As many of you know, Brian McCann will be the starting catcher for the National League All-Star team this year. One thing you can say about Brian is that he was born to be a baseball player. He’s a gamer, that’s for sure. He’s a clutch hitter, he can win the game with his defense and he works great with his pitchers. Braves nation has been fortunate to be a part of Brian’s career so far. He’s a great player. This will be his sixth All-Star Game in his young career. Amazing. You think it’s easy to root for him now? Here’s a quick story that will make you want to pull for him even more.
Back around Brian’s first year in the league, the Braves were moving to new television network, and they asked Phil Niekro, me, Sid Bream and some other old players to do a few promotional spots with some current players (a cross-generational effort, in a sense :). Phil and I teamed up with Brian for one of the commercials.
There were two parts to the commercial. In the first spot, Knucksie turned to me and said, with a chuckle, “You know, Murph, back when I played it took a real man to throw a knuckleball,” to which I jokingly replied, “And a better man to hit one!” That was it—a ten-second little funny back-and-forth. For the next spot, Brian and I switched places. Phil said, “You know, Brian, back when I played, it took a real man to hit a knuckleball,” and then Brian said, “And a better man to catch one!” Everyone had a good time with it—or so we thought.
After the shoot Brian and I were sitting there talking, and he was clearly concerned about something. As he was taking off his shinguards (he’d been in catcher’s gear for the shoot) he looked over and said, “Nah, I can’t say that.” I said, “What do you mean?” Brian said, “I can’t say what I just said—"a better man” than Phil Niekro? I can’t say that. I mean, it’s Knucksie, and I’m just a rookie. How can I honestly say that? I’m not a better man than Phil.” I tried to tell Brian that it was just a joke, but he was unmoved. He'd grown up watching Phil and had such respect for him that he just wasn’t comfortable with it.
So I went over to Phil and told him that Brian didn’t want to say what he said, and that he wanted to redo the spot. “Wait, he doesn’t want to say what?” Phil asked, a bit puzzled. I explained and then we went over to the producer and told him to not start packing up yet, since they were going to need to shoot a different version of the second spot. After we explained a little bit more they ended up reshooting the commercial.
I learned a lot about Brian that day. He's got character, simply put. He’s a humble guy who appreciates the chance he has to play baseball and to represent the Braves organization. It's clear that not only does he want to be a successful player, but he wants to do it the right way. As a baseball fan what more could you ask for?