COMMENTARY | Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann notched the 1,000th hit of his career on June 3 and now finds himself climbing higher and higher up the club's all-time record book. The sad realization many Braves fans may have to come to is that McCann's $12 million salary could make him a cap casualty next season -- particularly since Evan Gattis remains waiting in the wings. If this truly is Mac's last season playing with the Tomahawk Chop in the background, will he leave as the best catcher to ever don a Braves uniform?
Brain McCann (Atlanta Braves, 2005-present)
McCann's legacy in Atlanta will go far beyond the numbers. Sure, he has 1,000 hits, which ranks him No. 25 all-time in franchise history. He has six All-Star appearances and five Silver Slugger Awards, and he will end this season as No.1 or 2 among catchers in nearly every statistical category, but he has meant more to this franchise than just raw stats.
McCann is the Atlanta community. Born in Athens, Ga. in 1984, he is every bit the hometown hero one could hope to find. The Braves have made it a point to track the great young talent in the state, and McCann was really that first homegrown star the Braves found, developed and brought to their local stage.
McCann has also become the bridge between generations for this franchise. While he is a big part of the current nucleus of young Braves stars, McCann has been around long enough to have caught for John Smoltz, and he was also given the responsibility of protecting Chipper Jones in the batting order for many years. There are fan-favorites, and then there is Brian McCann. Wherever he ends up, he will always be an Atlanta Braves player to the people of this city.
Hopefully general manager Frank Wren can work out a way to keep McCann on this team moving forward, because, like Chipper, he deserves to retire as a lifelong member of the Atlanta Braves and one day have his No. 16 raised to the ring of honor alongside the other greats of this storied franchise.
Javy Lopez (Atlanta Braves, 1992-2003)
Lopez could be the most prolific hitting catcher the Braves have ever had. He ranks No. 1 among catchers in home runs (214) and RBIs (694), and is second in hits (1148). Lopez could also have the two best statistical seasons for any Braves catcher. In 1998, he hit 34 homers and knocked in 106 runs for Atlanta. In 2003, his was even better as he belted 43 blasts and added 109 RBIs in a year he finished No. 5 in the NL MVP race. Yet, Lopez's stats do have a slightly fishy aroma about them.
In a baseball era where if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it's probably a duck on steroids, Lopez's name is followed by a brewing storm cloud of suspicion. He isn't exactly the level of player that gotcha journalists would be after to uncover the truth, however, Lopez did kind-of admit to juicing in an interview he gave with David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution in 2010.
During their sit down, Lopez said, "Well, everybody seen players getting big, hitting the ball harder, home runs and stuff. All of a sudden -- boom -- they got the big contract and everybody's like, 'You know what, did that, it worked for him, why not do it?' . . . I mean, how can I explain this? It's like if you're going to race cars, if you're going to race a car and some people are using nitro in the fuel, and you see them winning all the time, and you're using regular gas -- you know what? If they're using nitro and they've been winning, well, I'd be stupid enough not to use nitro, too."
Labored metaphors aside, Lopez did not give anyone reason to believe he was clean during his time in the bigs. If he did have a personal bartender serving him up the muscle-enhancing cocktails, is his right to be called the Braves greatest catcher of all-time forfeit?
Joe Torre (Milwaukee/ Atlanta Braves, 1960-68)
Torre ranks No. 2 among catchers in hits (1,087), although, if McCann stays on his current pace, he would squeak into the second slot all-time with 1,094 career knocks. His .294 career average as a Braves catcher is tops for the position, however, his power numbers do not nearly compare to the others in the group.
Torre hit just 142 dingers while as a member of the Braves. McCann already has 163, with more than half of a season left to be played. Torre's 552 RBIs are also already south of McCann's 621. And, any goodwill Torre may have cultivated in Atlanta went out the window when he stole two potential World Series rings away from the Braves as the manager of the hated New York Yankees in 1996 and 1999.
Del Crandall (Boston/ Milwaukee Braves, 1949-63)
Crandall caught for the Braves in the golden age of baseball; back when men were men, and stadium beers ran three for a nickel. It's very hard to compare players from different eras, but Crandall does have the top spot in a lot of the pertinent categories which might justify etching his name as the greatest Braves catcher. He is first in hits (1,176) and runs (552), has eight All-Star appearances, four Gold Gloves and won a World Series ring in 1957.
The negatives for Crandall would be that, of the four catchers in the running, his .257 batting average is the lowest, as well as the fact that he comes in at the bottom of the group in OBP (.313), SLG (.412) and OPS (.725). Crandall also played significantly more games in a Braves uniform and any of the other three catchers. His 1,394 games played are 238 more than Torre, and a staggering 369 more than McCann.
And the Winner Is…
Javy Lopez would have the numbers to be called the greatest Braves' catcher of all-time, but there could be an obvious reason why Atlanta let him go to the Baltimore Orioles after his most productive year in the Majors -- ((cough)) ((cough)) steroids ((cough)) ((cough)).
McCann's stats will be very comparable, if not better than, the rest of the Braves all-time great catchers. The fact that he is held in such high esteem with fans, teammates and coaches gives him an extra boost for which raw numbers cannot account. A World Series title in 2013 would certainly cement his name at the top, but either way, Brian McCann is the greatest catcher in Atlanta Braves history.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter based in "Braves Country." He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
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