The definitive moment of Brian McCann’s rookie season was the playoff home run off of Roger Clemens. He had joined the team about a month before the All Star break and split time with Johnny Estrada almost immediately. The rigors of catching in the big leagues took their toll throughout the season and his numbers faded a bit, but Braves fans loved the kid. So did management. They traded away Johnny Estrada that off-season. It was a good decision as McCann would earn appearances in six straight All Star games. Offensively, very few catchers have had a better first six seasons than him. There’s a reason that on any given visit to Turner Field you see dozens upon dozens of number 16 jerseys.
This was the first of five straight selections for McCann where he was selected as a backup by the manager or his fellow players. It was also the first selection where he clearly should have been the starter. That year, the fans selected Paul Lo Duca as the starter. Lo Duca was a solid player and has always hit for a decent average. His bat was limp though as he was mainly a singles hitter with a catcher’s speed. While his .303 batting average at the break was good, his power numbers were abysmal. McCann, on the other hand, raked the first half of the 2006 season. His slash line was a massively impressive .343/.406/.505. Yes, the backup catcher had a .911 OPS while the starter set at a measly .753. Clearly, it was more important to voters that you play for the Mets.
Lo Duca recorded two weak at-bats in the game. He grounded into a crushing double play in the 2nd off of Kenny Rogers immediately following a David Wright home run and a Chase Utley single. McCann didn’t enter the game until the top of the sixth, but he didn’t get to the plate until the eighth. He grounded out to short in his first All Star appearance and following a blown save by Trevor Hoffman, the NL fell 3–2. (For those keeping track, that’s one McCann at-bat and a National League loss.)
Russell Martin of the Los Angeles Dodgers grabbed the starting spot in the 2007 All Star game and McCann was again selected as a backup. This time the voters probably got it right as McCann had been struggling a bit at the plate. His numbers were far from bad, but they certainly weren’t as dominating as the years before and after. NL Manager Tony LaRussa allowed Martin to collect three hitless at-bats before placing McCann in the game at the top of the seventh. McCann came to bat for the first and only time in the bottom of the ninth and popped up to short. Despite plating two runs following McCann’s at-bat, the NL fell short with their rally and the AL won 5–4. (One McCann at-bat and another National League loss.)
McCann’s 2007 season was solid but ultimately disappointing. He rebounded in 2008 with his finest season yet in the big leagues. It was also a fine season for National League catchers in general and three catchers were named to the All Star team. The voters picked Cubs youngster Geovany Soto was raking for the first half of the season with an impressive .288/.369/.522 slash line. Russell Martin was selected as a backup as well, and his numbers were a repeat from the year before. A .294/.394/.436 slash line is certainly nothing to sneeze at. The best catcher in the National League through the All Star break was certainly Brian McCann though with his .302/.377/.563. I still find it unbelievable that the guy with the .940 OPS wasn’t the starter.
Then, there was the game itself where the guy with the .940 OPS didn’t even make a plate appearance. Soto got two at-bats and promptly made two outs. In the middle of the fifth, he was pulled for the catcher with the third best numbers, not the guy with the best numbers. Not for the guy who would have given the National League the best chance to win. This was the infamous All Star extra innings game and Martin would record a hit in the tenth. He got another at-bat in the fourteenth inning but recorded another out. In the bottom of the fifteenth inning, manager Clint Hurdle finally put Brian McCann in the game, but the AL scored almost immediately and the NL fell 4–3. (Zero at-bats for Brian McCann and another National League loss.)
Brian McCann was having an excellent season at the All Star break in 2009. His slash line of .298/.375/.487 was the best among National League catchers. Naturally, the voters decided to elect the Cardinals Yadier Molina. Now, Molina certainly would have been the logical backup catcher. He is a terrific defensive player and while his power numbers were weak, he wasn’t a bad hitter with a .280/.352/.383 slash line. Still, it was clear at this point that McCann was the best catcher in the National League and Braves fans were wondering if he would ever get to start an All Star game.
Molina made the most of his starting opportunity driving in the first run of the game in the second, and then scoring the second run of the game in the same inning. When Molina came to the plate in the fifth, the game was now tied 3–3 and he grounded out to short. McCann didn’t appear in the game until Charlie Manuel had him pinch-hit for Molina in the eight. He popped up behind home plate and the National League lost again. (One at-bat for Brian McCann and the National League loses again.)
In 2010, voters simply did not care that Yadier Molina was struggling at the plate. No matter how good your arm is behind the plate, a slash line of .223/.301/.294 does not warrant selection for the All Star team. It pays to play for the St. Louis Cardinals. McCann, again selected as a backup, did not have numbers as strong as the past two seasons, but he did have the best numbers among NL catchers. Despite a dip in his batting average, McCann actually increased his on-base percentage and was sitting pretty with a 827 OPS. (That would be 232 points higher than the starter.)
Molina again made the most of his starting opportunity and stroked a single to center in the top of the third. Charlie Manuel wanted to win this game bad, and with runners on the corner in the fifth, he pinch-hit McCann for Molina. Unfortunately for McCann, he didn’t come through, flying out to right field. The National League was down 1–0 in the seventh when they started a rally. Back to back singles by Scott Rolen and Matt Holliday put runners on the corners with one out. Following a Chris Young pop out, Marlon Byrd worked a walk and the bases were loaded for Brian McCann.
McCann would crush the second pitch he saw to the wall in right. All three runners scored and McCann was standing on second with a double. This year, the NL bullpen shut down the AL and the National Leaguers walked away with a 3–1 victory. All three runs were plated by Brian McCann and he was named MVP of the game. One of the best all time Braves All Star moments. (Two at-bats for Brian McCann and finally, a National League victory.)
For the first time in his career, Brian McCann was rewarded by the voters with the starting spot in the 2011 All Star game. His slash line, .310/.381/.514, certainly dwarfed those of his backups. (Yadier Molina posted a solid .282/.332/.414 through the All Star break and Miguel Montero posted a similarly solid .272/.340/.456.) McCann got two at-bats, but couldn’t duplicate his heroics from the year before. Molina took over behind the plate and recorded a hit with a double in the sixth. The National League, with the help of three Braves pitchers, shut down the American League bats and captured a decisive 5–1 victory. (Two at-bats for Brian McCann and another National League victory.)
It has been exciting to see Brian McCann hit well over the past few games, but I simply can’t make the argument that he deserves to be on the All Star team this year. I was really hoping the voters would put him in anyway, to make up for the ridiculous selection of Molina in 2010. (McCann may be way under what he’s capable, but he’s been considerably better this year than Molina was through the first half of 2010.) It didn’t happen though and for the first time in six years, Brian McCann will get four days off. Without the Brian McCann at-bat rule in play, this year’s All Star game is a toss up. As for McCann himself, I look forward to him putting up All Star caliber numbers for the rest of this season.