Braves catcher and Athens native Brian McCann will be a free agent at the end of the season, and his big price tag, along with Evan Gattis’ surprise success in the majors, leaves McCann’s return to Atlanta in doubt — something he says he’s trying not to think about yet.
ATLANTA — Notwithstanding some of Brian McCann’s achievements this season — and it’s possible that you missed a few amid the Evan Gattis over America Tour — there’s a good chance that it won’t change the way this story ends.
It’s the way professional athletics works sometimes, even if it makes no sense on so many levels.
All of those retired uniform numbers hanging at Turner Field? McCann’s likely will be there one day. The Hall of Fame? He may make it there, too. Born in Athens. Starred at Duluth High School. Seven-time All-Star. Five Silver Slugger Awards. Team leader. Not a speck of dirt, except on his uniform. A guy so classy and devoid of ego that, with nothing but a smile, he helps out the younger, cheaper player who may one day take his job (Evan Gattis).
How many boxes do we need to check off?
“He’s helped me a ton,” Gattis said.
Ever feel awkward about it?
“No, not now that I know him. Maybe two years ago in spring training. I remember seeing him and thinking, ‘(expletive), it’s Brian McCann.’ ”
McCann is that revered among his teammates, even the older ones. He is showing again why.
His three-run homer in the fourth inning of Tuesday night’s 11-3 win over Colorado punctuated what has been an amazing month following his season-long battle with shoulder pain last year and subsequent surgery for a torn labrum in October. He has answered any critics who might have believed the Braves were better off without him. After the home run, he was hitting .346 in July and .284 for the season. He was named the National League’s player of the week a few weeks ago when he was 15-for-25 (.600) with four doubles and a home run over six games.
He also made it back to the All-Star game as an injury replacement for teammate Freddie Freeman, despite spending the first five weeks of the season on the disabled list and starting only 54 games at catcher.
Since the start of the 2006 season, McCann continues to lead all major league catchers in home runs, extra-base hits, RBI, two-out RBI, game-winning RBI and seriously-he’s-going-to-do-it-again-(?) RBI.
All this ensures nothing beyond another two or three months in Atlanta. McCann will be the team’s regular catcher for the remainder of this season.
His contract is up. His current salary ($12 million), the Braves’ payroll and the rise of Gattis make it unlikely he’ll be back next season. That’s probably why, according to Fox Sports.com, the Texas Rangers phoned the Braves the other day to ask about McCann’s availability in trade. The Braves reportedly said no.
There will be a market for McCann after the season, whether as a catcher or designated hitter. There should be. There also should be leg chains on him so he can’t get out of town.
His ability to perform despite the uncertain future has been remarkable. That hasn’t been easy.
“We’re 8 1/2 games up, and I’m really happy with where this team is at,” he said when asked if it has been difficult to not think about the future. “I’m focused on the moment. Whatever happens after that, it’s out of my control.”
It was a non-answer. He knew that.
So he was asked again.
“I mean, if I said I don’t think about it, I’d be lying to you,” McCann said. “This is all I’ve ever known. This is where I grew up. This is my hometown. So, yeah, to not think about it is sometimes difficult. I’m human.”
His .230 average last season was 56 points below his career average.
Because of his season and the surgery, there was a thought the Braves might not exercise his contract option, or look to move him. Neither happened.
McCann focused on getting his shoulder healthy and trying to rediscover his smooth hitting stroke.
“I had one thing on my mind this offseason — to be the player I always was and prove I could come back from the shoulder injury,” he said. “Going through the struggle, I appreciate success a lot more now.”
Last season, he said, was “frustrating. When you’re used to doing something for your entire life, getting pitches that you’ve hit a certain way, and all of a sudden you’re rolling over and not doing things that you’ve always done, it’s tough. I struggled for a full year. I was always going home on a negative note. Before, when I got into a slump, I was able to find a way to get out of it in a couple of days. I had a seven-month stretch where it just wasn’t there.”
Dan Uggla called McCann “the anchor of this team. He’s our backbone.”
Those kind of guys should be kept around. Sometimes the next best thing isn’t really the best thing.