Willson Contreras plays with his 'hair on fire' and fuels comeback win for Cubs

Willson Contreras plays with his 'hair on fire' and fuels comeback win for Cubs

The Cubs needed this shot of adrenaline from Willson Contreras, an energetic player who had to learn how to channel his emotions before becoming the rookie catcher for a World Series winner.

Whether or not you believe in the hangover effect, the Cubs haven’t looked quite as sharp as the 2016 team that — beginning Opening Night — played like it was on a mission. Maybe this Contreras-fueled 5-4 comeback victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field will become a spark.

“You plug into this guy,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He plays with his hair on fire. He does. Sometimes it can actually work against him. He gets a little bit overassertive. As he learns to play with his hair on fire — not absolutely a forest fire, maybe just slightly like the burning bush of some kind — he’s going to learn how to control all that.”

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Contreras made it through last October and early November just fine and entered this one-run game as a pinch-hitter. Facing lefty reliever Joely Rodriguez, Contreras drove a go-ahead, two-run double into left field, clapping his hands and pointing to the sky from second base as the crowd of 39,335 roared.

That piece of clutch hitting showed how Contreras stays alert and mentally prepared and why the comeback Cubs (15-12) might be ready to take off again. But the essence of Contreras also came through on the very next at-bat when Matt Szczur hit a ball toward Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis, who made a diving stop to his left and spun around.

As Contreras kept sprinting from second base, Galvis paused and threw a ball that bounced off the back of the pitcher’s mound. That allowed Contreras to slide headfirst under the tag from catcher Andrew Knapp. Feeling out of breath, Contreras got up from the dirt and slapped home plate with his right hand for a 5-3 lead and the insurance run the Cubs would need.

“I don’t know how to play (any other way),” said Contreras, who credited third base coach Gary Jones. “He sent me home the whole way. I was running as hard as I could and I was trying to get around the base. I think I missed it at first. Everything happened so fast.”


MLB commissioner Rob Manfred: 'We weren’t going to play more than 60 games'

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred: 'We weren’t going to play more than 60 games'

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred made an interesting revelation Wednesday about negotiations between MLB and the players union. In an interview with Dan Patrick, Manfred said the 2020 season was never going to be more than 60 games given the spread of the coronavirus — at least by the time they got to serious negotiations two weeks ago.

“The reality is we weren’t going to play more than 60 games, no matter how the negotiation with the players went, or any other factor," Manfred said on The Dan Patrick Show. "Sixty games is outside the envelope given the realities of the virus. I think this is the one thing that we come back to every single day: We’re trying to manage something that has proven to be unpredictable and unmanageable.

"I know it hasn’t looked particularly pretty in spots, but having said that, if we can pull off this 60-game season, I think it was the best we were gonna do for our fans given the course of the virus."

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Manfred unilaterally imposed a 60-game season after the two sides couldn't come to terms. The union rejected the owners' final proposal, retaining the right to file a grievance against the owners for not negotiating in good faith.

Whether Manfred's comments become a point of contention in any grievance the players might file is unclear. The league would likely argue Manfred was referring to negotiations after his face-to-face meeting with MLBPA executive director Tony Clark on June 16. Manfred's comments to Patrick's follow up question — if the league would have been willing to go to 80 games, had the players agreed to all their terms — also points to this.

"It’s the calendar, Dan. We’re playing 60 games in 63 days. I don’t see — given the reality of the health situation over the past few weeks — how we were gonna get going any faster than the calendar we’re on right now, no matter what the state of those negotiations were.

"Look, we did get a sub-optimal result from the negotiation in some ways. The fans aren’t gonna get an expanded postseason, which I think would have been good with the shortened season. The players left real money on the table. But that’s what happens when you have a negotiation that instead of being collaborative, gets into sort of a conflict situation.”

The players' final proposal called for a 70-game season. At this point in the calendar, 60 games in 69 days (Sept. 27 is the reported end date for the regular season) leaves room for a couple more games, not 70 (or more).

So, Manfred's right that 60 games on the current timetable was probably the most MLB can fit in amid the pandemic. But you have to wonder if the union will use those comments in a potential grievance. 


Cubs fan base named second most loyal in MLB, only trailing Red Sox

Cubs fan base named second most loyal in MLB, only trailing Red Sox

When you wait more than 100 years for a championship, you must maintain a strong sense of loyalty to your favorite team. 

Cubs fans have done that, supporting the club through thick and thin, from the mediocre years to the curse-breaking 2016 World Series season. They pack the Wrigley Field stands, consistently ranking in the top 10 in attendance season after season.

That devotion led to Forbes naming Cubs fans the second most loyal fan base in Major League Baseball, second to only the Red Sox.

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Per Forbes, the rankings are based on "local television ratings (per Nielsen), stadium attendance based on capacity reached, secondary ticket demand (per StubHub), merchandise sales (per Fanatics), social media reach (Facebook and Twitter followers based on the team’s metro area population) and hometown crowd reach (defined by Nielsen as a percentage of the metropolitan area population that watched, attended and/or listened to a game in the last year)."

All that science aside, does the 108-year wait for a championship warrant the Cubs being first on this list? In fairness, the Red Sox waited 86 years before winning the 2004 World Series, their first since 1918. Plus, in terms of attendance, the Cubs have only out-drawn the Red Sox in six of the past 10 seasons, a near-equal split.

Two historic clubs. Two historic ballparks. Two historic championships. In a loyalty ranking, you can't go wrong with either franchise. Here's how the list's top 10 panned out:

10. Braves
9. Phillies
8. Indians
7. Giants
6. Brewers
5. Dodgers
4. Yankees
3. Cardinals
2. Cubs
1. Red Sox