We need more players like Braves catcher Brian McCann. Suddenly, during his ninth Major League season, he is evolving into the 21st-century version of Carlton Fisk, the Hall of Fame icon of the Red Sox and the White Sox who often terrorized opponents with his ability to field a little and to hit a lot, especially in the clutch.
Just like McCann.
Mostly, McCann resembles Fisk in his quest to have as many of his peers as possible (OK, all of them) respect a game that has been around professionally since the end of the Civil War. The key word here is "professionally." Or, if you prefer, "professional" or "professionalism."
So it only makes sense that McCann has gone wonderfully nuts twice within the past two weeks over a couple of players approaching their business in an unprofessional way. Let's just say that the ears of Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez and Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez remain scorched from McCann's tongue. In the end, Fernandez and Gomez realized they blew it, and they quickly apologized to McCann, but it took this unofficial professor of baseball etiquette to show Fernandez and Gomez the way.
I'm guessing Fisk is somewhere nodding with a smile, because he once was McCann. During the early 1990s, when Fisk's Red Sox were playing the Yankees, Deion Sanders opted not to run to first after a pop fly in the infield. Now Fisk was the ultimate New Englander, which means he wasn't exactly fond of pinstripes, but he despised one thing more: The lack of effort by somebody in a professional uniform. It didn't matter if you played for his team or another one. Such blatant disrespect of baseball was enough to make Fisk do what he did when Sanders headed back toward the Yankees' dugout that day.
Fisk screamed at Neon Deion.
Later, when Sanders returned for his next plate appearance to draw his signature dollar sign in the batter's box, Fisk's head was about to explode. He told the future NFL Hall of Fame cornerback who was moonlighting in the Major Leagues something to the effect of: "There's a right way and there's a wrong way to play this game, and you're playing it the wrong way."
McCann can relate. The same goes for a slew of other prominent stars of the past and present, because many of baseball's dos and don'ts along these lines are clear.
Ryne Sandberg paused after hearing the question. He manages the Phillies these days, but he is most noted for becoming a Hall of Fame second baseman after spending 16 Major League seasons through 1997 during an era when professionalism among players was more standard.
Or was it?
Said Sandberg: "I think that's an individual thing. It all depends on the situation and what we're talking about. In a lot of ways, it comes down to a judgment by the teams that are participating in a game. There's a lot of criteria that goes into what's disrespectful to the game and what isn't."
To hear McCann tell it, Fernandez was disrespectful to the game and to the Braves a couple of weeks ago in Miami. First, Fernandez made facial expressions on the mound that the Braves interpreted as condescending when they scored during an otherwise spotless performance by the rookie. Later, Fernandez ripped his first Major League homer, and he admired the ball leaving the park as if he were Babe, Mickey or Reggie.
McCann wasn't pleased. Good.
You probably could excuse Bob Gibson or Greg Maddux for doing such a thing, but Fernandez's career is at least a decade shy of matching either of those legends, and neither of them would have ever thought of doing what Fernandez did.
By the time Fernandez circled the bases to reach home plate, McCann was waiting for him. Said the perennial All-Star catcher, moving nose-to-nose with the youngster who didn't have a clue: "Hey, man. You're a kid, but you're in the big leagues. You need to do what big leaguers do."
They don't do that. Not the professional ones.
Neither do pros resemble Gomez during his self-anointed grudge match with Braves pitcher Paul Maholm. Earlier this week, after Gomez slammed a homer off Maholm at Turner Field, he continued to shout at the pitcher as he circled the bases. Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman countered with several choice words of his own when Gomez passed first, but Gomez's biggest confrontation was to come.
There was McCann, all right, waiting, fuming and blocking Gomez's path to the plate while standing a few yards away.
The next day, a significantly calmer McCann said near his locker, "In the heat of the moment, I did what I thought was right. I stand by what I did. I'm sticking up for this team."
That's splendid. You always want teammates to back teammates, especially catchers. In fact, the list of enforcers at that position include Yogi Berra, Thurman Munson and Fisk -- except Fisk also stressed that other element.
It's the same element that McCann has continued to emphasize with authority this month, because he also said of Gomez's actions, "I don't think that's a part of the game of baseball."
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com.