McCann's presence will be missed in Atlanta
Now with Yankees, homegrown talent was fixture behind plate, in Braves' lineup
As the Braves shrugged while waving goodbye to Brian McCann due to monetary constraints, he took his free-agent services to the Yankees over the weekend after receiving more than a few pennies from the Steinbrenners. That's splendid news for those into pinstripes and for those handling the bank accounts for this perennial All-Star catcher, but not so much for the team he left behind.
These things happen in sports. The Baltimore Colts traded Johnny Unitas to the San Diego Chargers, and Michael Jordan finished his career with the Washington Wizards instead of the Chicago Bulls. Even George Herman Ruth went from the Red Sox to the Yankees to the old Boston Braves.
Not only that, when it comes to McCann leaving Atlanta for elsewhere after all these years, we're talking about a city that has lost its share of gifted baseball players in the past.
Just last week, Tim Hudson left the Braves as a free agent, and he was their pitching ace since his arrival in Atlanta before the 2005 season. Hudson is 38, though, and it wasn't as if he was born in the franchise. After building his fame with the Athletics, he'll return to the Bay Area next year after signing with the Giants. There also was the departure of future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones. Courtesy of aches and pains around his 40-year-old knees, he announced before the 2012 season that it would be his last. Then years before that, Braves officials decided to cut ties one by one with former Cy Young Award winners Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, mostly because they were in their uppers 30s and beyond.
Ever hear of Hank Aaron? He finished his stellar career with the Brewers after becoming a senior citizen by baseball standards. He requested that return to Milwaukee, where he began his march to Cooperstown with the Braves of that city.
Still, if you're partisan to the Braves, McCann's departure hurts. If it doesn't, then you haven't been paying attention during the last nine seasons that he used to help keep the Braves relevant in the National League. The catcher was clutch, and he was rugged. He also was homegrown beyond the fact that he had spent all of his professional career in the Braves' organization after he was selected in the second round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft.
More specifically, McCann was born and raised in the Atlanta suburb of Duluth, where he cheered for a Braves team in the midst of a record 14 consecutive division titles. He eventually became a part of the legacy of those Braves as Smoltz's personal catcher. Then McCann became a larger part during the subsequent years -- large enough to serve as a bridge between the old Braves who included Smoltz, Jones and legendary manager Bobby Cox, and the new Braves who are creeping back into prominence with a slew of talented players in their early to mid-20s.
McCann isn't in his early to mid-20s.
Still, unlike Unitas, Jordan, Ruth and those Braves I mentioned earlier, McCann is far from ancient. He'll turn 30 in February, so he won't be too far from his prime throughout his five-year deal with the Yankees that is worth a reported average of $17 million per year. He'll deserve whatever he'll get paid, which means you should ignore his modest lifetime batting average of .277. McCann's other numbers are impressive -- such as his 171 home runs and 638 RBIs that are superior to all catchers in the Major Leagues since the start of the 2006 season. He also owns five Silver Slugger Awards at his position. So he can hit, and he often does so when his team needs runs or base runners the most.
Catching? Well, McCann isn't Johnny Bench, but he is pretty good with his glove, his arm and his ability to call a game (just ask Smoltz, a future Hall of Famer). Even so, the Yankees have the option of switching McCann to designated hitter at some point. There is no DH in the NL, so the Braves never had that option. They likely wished they did, because there is a knock against McCann: durability.
In recent years, McCann has suffered through issues with his eyes, his back, his shoulder and his knees. But he always recovered without offering excuses, and then he promptly became McCann again. There was 2013, for instance, when he missed the opening month while recovering from shoulder surgery. He only played 102 games, but it was enough for McCann to produce 57 RBIs and to extend his streak of hitting 20 or more home runs to seven straight years.
McCann also assumed the role last season as ultimate protector of the Braves' integrity. Twice he chastised opponents for showboating after slamming homers against his pitchers. Most prominently, when Brewers slugger Carlos Gomez did as much at Turner Field, McCann blocked Gomez's way between third base and home plate to voice his disapproval nose-to-nose, with spit and adjectives flying.
Now McCann is gone from the Braves, but team officials aren't fretting much. They contend they have adequate replacements in Evan Gattis, who was their popular rookie last season with the clutch bat and the riveting story, and in Gerald Laird, a solid veteran backup who is holding a spot until prospect Christian Bethancourt is ready.
When healthy, McCann always is ready, which is what Yankees Nation will discover in a hurry.