White Sox catcher James McCann doesn’t like to look too far ahead. Life is tough to predict, let alone what can happen in a baseball career. Just look at his 2019 season. Who could have predicted this?
“If you would have told me I was going to be an All Star this year, that was the last thing on my mind,” McCann said on the White Sox Talk Podcast.
But whenever his playing days are over, the 29-year-old is already looking into his future.
He doesn’t want to leave the dugout.
“When I’m done playing, I would love to be a manager one day,” McCann said. “I feel like part of my strengths and my personality, who I am as a player, I can connect with everyone. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what country you’re from, what language you speak, what your makeup is, your personality. I feel like I can connect with you one way or another.”
The White Sox saw this almost immediately in spring training when McCann arrived in Glendale, Arizona, seemingly as the team’s backup catcher. However, he quickly earned the admiration and respect of his new teammates, not just for his play on the field, but his actions off of it.
For one, McCann sees everything going on in a baseball game. I mean everything.
“I don’t like to miss things. I don’t like to disappear into the clubhouse and not see what’s going on. As a matter of fact, if I’m in the clubhouse or in the cage, my eyes are constantly on the TV to see what’s happening. How’s this guy getting pitched? What’s this pitcher doing? Whatever it may be. And that way, I can talk to guys.”
McCann’s long-term goal might be to coach, but in a way, he’s already doing that. He’s been known to drop all sorts of wisdom on his teammates before, during and after games.
“It’s a balance. There are some guys who like to talk, there are some guys that don’t like to talk. Some guys want to talk postgame, there are some guys who like to talk the next day,” McCann explained. “That’s my job to figure out what makes a guy tick. Is it best to let something sit for a few days and then talk? Or is it best to pull a guy aside right away and say, ‘Here’s what I’m seeing, let’s make the adjustment.'”
He even talks like a manager.
Lucas Giolito isn’t at all surprised about McCann’s ambition to be a player-turned-skipper.
“I remember him telling me that, and I was like, ‘Yeah, that sounds about right. It’s going to be a good fit for you,’” Lucas Giolito said. “The care he has about each and every player on the team. He wants to see us all succeed. We all know about his intricate scouting reports now. The leadership he shows day in and day out for us. Also, the ability to keep it loose. He’s not Mr. Serious all the time, so it’s super multi-faceted. It’s just all the perfect qualities for a well-rounded manager."
You can see him being a manager?
To be clear, McCann isn’t trying to overstep the coaching staff already here. Many players in the league offer advice to their teammates, anything from a hitting tip to an opposing hurler tipping his pitches. What’s different about McCann is the degree to which he takes his role on the team.
He not only wants to be a hitter and a catcher, he wants to be a leader, a communicator, a facilitator and ultimately, a winner. The baseball well inside him runs deep, and he believes that veterans who can wear those hats are starting to become scarce in the game.
“In my opinion, it’s a lost art in today’s game because the game is so youthful. You don’t have the veteran guys that pick up on that kind of stuff and are willing to sit down and talk to young players and remind young players, ‘I’ve been in a 2-for-25 slump and guess what? It’s going to happen again. It’s just part of the game.’ Nobody thinks that you’re never going to come out of it, and that’s kind of what a young player thinks: 'All eyes are on me and I can’t get a hit or all eyes are on me and I can’t get an out.'
"So having that veteran guy that comes behind you and says, ‘Hey, you’re going to be fine,’ it goes a long way.”
McCann is also willing to throw his weight around and express tough love, as well.
“I’m not afraid to let a guy know when I don’t think they’re busting it down the line or they’re not giving it everything they’ve got,” McCann said. “I also understand it’s a long season. I understand that it’s physically impossible to go 100 percent for 162 games. There are points in time in a game or a season where 75-percent hustle down the line is better than blowing out and missing two weeks. I’m also understanding of that, but it also goes a long way when you have guys holding other guys accountable. If I dog something down the line, I want someone to meet me on the top step and let me know, ‘Hey, you didn’t give that one you’re all.’”
It’s these kind of intangibles that go beyond McCann’s .292/.345/.483 slash line and the work he’s done behind the plate to help turn Giolito into a Cy Young contender this year. The White Sox front office will admit they didn’t expect McCann to be this good, but they certainly deserve credit for recognizing his talents and pushing hard to sign him. How hard?
“It was within minutes of the deadline,” McCann said. “The Tigers let me know (they were non-tendering me) before the deadline. Once the deadline passed, I had a phone call from my agent within 10 to 15 minutes that he’d already been on the phone with the White Sox. They made it very apparent that they wanted me.”
Which now begs the question: How much do the White Sox want McCann for the future? Though he’d likely prefer to focus on the present, he’s under team control through next season. Does he believe he’s a good fit for the franchise long term?
“Absolutely. I’ve loved my time here in Chicago. The city, my family loves it. The group of guys. It’s an awesome setup here, awesome vibe. There’s a bright future here in Chicago.”
Is he open to signing an extension past 2020?
“My agent knows how much I’ve enjoyed being here. It’s some of the most fun baseball that I’ve played in my career,” McCann said. “It’s easy to say that with the type of season that I’m having, but it goes a lot deeper than that. It’s the type of people that are here, the type of players that are in the clubhouse, just the relationships that I’ve formed with pitchers and with other hitters. The type of people in the organization, it goes a long way.”
He added: “It’s a bright future on the South Side.”
That managing job can wait for now, but if he keeps playing like this, McCann will likely be here with the White Sox for many years to come.