McCarver appeared in eight games with the Cardinals in 1959 at the age of 17 and in six games with the Phillies in 1980 to become a four-decade player. In the intervening years, McCarver established himself as one of the top defensive catchers of the 1960s and 1970s. He became the Cardinals’ regular catcher in 1963 and was a key component in the emergence of pitching star Bob Gibson with whom he helped the 1964 Cardinals to the team’s first World Series since 1946. McCarver won Game Five with a three-run homer in the top of the tenth inning to give the Cardinals a 3-2 lead in the Series. He was the Series’ leading hitter with a .478 average on 11 hits. McCarver’s 13 triples in 1966 made him the only catcher to lead a league in that category, and he went on to have his best season in 1967. Although he faded after leading the NL with a .355 average at mid-season, he finished with career highs in average (.295), homers (14), and RBI (69). The Cardinals won the World Series, and McCarver placed second in the MVP balloting to teammate Orlando Cepeda.
McCarver hit only 12 homers in the next two seasons and was traded, at the end of 1969, with would-be free agent Curt Flood to the Phillies for Dick Allen in a seven-player swap. He spent over two years with the Phillies before a series of trades sent him to the Expos, back to the Cardinals, and on to the Red Sox. During his travels, McCarver caught two no-hitters: the gem thrown by the Phillies’ Rick Wise against the Reds on June 23, 1971 in which Wise hit two homers, and the no-hitter that Bill Stoneman of the Expos pitched against the Mets on October 2, 1972, the last day of the season.
In spring training of 1965, the stubborn McCarver got into an argument with the equally stubborn rookie Steve Carlton over pitch selection. The two went on to make Cardinals history as batterymates. In mid-1975, at the behest of Carlton, McCarver was reacquired by the Phillies. He spent the rest of his career with them as Carlton’s personal catcher. McCarver’s quip that when he and Carlton die, they’ll be buried 60 feet six inches apart is indicative of the folksy, talkative style that characterized him as a Mets broadcaster.