Once upon a time, Cliff Robertson, playing cartoonish Western villain Shame on the cartoonish television series Batman, barked at one of his henchmen, “A big mouth works best when it’s kept shut!” Miguel Montero, backup catcher whom the Cubs now wish to make a former Cub, is learning the hard way.
Baseball’s worst kept secrets include Jake Arrieta being not exactly the quickest pitcher to the plate, with or without men on base, and the Cubs not necessarily put an excess of emphasis on pitchers holding runners ahead of emphasising other pitching necessities.
The Nationals took complete advantage of Arrieta’s side of the coin Tuesday, performing their own version of a bull run at his and the Cubs’ expense, en route a team record for thefts in one game (seven, in the first four innings) and, while they were at it, a 6-1 win on a day Max Scherzer didn’t exactly have his A++ game.
Then Montero, who started the game behind the plate, unburdened himself after the game:
When you really look at it, the pitcher doesn’t give me any time. It’s just like: ‘Yeah, OK, Miggy can’t throw nobody out.’ Yeah, but my pitchers don’t hold anybody on. It’s tough, because it doesn’t matter how much work I put in. If I don’t get a chance to throw, that’s the reason why they were running left and right today, because they know he was slow to the plate. Simple as that. It’s a shame that it’s my fault because I didn’t throw anybody out.
The Cubs rewarded Montero’s schpritz with a designation for assignment. They replaced him by calling up 23-year-old Victor (Beta) Caratini from Triple-A Iowa.
Montero might have had more credibility in his postgame complaints if a) he’d aired them out in the Cub clubhouse before zinging Arrieta to the press; and, b) if he hadn’t been 1-for-32 in throwing out would-be stealers while Willson Contreras, the Cubs’ number one catcher, who has the same pitching staff to handle, is 16-for-47 (34 percent, six points above the National League average), and also happens to be Jon Lester’s personal catcher.
We’re not trying to say Contreras is the perfect cop, but a grand theft arrest record differential like that should be enough to compel the number two man to think twice before shooting from the lip. Did I mention Montero is tied for the slowest “pop” time (2.12 seconds, .02 below the league average)—the time between a catcher receiving a pitch and an infielder receiving his throw from the plate—in the Show?
Unfortunately, Montero didn’t think even once, about his commentary or about the timing thereof. It’s not the first time he’s had trouble with the latter.
On the same day the Cubs led Chicago in a Woodstock-sized World Series triumph celebration to Grant Park last November, Montero went aboard ESPN’s The Waddle and Silvy Show to complain about his postseason playing time. “It was a different emotion,” he said about his own celebration, “because I didn’t get a chance to play. I was a little disappointed, to be honest, because I felt like I did a good job in the regular season but was left out a little bit. It made me feel a little like not important or maybe not as good to be in this lineup.”
That came from the man who had two of the most important plate appearances in Cub history last postseason and cashed them in with profit to spare.
It was Montero who destroyed Dodger manager Dave Roberts’ gutsy move to have reliever Joe Blanton load the pads in Game One of the 2016 National League Championship Series, sending a hanging two-strike slider into the right field bleachers for only the third-ever postseason pinch-hit grand slam. And it was Montero whose tenth-inning RBI single—hitting again with ducks on the pond—ended up the insurance run in Game Seven of the World Series.
Not to mention that Montero, a mid-game insertion for now-retired David Ross, was the man who steadied Aroldis Chapman, after Chapman surrendered Rajai Davis’s eighth-inning Game Seven bomb that got close enough to ruining the Cubs’ season. Montero simply called for more breaking pitches in the ninth when Chapman was clearly out of gas, and Chapman pitched it without a scratch.
With his celebration day commentary—however valid his complaint might have been in one regard (several commentators concurred that manager Joe Maddon sometimes has communication problems)—Montero damn near wiped that work out of the memory banks. Throwing Arrieta overboard Tuesday pushed the eraser down more firmly.
Anthony Rizzo, who hasn’t been having the kind of season people expected but who turned into a sniper when inserted into the leadoff slot this month, didn’t take Montero’s attempted burial of Arrieta lightly. On the theory that one bad turn deserves another, Rizzo went aboard another ESPN radio show, hosted in Chicago by David Kaplan, and let Montero have it.
“I had no idea about [Montero's Arrieta remarks] until I got back to the hotel and saw all this stuff,” Rizzo fumed. “I got a couple text messages from a couple of my friends just kinda asking, ‘What the hell is this guy doing?’
“Listen, we win as a team, we lose as a team. If you start pointing fingers, I think that just labels you as a selfish player. I disagree. We have another catcher that throws out everyone who steals and he has Jon Lester who doesn’t pick over. It’s no secret. I think going to the media with things like that, I don’t think it’s very professional.”
No, I didn’t miss the irony in Rizzo calling out a teammate publicly for calling out another teammate publicly, but Rizzo remains acknowledged and secured as one of the Cubs’ clubhouse leaders while Montero had already eroded most of his clubhouse cred last November. The Cubs have a lot more pressing issues to resolve if they’d like to have a postseason encore in October.
Cubs president Theo Epstein minced no words after Montero was designated for assignment, either. “When something goes wrong on the field we expect our players to take the blame, step up and proactively assume the blame for it, even if it’s not their fault,” Epstein said.
“That’s the way to be a good teammate. He completely agreed when it was pointed out to him and he apologized. After thinking about it some more, I just came to the conclusion that now more than ever we need to be a team. This was an example of being a bad teammate publicly and that we’d be better off moving on and not standing for it.”
Montero was a two-time All-Star with a reputation for mentoring younger players in Arizona. The Cubs thought they were getting that, and for a time they got the mentor (including for Contreras himself); back issues and other maladies wore Montero down to top backup status.
And he wasn’t inclined to just sit back and accept it as the aging Ross became a team and media celebrity being exactly what Montero should have been—a man at peace with himself, accepting of his lot, making the most of what he had, continuing to teach and mentor younger players with far more baseball life ahead than that left to him.
Even sadder was that Montero showed genuine class as he departed, tweeting, “To the city of Chicago—Dear fans, today I say goodbye to the greatest fans. I want to thank you for the support. It was an awesome ride. Winning the World Series was simply fantastic. Thank you to my teammates—good luck to everyone of you. Thank you also to each staff member, it was an honor to play for the Chicago Cubs organization. Chicago will always be in my heart.”
The question becomes whether Montero’s most poorly timed public complaints will take him out of Chicago’s. Even with the single most important grand slam and eventual insurance run in team history on his resume.