Brian McCann’s retirement announcement was like the man himself — direct, unpretentious, as unvarnished as a stockyard fence post.
In the solemn Braves clubhouse Wednesday night after they had been terminated with extreme prejudice by St. Louis, their hometown catcher simply declared, “This is it for me. I’m going to go home and be a dad.”
“Yeah, this is it,” he confirmed to the surrounding media who wanted to make sure they got it right, since the pronouncement came so quietly and abruptly.
As McCann spoke more about retirement and the importance of finishing his career this season with the Braves, Freddie Freeman leaned against his nearby locker and stared intently at the scene, studying the way a very good player calls it quits. Even at the end, McCann was instructive. And Freeman’s respectful attention amid the disappointment of this Game 5 loss said much about how highly the catcher is regarded by those who matter most in the clubhouse, his teammates.
We probably shouldn’t let McCann slip away quite as silently as he might prefer, because his career in two acts with the Braves was worth at least a trumpet blare or two.
“This guy’s one of the great Atlanta Braves,” said Brian Snitker, the manager at Double-A Mississippi who told McCann he was going to be called up to the Show in 2005 and the manager for his last game in Atlanta in 2019.
There are numbers to back up the assertion. In his first nine seasons with the Braves, he was a seven-time All-Star and a six-time Silver Slugger winner. He came back for an encore this season after experiencing the bright lights of the New York Yankees and a run to a World Series title with Houston. Thank goodness he got that, because he never won a playoff series in five tries with Atlanta.
When he was done here, McCann found himself among in the top 10 Braves of the Atlanta era in career games (1,190, 8th), hits (1,139, 7th), RBIs (706, 6th), home runs (188, 8th). The other numbers he put up elsewhere, they don’t matter so much here today.
Such is the respect that Snitker has for McCann that he asked his catcher if he wanted to go hit in the seventh inning Wednesday in a hopeless game or if he wanted to go out on the single he had two innings earlier. McCann opted for one more cut and popped out to the other catcher. He hit .188 (3-for-16) in this National League Division Series. Endings aren’t often how you’d write them, and McCann was lifted for pinch-hitter and fellow catcher Tyler Flowers in the ninth inning.
Reach back far enough, you might remember McCann as one of the Baby Braves of 2005, a wave of more than a dozen rookies, five of them from the Atlanta area, called up during the season that marked the last of the team’s 14 consecutive division titles. He was the one among the bunch who left the most lasting footprint in the game, foretold when he homered off Roger Clemens in a division series game.
The way McCann went out Wednesday, through the rubble of a 13-1 loss to St. Louis, was hardly an appropriate farewell. His retirement party was a season’s wake. But looking back with a wider angle, McCann couldn’t complain.
“I went to high school here, got to play nine years here to start my career, play with some of my heroes growing up,” he said Wednesday night. “I left and got to come back and play with the new generation. I’d say that’s a success. I had a long career. Fifteen years is a long time, catching every day. And I got to do it in my hometown.”
Baby Braves do grow up. They get worn down by foul tips to bad places. Their knees start rebelling, as McCann’s had for a couple years.
“Fifteen years of catching. It’s sad, but it’s time,” he said.
Or perhaps you remember McCann as the self-appointed arbiter of baseball as it should be. Let’s take you back to 2013, Braves vs. Milwaukee. It wasn’t just that the Brewers Carlos Gomez admired his home run that day for a painfully long time. That was part of it. “Run!” McCann barked.
What also got beneath the catcher’s crust was the way Gomez chirped at Braves pitcher Paul Maholm as he rounded the bases. Gomez never touched home plate on that trip. McCann intercepted him about 10 feet up the third base line and began rather intense counseling.
The Braves brought back McCann, 35, as much to lend his experience to a young staff as anything else he would supply numerically (he hit .249 with 12 home runs while sharing the catching with Tyler Flowers). “It’s unbelievable what he did for our club this year the instant credibility he brought, the stability he brought to our pitching staff,” Snitker said.
Another, younger, hometown Brave, one who grew up watching McCann, provided another testimonial Wednesday night. “He’s been one of the best teammates that I’ve ever had, from the baseball experience to the clubhouse,” shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “Just being around him every day, he has a unique ability to pull the best out of everybody. I’m extremely grateful — and I know all of us are — that he chose to come home and be a part of this.”
One noted former Brave piled on a little more praise after McCann made it official. Tweeted Chipper Jones, in the shorthand of the platform: “Ur a true pro, a leader of men, a great father and a best friend!”
McCann really shouldn’t be allowed to just slip away in the backwash of a terrible loss before such sentiments get aired.
Maybe sometime in the future there will be a better time to appreciate the old catcher, a time not so bound to one of his hometown team’s most wrenching of losses.
“This organization is set up for a long, long time. There is so much talent in this clubhouse. I hate to see the way it ended,” McCann said.
“But it’s on the up, it’s on the rise. And I’ll be watching these guys do their thing. I’ll be coming back a lot. I’ve got a 7- and a 6-year-old and those guys love baseball, so I’ll be at the yard.”
“I don’t think he’s going to be a guy who’ll disappear. He’s born and bred an Atlanta Brave,” Snitker said.
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