McCann cherishes relationships built with Tigers

September 20th, 2019

DETROIT -- For the third time this season, James McCann walked down the tunnel to the clubhouse level at Comerica Park and turned right for the visitors' side instead of the home one. That turn still feels awkward to him, even as he nears the end of his first season out of a Tigers uniform.

“I think it'll always feel a bit strange,” the White Sox catcher said Friday afternoon. “It's just kind of one of those things. There are a lot of people here that I grew close to over the years, and obviously there are guys that I spent a lot of time with that are still here. There are guys that weren't in the organization [at the time] that are on that team now. …

“Then you have your constants like Mr. [Al] Kaline. Every time I come to town, he makes it a point to come over and say hello. Gibby [Kirk Gibson] comes over and says hello. It's those relationships that are worth so much.”

After four-plus seasons and 452 games in a Detroit uniform, that reception is well deserved. Even as McCann further separates from his Tiger tenure, those ties remain.

McCann has been where Jake Rogers and Grayson Greiner are now, catching a new crop of Tigers pitchers while trying to figure out his own game, especially as a hitter. He has been on the receiving end of the Tigers' rebuild, catching pitchers he has only briefly seen in Spring Training or along the line somewhere.

What allowed him to get away from his past, he said, was figuring out who he is as a player and not worrying about which team he’d be playing for.

“I feel there was stuff that I needed to do for me personally, the adjustments that I made,” he said. “It didn't matter which uniform I was going to be wearing. It was something that needed to be done and, that was more my focus than wondering of where I was going to go.”

When he went across the division to the White Sox, he went back to his younger form as a hitter, less worried about power and more worried about consistency.

“The basic overall answer was figuring out who I was. I came into the league doing what got me here, and then I played with guys like J.D. [Martinez] and Miggy [Cabrera] and Victor [Martinez] and Nick [Castellanos], and in trying to take little things here and there from them, I often times found myself trying to be them, trying to do the things that they do. That was one of the things going into the offseason, I wanted to figure out who I was, and being content with that.”

Nine months after the Tigers non-tendered him and the White Sox signed him, the results speak for themselves. McCann entered play Friday slashing .274/.328/.460 for a .788 OPS that sits 106 points above his career level. His 3.5 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference, ranks two full wins above his career-best as a Tiger in 2017.

Meanwhile, the Tigers are still trying to identify their catcher going forward, whether it’s Rogers or Greiner or somebody else.

“Things have gone well for him this year. He's had a heck of a year,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He's a class act, classy guy. And yes, he was missed here, absolutely. That's baseball. People move on, and you have to do the same thing.”