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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Happy Holidays, James McCann

A former major leaguer who I watched pitch against the Mets once but who I can’t say I remember doing so tweeted something eye-opening this week: “In the entire history of baseball, only 22,860 have made it to the major leagues. That total easily fits into any MLB stadium.” An actor who portrays a former major leaguer on stage and on social media shared that nugget with the comment, “Remember this the next time you call an underperforming player on your team a bum.” In the chill of late December, when nobody’s grounding into a double play to kill a rally, I can see the wisdom of what Bob FIle (Toronto Blue Jays pitcher in the early 2000s) and Ken Webster/John Bateman (the former the man paying continual homage to the latter’s career and persona from when the actor grew up admiring the catcher who broke through with the 1966 Astros). Maybe not in the heat of summer, but why not in the spirit of the offseason?

Hence, I’m here to say James McCann, the other night traded to the Baltimore Orioles for the ever popular Player to Be Named Later, was not a bum. Far from it. He is among the 22,860 I’ve tuned into see or hear. Not a few times I ponied up for the privilege of cheering for James McCann to come through as a New York Met. The right to grumble when he didn’t come through, too, but that’s the passion talking trash. I tried to keep it to a whisper. Either way, I didn’t see him filling one of Citi Field’s seats. He was down there, a part of the action, deploying his skills, however they manifested themselves on a given day or night.

Can it be only two years ago that we welcomed James McCann to the New York Mets with something approaching high hopes? Middling hopes? McCann was the next best thing to J.T. Realmuto as catchers on that winter’s free agent market went. Budding prospect Francisco Alvarez was way off on the horizon at the time and Tomás Nido was considered strictly backup material. We were coming off Wilson Ramos’s second year, which was less robust than his first year. Ramos was going for sure. The franchise’s new owner may not have had quite the front office he needed in place to direct his natural instinct to secure the best possible player at a given position. The Mets didn’t pounce on Realmuto. Once J.T. shipped his gear from Miami to Philadelphia, we scooped up McCann instead. If you squinted real hard and perhaps covered both eyes, you could see the two available catchers as somewhat comparable.

It’s two years later. They weren’t. Realmuto is still the best all-around receiver in the National League. McCann has been moved along to the American League, with Steve Cohen shrugging off most of the money he’s still owed. For three days at the beginning of August, the Mets will be paying McCann to play against them. The rest of the year they’ll be paying McCann to play against everybody else for Baltimore. Unless the catcher experiences a crab-fueled renaissance, we’ll likely have to remember to shrug.

James McCann had the good sense to crest in 2019, the final full year before he hit free agency, making the AL All-Star team for the White Sox. He followed up by posting gaudy numbers inside the short sample size of 2020. He wasn’t top of mind outside Detroit prior to ’19. We could believe he’d found himself in Chicago and he’d stay found once he ensconced himself in New York.

There were a few moments here and there, but mostly James got lost as a Met. Or was told by the lot of us to get lost. His defensive flourishes were obscured by a hollow bat. We’d hear pitchers liked throwing to him. We saw five pitchers throw to him one night at the end of April and see none of the hitters they faced recorded hits. The last of the batters to go down in the only combined no-hitter the Mets ever pitched was J.T. Realmuto. McCann caught the Edwin Diaz strike Realmuto couldn’t touch.

If only that was the allegory for the one we got/the one who got away. No, Realmuto recovered from his footnote in Met history, went to the World Series with the team that got no-hit and collected his second Gold Glove and third Silver Slugger. The Phillies have him for three more years and don’t seem to mind.

The Mets, in the midst of collecting one star after another, couldn’t shed McCann soon enough. They needed the roster space. They needed clarity. Maybe James did, too. Everybody concerned had seen enough, two years remaining on his contract notwithstanding. Those of us in the seating bowl or on the couch may not have seen all McCann did to be a well-regarded major league catcher. The value of a catcher has to be the hardest for even the most observant of laymen to discern. He’s got to wear so much more equipment than everybody else. He has to think alongside another player on his team and hope he’s completely in sync with that pitcher. He doesn’t get to stand up while positioned. And then we expect some hitting.

Nobody committing himself to that particular vocation can be dismissed by an epithet. But no fan can ignore an OPS+ of 76 one year and 55 the next. No fan can not notice that Nido, never atop any pecking order since his initial promotion in 2017, was the starting catcher in all three postseason games the Mets played in 2022, with none among Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom or Chris Bassitt apparently expressing any problem throwing to him rather than McCann. The same fans who welcomed James ahead of 2021 and cheered the throw to second that ended a game in Colorado on a caught stealing and appreciated the unforeseen start at first base when injuries depleted the ranks and got a huge kick out of that five-armed no-hitter can be forgiven for acting unforgiving toward somebody who came to the plate about 600 times in two years and batted .220. James McCann was the Mets’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, reflecting the support he and his wife Jessica lent newborn intensive care units and the nurses who make them run. A normal person would stand and applaud that sort of recognition. A fan gives it a golf clap at most because, well…look! He just grounded into another double play! What a bum!

Not a bum. Just someone who didn’t perform up to the standards we thought he was capable of maintaining. It happens. Sometimes we’re convinced it only happens to us. I won’t pretend I didn’t deliver a high-five in my head to the news that McCann wouldn’t be a Met anymore, but I swear I hope he’s successful as an Oriole, give or take three days in August.

From 1968 through 2006, the Mets sent a catcher to the All-Star Game in 20 of 39 seasons. Since 2007, Met catchers have had a nice midseason break. We’re due to get somebody behind the plate at the front of the line where catching is concerned. We have Nido some more, and he’s got playoff experience now. We have Alvarez still on the rise, still determining by his progress whether his future will encompass as much crouching as slugging, as if the slugging is guaranteed. And we have Omar Narvaez — “All-Star catcher” Omar Narvaez as the Mets were careful to headline their press release (he backed up Realmuto in the 2021 game) detailing the 30-year-old having signed for one year. Omar may be better defensively than McCann. He can’t be worse offensively, you’d think before not saying it out loud, as his OPS+ the past two years haven’t exactly jumped off the page. He’s a lefty swinger, which implies a Nido-Narvaez platoon is nigh. He also happens to be from Venezuela, same as Alvarez. The veteran-rookie mentorship storyline writes itself. Chances are we’ll hear somebody likes throwing to Omar Narvaez. Chances are he’ll do something positive early on and those of us inclined to zip to social media when a Met succeeds will sing his praises until the next grounder to short or wild pitch that could have been corralled.

That will be later. For now, let us sing the praises of catchers who are doing their best, of hitters who are trying to hit, of our fellow persons who put on Met uniforms and don’t mean to underperform. ’Tis the season and all that.


Speaking of goodwill toward Mets who are no longer Mets, best of luck to Michael Conforto, newly announced San Francisco Giant. True, not every newly announced San Francisco Giant actually becomes a San Francisco Giant, but we’ll guess Giant ownership is wearing warm enough socks to not contract another case of cold feet. Conforto leaving behind the only professional home he ever knew would hit harder on this side of the railing had it happened last year. But Michael’s physical well-being conflicted with his desired market value, so there was a year in limbo while our outfielder of seven usually productive seasons healed.

There had been some talk that the Mets were interested in resuming their professional relationship with the rookie who added a spark to the 2015 pennant drive, but it was just talk. Conforto’s a Giant, another in the queue of heretofore lifetime Mets definitively making his way to the exit this offseason, after Jacob deGrom left for Texas, after Seth Lugo found open arms in San Diego, before the non-tendered Dom Smith finds his next stop. Brandon Nimmo is a lifetime Met for the foreseeable future, having signed a deal to keep him true to the orange and blue through 2030. Next on the chart of Mets And Only Mets in terms of active longevity behind Nimmo is Nido, who you wouldn’t have guessed was heading in such an exclusive direction when he came up with zero fanfare more than five years ago, a month after former No. 1 pick Smith broke through with something of a bang. Dom hit nine homers after his August recall in ’17. He also batted below .200. He didn’t really seem to have it made on the major league level until he, like Conforto, ate up East Coast pitching amid the compressed regional schedule 2020 gave us.

Turned out neither Dom nor Michael had secured their places on the Mets beyond 2021. Smith did not get a tight grip on a share of DH or a share of first base and was not encouraged to pursue left field before his midseason injury erased him from the 2022 picture. At some point he came off the IL but was consigned to Syracuse for the duration. Two years can go quickly in the big leagues. We saw it with McCann. Sometimes your fortunes rise. Nido was a Gold Glove finalist in 2022. He supplanted a somewhat big deal free agent. He’s still here, still projected as half of the receiving end of a pitching staff that includes two surefire Hall of Famers and the best closer in baseball. Never mind 2017 — you wouldn’t have necessarily seen that coming in 2020.

Sometimes, particularly when a James McCann situation goes awry, you can’t wait for time to fly and take the underperformer with it. Sometimes, when you’ve grown fond of those who you consider a few of your own, you wish time could conspire to keep the deGroms and Lugos and Confortos and Smiths together, at their best and their brightest, even as you inevitably welcome the seeking of highly sought free agents manifesting itself in their becoming Mets, whether for a year or a dozen. (Emotionally, we could all use more roster space.) I’ll miss the Mets I couldn’t imagine not being Mets. I’ll miss them a little less as time goes by. That’s our arrangement with baseball the business. But somewhere deep down I’ll remember them fondly even as this year becomes next year.

Officially, by the way, that will be on Tuesday, January 3, 2023, at 7:11:30 PM Eastern Standard Time. That will be the precise moment of the Baseball Equinox, that dot on the baseball calendar when we are equidistant between the last play of last year (Starling Marte’s groundout to end our toe-dip into postseason waters at 10:13 PM on October 9) and the first pitch of next year (scheduled for March 30, 4:10 PM at Marlins Park, presumably out of the right hand of Sandy Alcantra, but you never know). When you haven’t won everything you’ve wanted to win, it’s never too soon for next year. But let’s enjoy the remainder of this year and the ringing in of the new year as long as they await us. Let’s think good thoughts of the Mets who are going, the Mets who are coming and the Mets who are, before we’re informed otherwise, perennial.

Happy Baseball Equinox, everyone, including Baltimore Orioles catcher James McCann.

8 comments to Happy Holidays, James McCann

  • Dave

    Point well taken. The number of people around the world who have played baseball could fill a mid-sized country. The number who have made it to the major leagues – since people were first paid to play the sport – are I’m guessing outnumbered by those who live between Columbus and West End Avenues from 86th to 89th. They’re not all at equal levels of talent, and many will disappoint you at times because that’s both baseball and life, but they went into a huge gigantic funnel and made it to the very narrow opening at the end. Admire that.

    If you know a Giants fan, buy them a beer. They hoped for Judge, they lost Rodon, and they were probably ordering Carlos Correa jerseys and assumed the canceled press conference was because someone missed a connecting flight or something. Instead they have Michael Conforto. Again, good enough to be a major league player. Not quite what they hoped for though.

  • Will in Central NJ

    I met James McCann in 2013 when he wore the uniform of the Erie Seawolves. Nicest guy who graciously signed autographs. I cheered when he signed with the Mets since I, too, was charmed by his 2020 stats with Chicago. But what did Leo Durocher say about nice guys? Ah, no matter. All the best to Mr. McCann and his Orioles.

  • Seth

    James got “McCanned” – too bad things didn’t work out. The situation reminds me of Jason Bay, although catching is a different position and McCann was usually OK defensively. Thank you for the equinox, it’s a yearly tradition!

  • Bob

    “Officially, by the way, that will be on Tuesday, January 3, 2023, at 7:11:30 PM Eastern Standard Time. That will be the precise moment of the Baseball Equinox, that dot on the baseball calendar when we are equidistant between the last play of last year”

    I’ll be here to “Put it in the books!”
    My apologies to Howie……
    Let’s Go Mets!

  • Joey G

    Given the large portion of McCann’s salary that the Mets will continue to dine on for the next few years, I suspect that the player to be named later will be a minor leaguer having “a future ahead of him” and potential of a higher order than Harry Chiti. Now that we are in the driver’s seat financially, it is easier to see the folly in passing up picking up a Realmuto off of the shelf and heading down the aisle a little further for Brand X.

  • open the gates

    The three most left-handed compliments one can give a major-league catcher:
    1) Hey, he played in the major leagues and you didn’t.
    2) He’s a nice guy off the field.
    3) He’s a better catcher than Wilson Ramos.
    Our Mr. McCann went 3-for-3 in left-handed compliments. That’s all we really need to know. Nothing personal, but I’m glad he’s not ours anymore.
    I will have fond memories of him due to the aforementioned 5-handed no-hitter. Just like I’m one of not so many Met fans who remembers the name of the guy who caught Johan’s one-handed no-no. But like Josh Thole, that’s about the only thing I’ll remember him for. Thanks for the memory – it was a good one.