but he got his third World Series title ring that year. He also became one of the few “four-decade” players in MLB history.

McCarver returned to broadcasting right after retiring. In September 1985, he got his big break when legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell published his autobiography. In it, the opinionated Cosell ripped many of his ABC colleagues and he was fired shortly before the World Series started. McCarver was hired to replace Cosell and he worked on the national TV broadcasts of the baseball postseason for the next 28 years.

Recently, McCarver has been easing his way into retirement by calling several Cardinals games a year.

In 2012, McCarver was awarded the Ford C. Frick Award by the Baseball Hall of Fame.

19. Roy Smalley. Minnesota Twins. WAR: 29.4

Roy Smalley III comes from a big baseball family. His dad, Roy Smalley Jr. was a shortstop for the Cubs from 1948 to 1953 (the period when the Cubs first became really crappy) and for Braves and Phillies after that. His mom was the sister of legendary manager Gene Mauch.

Smalley went to USC and was a member of two College World Series champions there. He was drafted five times (there were a lot of different drafts back then) before he signed after being the first pick of the 1974 January draft by the Rangers.

Smalley was a big, switch-hitting shortstop who made his major-league debut with the Rangers in 1975. He struggled in Texas for the second half of 1975 and the first part of 1976. The Rangers dealt him to Minnesota in June for fellow Twins broadcaster Bert Blyleven. (The Rangers also got infielder Danny Thompson, who was known to be battling leukemia at the time and would be dead by the end of the year.)

In Minnesota, Smalley blossomed into a star. Or at least as big a star as someone playing for the Twins in the late-70s could be. Smalley had his best year in 1979, making the All-Star Game and hitting .271/.353/.441 with 24 home runs.

By 1982, the Twins decided to tank, although they didn’t call it that at the time. Minnesota traded away every veteran player and decided to just give a bunch of rookies a chance. (Several of those rookies would later form the core of the Twins 1987 World Series-winning team.) Just four games into the 1982 season, Smalley was traded to the Yankees.

Smalley was pretty good in New York and became the first Yankee shortstop to hit 20 home runs in a season in 1982. He stayed with the Yankees through 1984, but this was the height of the Yankees’ “The Madness of King George” period. He had five different managers in his 2½ seasons in the Bronx. Smalley never really won over the fans as he had replaced popular shortstop Bucky Dent and the Yankees never made the playoffs while he was there. Smalley was traded to the White Sox during the 1984 season.

The White Sox traded Smalley back to Minnesota for the 1985 season. Smalley served as the team’s primary DH and part-time corner infielder in 1985 and ’86. He served in the same role for most of 1987, but his playing time dropped dramatically when the team traded for Don Baylor on September 1. Smalley played in the playoffs for the first time that year, but he only got four pinch-hitting appearances in the World Series. Still, the Twins won, Smalley got his ring and retired at the age of 34.

Smalley’s career line was .257/.345/.395 with 163 home runs over 1653 games in 13 seasons.

Smalley started working Twins broadcasts as a pre- and post-game analyst in 2002. He been working Twins telecasts ever since and serves as a part-time color analyst.