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McCann has mettle to stay with hometown Braves

All-Star catcher heading toward free agency this offseason, could land in AL

One guy. That's all. Before you begin guessing, his name isn't Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews, Phil Niekro, Bob Horner, Dale Murphy, David Justice, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz or even Hank Aaron.

It's Chipper Jones.

One guy. That's all. Before you begin guessing, his name isn't Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews, Phil Niekro, Bob Horner, Dale Murphy, David Justice, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz or even Hank Aaron.

It's Chipper Jones.

Despite all of the splendid players in Braves history -- spanning from Boston to Milwaukee to Atlanta -- Jones is the only guy who spent his entire Major League career with the franchise. The others were traded or bolted through free agency, and their departure often was to the chagrin of themselves and Braves fans who hugged them.

So none of this bodes well for Brian McCann, a perennial All-Star catcher, who deserves to wear a tomahawk across his chest forever.

Will it happen? Probably not.

See Spahn, Mathews, Niekro, Horner...

There already is talk the Braves won't give McCann the mega bucks he deserves when his contract expires after this season. He is projected to land in the American League, where he can rest his catcher-weary legs as a designated hitter before evolving into one full time.

McCann doesn't want to leave, but he understands the situation.

"Yeah, in today's game, with all of the business aspects of it, it makes it a lot more difficult to stay with the same team for your whole career," he said, reflecting on his ninth season with the Braves.

At 29, McCann is playing as well as ever. He just made his seventh All-Star Game, and he was the MVP of the Midsummer Classic three years ago. McCann also owns five National League Silver Slugger Awards for his offensive prowess, and much of his work at the plate has been clutch.

As for this year, McCann missed the first month after undergoing shoulder surgery during the offseason. Consider, too, that courtesy of that damaged shoulder last year, he hit 50 points below his lifetime batting average of .280. It also contributed to all of that chatter that his glory days were over, along with his trips to All-Star Games.

Guess a bunch of folks owe McCann an apology.

Heading into the Braves' Friday night game against the Cardinals, McCann was hitting .286 with 13 home runs, 35 RBIs and a .528 slugging percentage in 59 games. During one stretch before and after the All-Star break, he showed his clutch ability by homering in three straight games, and he had 12 extra-base hits in his previous 17 games.

Doesn't that sound like a lifetime Braves player? If not, how about this: McCann was born and mostly raised in the Atlanta area, where he spent his youth bleeding anything with the Braves. He debated less than a millisecond whether to accept a baseball scholarship to the University of Alabama or join the Braves' Minor League system after he was taken by the team in the second round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft.

"So far, I've played my whole career here, and I've loved every minute of it," said McCann, sounding like Murphy, Justice, Smoltz and the rest at some point during their stay with the Braves.

You know what happened to those former Braves players. Not good, not if you're pulling for McCann to join Jones as the only lifetime Braves throughout an entire Major League career. Plus, McCann has another hurdle to overcome: Nobody spends his entire baseball career with his hometown team.

Well, almost nobody.

Lou Gehrig did it. He was born and raised in Manhattan, attended college at nearby Columbia and played all of his Hall of Fame career in the Bronx. Then there was Cal Ripken Jr., another Hall of Famer, who sort of did it. He was a native of Aberdeen, Md., which is in suburban Baltimore. He spent all of his 21 years in the Majors with the Orioles.

Outside of that, Thomas Wolfe ("You can't go home again") must have been a diehard baseball fan.

The definitive example here is Pete Rose, who was born and raised in Cincinnati, where he became king of the Queen City in a hurry during the early 1960s. Not only did he spend the first 16 of his Major League seasons with the Reds, he made himself one of the game's all-time great hitters during that time.

So when he decided to leave the Reds for the big bucks of the Phillies after the 1979 season, those in his former kingdom around southwest Ohio thought the sun would explode.

Rose returned six years later to the Reds as a player-manager, but that's not the point. He was supposed to wear the uniform of his hometown team from the start of his career to the end.

The same was true of Jeff Francoeur.

Like McCann, Francoeur is from the Atlanta area, where they played on the same youth baseball team. And like McCann, Francoeur was drafted by the local Major League franchise of his heart.

Soon after the Braves promoted Francoeur to the big club in July 2005, he was an instant star. He had the physical skills along with the charisma and the hype. Francoeur was brilliant in right field, not only because of his glove, but because of his arm that produced "oohs" and "aahs" from with velocity and the accuracy of his throws. He also hit like crazy, and he soared through his first 37 games with a .360 average. Within weeks, Francoeur appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated under the title of "The Natural."

Francoeur plays for the Giants these days. Before that, he was with the Royals for 2 1/2 seasons, and before that he was with the Rangers (15 games) and the Mets (199 games). He only lasted parts of five seasons with the Braves.

As the pressure rose for Francoeur while playing for the hometown team, his batting average suffered. And so did his confidence.

In contrast, McCann has discovered the secret for making this hometown thing work without having his head explode.

"I think when you're younger, it's hard to tell people no from your hometown with tickets and things of that nature," McCann said. "So the older you get, the more you realize that you have to show up to the field and focus on baseball. For me, I let my family handle all of the tickets. I don't even worry about them. I mean, this game is so hard that you only concentrate on things that you can control. But to play for your home team, it's a positive. You get to sleep in your own bed all year, and really, when you think about it, there is no negative to playing in your hometown. As long as you set boundaries."

And as long as they want you.

Terence Moore is a columnist for

Atlanta Braves, Jeff Francoeur, Brian McCann