Via ESPN The Mag, back in 2006:
Hey, Mr. Baseball Editor, here’s a great story for you. Brian McCann is a terrific player, right? An All-Star in his first two full seasons, hit .333 with 24 homers last year, a rare lefty-swinging catcher who doesn’t box the ball around, grew up 30 minutes northeast of Turner Field, and he’s only 23 years old. All good. But here’s the real hook: Brian wasn’t even supposed to be the best player in the family. Brad, his older brother by 14 months, was the big star through high school, a stud shortstop who would have been a top pick in the 2001 draft. But Brad got greedy: He rejected the Reds when they offered a $400,000 bonus instead of the half-mil he thought he deserved. He fell out of the draft entirely and made plans to play at Georgia. Weeks later, UGA’s coach quit, and Brad bailed. So while little bro soared through the Braves’ system, big bro’s been on an odyssey through juco, college ball and the minors. Brian is catching John Smoltz; Brad is stuck in A-ball at 24. Brian is supposed to be laid-back and beloved in the clubhouse; I hear Brad is a hothead, and he’s probably bitter.
The plot gets richer, and darker, too. Howie McCann, the dad, is a former college coach. When Howie got fired at Marshall, he moved to Georgia and opened a baseball academy. You just know he drove his sons hard to fulfill his own dreams. So what do you think?
Brad signed as a sixthrounder with the Marlins in 2004 and had a great season the next year at Greensboro (low-A), going .295/28/106. But he didn’t get the promotion he expected. He wasn’t happy when the Marlins sent him to Jupiter (high-A), their Florida training center, the next spring, and his production fell. He was even crankier this year when they sent him back there. I came across a clip that says Brad went AWOL in June, which can’t have helped. Or maybe it did: The Marlins ultimately dumped him on the Royals, who shipped him to Wilmington, Del., in the Carolina League (high-A). In 18 games with the Blue Rocks, mostly at first base, he’s hitting .220. That’s why he was riding the bench tonight.
Howie found out because Brad called him from the clubhouse right before the game. So even when Brian hit a ball harder and farther off Ian Snell of the Bucs in the sixth inning—his second homer and third extra-base hit of the night—Mom and Dad were tense. “If Howie could travel with Brad, Brad would be in the big leagues right now,” Sherry blurted out, unprompted. “The smallest adjustment, he sees it.”
Howie just laughed and changed the subject. He’s plenty confident in his talents as a hitting coach; sessions are booked so tight that some kid is making a three-hour trip from Savannah for an 8 a.m. slot tomorrow. And yes, Howie will stay up until 2 a.m. tonight, as he does most every night, going back and forth on the TiVo to dissect Brian’s ABs. But he says he never offers advice unless asked. (Yeah, right. You say that all the time too!)
Is Brad the favorite son?
Hard to tell. It’s clear Howie has a special bond with his older boy, even though Dad throws right and bats left, just like Brian. Howie’s 51, grew up in upstate New York, made himself into a fine infielder and got drafted by the Twins in 1974. But when they didn’t offer enough money, he went to juco in Florida, then Mississippi State (where he became pals with teammate Buck Showalter), but never got another shot at pro ball and went into coaching.
Spoke to Brian’s high school coach, Bobby Link. He says Howie was shockingly sane: “He’d help whenever we wanted, but he didn’t pressure his kids. During games he’d sit on a stump way behind the centerfield fence, to stay out of the way.”
One part of my premise is still solid: Brian’s a great kid. This morning he did an autograph signing at a car dealership somewhere deep in the Atlanta sprawlopolis—four sessions in exchange for a free Corvette. About 200 people were out there waiting for him in the rain, and he chatted up all of them, especially the shy little kids. Brian’s kind of a stuffed animal: His clothes are perpetually rumpled, he’s grown a fuzzy blond beard he desperately hopes makes him look older, and he’s got a beer-league paunch. His teammates call him Heaps, as in heaps o’ fries.
When I told him lunch was on me and to pick any restaurant he wanted (I’m billing it to you!), Brian chose Willy’s, a strip-mall Mexican joint. He was craving a burrito, double chicken.
As for the interview, here’s a sample. I say, “It must have been tough living up to Howie’s baseball expectations, right?” Brian’s response: “He never made us do anything. He never made us go out and take batting practice; he never made us go take ground balls. Dad did such a great job with letting us figure it out. He was a coach, and we gravitated toward that because you want to be like your dad when you grow up. That’s why me and my brother started playing baseball.”
McCann’s father was born in 1955 and grew up in New York State. I wonder if he was a Yankees fan?