The Cubs cut Miguel Montero after he opened his mouth, a cardinal sin for backup catchers

Jeff Passan
MLB columnist

Miguel Montero is a backup catcher, and the role of backup catcher comes with one and only one job requirement: be a good guy. Montero’s predecessor in that role with the Chicago Cubs, David Ross, lasted 15 years in the major leagues almost strictly on how much people loved him. Do that and a decade of employment working maybe two days a week is possible. If the gig were any more plum, it would be a character in Clue.

A good backup catcher knows, for example, that after a tough loss, like the Cubs’ on Tuesday against the Washington Nationals, it is not standard protocol to take off his gear, change into a button-down shirt with a patch on the front that says Miguel in cursive, ascend three stairs, pull a handle to shut the door, adjust his pneumatic seat and drive that bus right over Jake Arrieta. To see Montero blame the Nationals’ seven stolen bases Tuesday on Arrieta’s slow delivery wasn’t just stunning for its utter flouting of baseball decorum. It was the second reminder this week that a clubhouse culture is only as good as its win-loss record.

The Cubs are 39-38, one game out of first place in the National League Central and sporting a new backup catcher after they designated Montero for assignment on Wednesday, about 12 hours after he committed the cardinal sin of treating a random June night like it was Festivus. Baseball players don’t air their grievances – and if they happen to, teams hope it’s a bit more genuine than Montero absolving his culpability in throwing out just 1 of 32 baserunners this season when Willson Contreras, the Cubs’ starter, works with the same set of pitchers and has nabbed 16 of 47 attempted steals.

To see Montero’s comments as indicative of some sort of chasm in the Cubs’ clubhouse would be incorrect. Because of his propensity to talk, he never has been the most popular figure with his teammates, dating back to his time with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Still, it is a reminder of the fragility of sticking 25 alpha millionaires in a small room every day for eight months and hoping they get along. Not winning only compounds the difficulty.

At some point, the festering tension in every disappointed clubhouse wends its way out of the place where baseball players are taught to bury it. Winning is like a magic blanket that keeps it dormant, but when enough disillusionment piles up, nothing can stop it. Earlier this week, it was Ken Rosenthal’s report about how something as trivial as stretching had bubbled to the surface as an issue of divisiveness in the San Francisco Giants’ clubhouse. For all the messenger-shooting that followed, the fact that multiple people were compelled to go to Rosenthal with the information shows the effect of a 29-51 start.

The Cubs aren’t that bad. They’re also nothing like the team coming its first World Series title in 108 years. This year was supposed to be like last year. Instead, the Cubs’ starting pitchers velocity is markedly down. Their precious-metal gloves have turned to scrap. Their leadoff hitter and World Series hero is down at Triple-A. They’ve waited half the season to see some sign of what they believed they were. They’re still waiting.

Backup catcher Miguel Montero opened his mouth and was cut by the Cubs as a result. (Getty Images)

What they didn’t need was Montero pointing out the obvious. Yes, Arrieta is painfully slow to the plate, and someone like Trea Turner will prey on him. Arrieta knows this. He has not corrected it. Were he pitching better, this might be understandable. He isn’t. And so that part of Montero’s point is valid, but its validity does not necessarily excuse the break in protocol. The ultimate question is: Would Montero calling out Arrieta’s delivery publicly have any tangible effect on his willingness to change it? The answer, almost certainly, is no, which is what made it such a red line for the Cubs.

Montero’s id did lead to some delightful garbage being spewed back and forth Wednesday morning. Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs’ most vocal leader, took to ESPN radio in Chicago before the Cubs cut Montero and said: “When you point fingers, you’re a selfish player. We have another catcher that throws everyone out.” After the Montero news broke, he went on the station and was asked if the Cubs miss Ross. “Nah, I don’t think so,” he said. “Maybe Rizzo misses him.”

Give Miguel Montero this: His troll game is A+. If he was going down – and there had been some internal discussions among the Cubs about how his arm was becoming a liability – then he was going down trailed by a stream of gasoline with a pack of matches in his hand.

The fire will die down within 24 hours, because in the end this isn’t some grand reckoning for the Cubs. It’s a disgruntled and mouthy employee doing what disgruntled mouthy employees do. At the same time, teams have rallied around less, and if the shared experience of living through Miguel Montero’s verbal diarrhea can do wonders for a team that could use every one it can get, all the better.

Until then, enjoy the show. This might be the most entertaining thing the Cubs have done all season.

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