McCann eager to erase sting of September
Catcher still reeling from six-week slump amid Braves' collapse
ATLANTA -- Two months have done little to erase the frustration Brian McCann felt during the final six weeks of this year's regular season. Numerous rounds of golf with his good friend Mark DeRosa have proven therapeutic and his family has continued to nurture him with the support he has received since first introducing him to the oft-cruel game of baseball.
But as McCann attempts to focus on preparations for the 2012 season, he can't completely escape the disgust he felt as his six-week slump greatly influenced the epic September collapse that he and his Braves teammates experienced.
"You have a city that deserves to experience the postseason and you feel like you're one of the leaders on the team," McCann said. "I have to perform for this team to win. I know that. I'm counted on in the middle of the order and I've got to produce.
"I think the season had a lot to do with my struggles. The team, the last six weeks, I didn't hit and we didn't win. You can't have a guy hitting .200 in the month of September hitting in your four-hole. That's what we had."
A little more than a month after the Cardinals won the World Series, it is still hard to believe they trailed the Braves by 10 1/2 games in the Wild Card standings on Aug. 25 and by three games with just five to play.
Still as unbelievable as that might still seem, it is almost as difficult to understand how McCann could have hit .180 with six home runs and a .346 slugging percentage in the 37 games he played after he returned from the disabled list on Aug. 14. This wasn't one of those unavoidable one-week slumps or one of those two-week skids that even the game's greatest players can't avoid.
This was a six-week nightmare experienced by a six-time All-Star who had been on pace to complete the finest season of his already-accomplished career.
"That's the first time I've struggled on a baseball field for longer than a two-week period," McCann said. "I just wasn't able to get out of a slump. It was just amazing. Everything that I've tried that I've done my whole life, all the checkpoints I've had my whole life, I went back to them and they weren't there for me."
When necessary, McCann has always been able to quickly escape rough stretches courtesy of advice provided by his father, Howie McCann, a former collegiate coach and hitting guru, or his older brother, Brad McCann, who played at the Minor League level for the Marlins and Royals.
After struggling to generate power during this season's first two months, McCann sought some family assistance and ended up hitting .338 with 14 home runs and a .644 slugging percentage during a 44-game stretch that led up to the fateful 19-inning win over the Pirates on July 26.
There was certainly reason for concern when McCann exited the 10th inning of that marathon game with a left oblique strain. Chipper Jones was still ailing from the arthroscopic knee surgery he had undergone two weeks earlier, and now the Braves were seemingly looking at the possibility of being without their star catcher for a month.
Looking back, McCann and the Braves might have benefited if he had indeed missed closer to a month. Instead, he returned to the Atlanta lineup on Aug. 14, less than three weeks after straining his oblique muscle.
"Next time I'm shut down for a couple weeks, I'll probably ease my way back more than I did as far as playing a few more rehab games," McCann said. "But that is not why I struggled. I was healthy. I came back and I was ready to go. It was just my timing wasn't right. Everything was just off and out of whack."
Along with returning sooner than expected, McCann played just two Minor League rehab games (including one in which he served only as a designated hitter) before returning to the Atlanta lineup. He takes full responsibility for the decision to come back at the point and says his reasoning was based on the results he realized while playing just one rehab game after missing nearly three weeks with an ankle injury in 2006.
"It was a decision I made," McCann said. "I came back in 2006 from an ankle injury after missing 18 days and playing just one rehab game. That year, I hit better than I ever had. So I felt like I would come back and pick up right where I left off. It just wasn't there for me."
When McCann hit two home runs against the Cubs on Aug. 25, he told reporters he thought he had found a groove. With a cruel twist of fate, McCann did not catch the following night against the Mets and Hurricane Irene kept the Braves idle again until Aug. 30.
A little more than three months later, McCann does not subscribe to the belief things might have been different had the storm not altered the schedule. In fact, he now admits he really didn't feel comfortable on Aug. 25 or on Sept. 13, when he briefly halted worries with a clutch home run against the Marlins.
"I know I hit a couple homers when I got back," McCann said. "But the swing I've always had just wasn't there to back me up.
"I was on pace for a career year. That's the thing that is the toughest part to swallow. I was having one of my best seasons to date, and then I felt like I couldn't get a hit for six weeks."
As demoralizing as the conclusion might have been, McCann's season as a whole was one that most catchers simply dream of having. He ended up hitting .270 with 24 home runs (best among Major League catchers) and an .817 OPS -- just 11 points shy of the mark he posted in 2010.
McCann's production earned him his fourth consecutive National League Silver Slugger Award and fifth in the past six seasons. He has reached a point where it is hard to argue against the belief that he is the game's finest offensive catcher.
While in the lineup as a catcher dating to his first full season in 2006, McCann has hit 129 home runs and totaled 503 RBIs. Ranking second in these categories during this span are Mike Napoli (94 home runs) and Joe Mauer (363 RBIs).
Six full seasons into his career, McCann has put himself in a special category among catchers. Now he simply looks forward to the opportunity to once again prove why he is in this elite company.
"You've got to turn the page, and that's what I've done," McCann said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.