In the 2007 (not so long ago) online edition of the 44, there was no entry for Brian McCann. He flunked the three full seasons rule. Nonetheless, by the time Mac published the e-book version four years later, McCann was featured at Number 16 1/2, between Jeff Blauser at 16 and Felipe Alou at 17. From zero to 60 – an impressive seven years. Mac said then: “Brian goes here, roughly, and could be in the top ten in a couple of years.” In the two years subsequent to that quote, Brian had two subpar (for him) years; his slashes fell about 40-50 points each from his career marks. His games played also fell, yet he still managed to hit 20 HRs each season.
Signed in the 2002 draft out of Duluth, Georgia. Brian started his MLB career very young. (I did get to see him play for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, when he was already highly regarded in the organization.) He was the Braves’ fulltime catcher at age 22. He was an all-star seven times while a Brave, the MVP of the game in 2010. He also won five Silver Sluggers, if you care about such things.
In these amended rankings, he is bracketed by Bob Horner at No. 11 and Joe Torre, who slides to No. 13. I chewed a bit over ranking him over Torre (I likely was influenced by the fact that Joe was my favorite player as a child. When I was a child, not when Joe was. Joe was in his thirties…but I digress.) After a while, it seemed quite plain to me: McCann was better. Not only are McCann’s counting stats higher (both had nine seasons with the team), let’s remember that 15-20% of Joe’s stats came when he was playing first base. (In fairness to Joe, hitting cleanup in the Sixties, his RBI totals maybe suffered from coming to the plate with the bases cleared frequently?) McCann just caught, save for an occasional day off at DH when we scrimmaged one of the teams from the Coach-Pitch League. That takes a toll. He can’t overtake Javy for best Braves career, but he’s a close second. If he’d stayed a Brave, he would above Javy, and thus be in the top ten, as Mac predicted.
Brian’s defense was enthusiastic but below average. Teams ran on him with success — a lot. (He led the league in SBs allowed three times.) But his bat was special, and he caught a remarkable number of games from 2006-2011: 124, 132, 138, 127, 136, 126. That, my friends, is blue collar baseball at its best. In his 2011 e-book, Mac said, “He’s certainly on a Cooperstown trajectory, but sustaining it will be hard, as it always is for catchers.” It is, and he couldn’t. While the HOF may be out of reach, he was a stud in a Tomahawk.
The Braves of his time believed that he and fellow Brave Adam Laroche were the two slowest players in all of MLB. There were always rumors of a race to decide the issue once and for all. Not sure it ever happened.
I feel pretty comfortable slotting Brian in between Horner and Torre. This is where he belongs.