Miguel Montero

Miguel Montero explains how things ended with Cubs: ‘It wasn’t the nicest way to leave Chicago’

Miguel Montero explains how things ended with Cubs: ‘It wasn’t the nicest way to leave Chicago’

Miguel Montero wasn’t welcomed back to the Friendly Confines in a very friendly way.

But then he didn’t leave in the friendliest way, either.

The guy who blasted a grand slam in last postseason’s National League Championship Series and drove in the run that ended up being the difference in Game 7 of the World Series was booed repeatedly as if he was a rival St. Louis Cardinal, not an integral part of the biggest moment in franchise history.

Heck, Dexter Fowler is currently a St. Louis Cardinal and continues to receive warm receptions when he returns to Wrigley Field.

But of course Montero, here for the weekend’s series between the Cubs and his new team, the Toronto Blue Jays, left under different circumstances.

After Montero made critical comments about Jake Arrieta’s speed to the plate — something he insisted was to blame for the Washington Nationals stealing a whole bunch of bases in a late-June game in D.C. — the veteran catcher was DFA’d and traded to the Blue Jays.

It wasn’t Montero’s first public transgression. You might remember him jumping on the radio to criticize manager Joe Maddon on the day of the Cubs’ championship parade and rally. Not a great look, that.

And so Montero was quickly jettisoned to the American League, to Canada, and branded as a bad teammate for calling out Arrieta so publicly.

He talked with CSN’s Kelly Crull before Friday’s game, saying he didn’t regret the things he said, not a surprise for a guy who’s always been brutally honest.

“It wasn’t the nicest way to leave Chicago. But it’s in the past. It was tough, it was difficult, definitely was hard. You think it over and over and over. It’s just hard because if that would’ve been the first time I said that, that’d be different,” Montero explained, revealing he’d talked with Arrieta about the issue a bunch before his comments to reporters. “But I’d been on it since spring training about that. People said ‘closed-door,’ I did that closed-door plenty, plenty times. So I feel like enough is enough at times. And, yeah, I said it. I didn’t say it in a bad way.

“People say ‘he threw him under the bus.’ I didn’t mean to throw him under the bus, I just said what it was. I’m not saying I threw him under the bus. You don’t have to make a big deal out of it. But it is what it is, it happened.

“It’s too bad I left as a bad teammate, which, I’ve played with a lot of guys and no one said anything bad about me. But it is what it is. I’m happy now with where I’m at. It’s not that I wasn’t happy over there. I wish I wouldn’t have left in that way, for those reasons. But I don’t regret anything. It happened. I felt bad for Jake, and that’s why I apologized to him.”

Whether or not Montero and Arrieta patched things up right away — Montero said the two spoke the night those comments were made — didn’t end up mattering.

On the baseball side of things, Montero’s departure meant a necessary trade to acquire Alex Avila from the Detroit Tigers. It means plenty of what ifs now that Willson Contreras is in the middle of a stay on the disabled list.

Sadly, for a guy who’s had a nice career in the big leagues, it means many Cubs fans will remember Montero more for his exit than what he did to help bring a World Series to the North Side for the first time in more than a century.

But Montero is still fond of his time in a Cubs uniform.

“A lot of good friends here,” he said. “Just because I left doesn’t mean they stopped being my friends. Obviously between the lines it’s a little different playing against them, but I still respect them all. Great guys, and I’m happy to see them again.”

What Miguel Montero’s brutal honesty meant for Cubs and Kyle Hendricks

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AP

What Miguel Montero’s brutal honesty meant for Cubs and Kyle Hendricks

Miguel Montero picked the worst possible time to second-guess the way Joe Maddon handled the bullpen during the World Series and communicated with his players — a radio interview on the same day (!!!) as the championship parade through the streets of Chicago and a Grant Park rally that may or may not have been one of the largest gatherings in human history.

The cameras also caught Montero popping off at a time when the Cubs were hovering around .500 and running out of ideas to spark the defending champs. So team president Theo Epstein didn’t hesitate to DFA Montero in late June when the veteran catcher ripped Jake Arrieta for letting the Washington Nationals run wild on the bases. Eating almost $7 million in salary and shipping Montero to Canada became another button to press to shake up the clubhouse.

But Montero also came along at exactly the right time for Kyle Hendricks, who had 13 major-league starts for a last-place team on his resume heading into the breakthrough 2015 season that set up last year’s transformation into an ERA leader, Cy Young Award finalist and World Series Game 7 starter.

Montero doesn’t deserve a tribute on the video board when the Toronto Blue Jays come into Wrigley Field this weekend, but he also shouldn’t be remembered only as a loose cannon or a cartoon character.

“Miggy was huge for me,” Hendricks said on this week’s Cubs Talk podcast. “I know he didn’t go out the way he wanted to. He’s even texted all of us here. We have the utmost respect for him around this clubhouse. We know who he is, the teammate he was around here.

“For me in particular, he was probably the biggest influence right when I came up, from the catching side. He taught me a lot about pitching, especially at the big-league level. (He made) me feel comfortable at the big-league level.

“My development, I think, sped up a lot just because of him being around here, his experience, how much he knew the hitters, his feel and his ability just to talk to you. He could sit down and just have a conversation with you whenever.

“I owe a lot to him. And I’m excited to see him back here.”

The Cubs knew they were getting the good, the bad and the ugly when they traded for Montero during the 2014 winter meetings in San Diego, where they also closed the $155 million megadeal with Jon Lester and dramatically reshaped the franchise.

The Cubs wanted Montero’s edge, which only sharpened as he got stuck in various three-catcher rotations. But Montero welcomed Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras into the clubhouse, delivered a wake-up call to Albert Almora Jr. during a rehab assignment at Double-A Tennessee and worked with Arrieta as he blossomed into a Cy Young Award winner. Montero also became a bilingual intermediary last summer when Aroldis Chapman initially refused to talk to the media after making his Cubs debut.

After handling so many different personalities and styles with the Arizona Diamondbacks — everyone from Randy Johnson to Dan Haren — Montero made the case that Hendricks didn’t need to throw 97 mph to thrive when he could nail the edges and deceive and outthink hitters with movement and sequences. Street smarts from Venezuela and an Ivy League education became a great match.

“He always had that confidence in me, from Day 1, when I showed up in this clubhouse,” Hendricks said. “He caught my bullpens. He kind of saw what I could do with the baseball. He probably had more confidence in me than I had in myself when I first came up.

“That’s just how it is. You’re trying to find your footing. He just kept preaching that to me, telling me what he saw in me, what I could do, the ability I had against these hitters. And then we went out there together and kind of saw it happening.”

One Arizona official who knows Montero well theorized that he — like any former All-Star in his mid-30s nearing the free-agent market — simply had trouble coming to grips with the reality that he was no longer The Man.

Even if you may be right on both counts — and no matter how fast Montero patched it up with Arrieta — the backup catcher can’t blast a star manager and a star pitcher like that.

“It was too bad to see him go,” Hendricks said. “But that’s just baseball. That’s how it goes. You got to learn what you can from who’s around while they’re there and then move on. That’s just the nature of the game.”    

Road Ahead: Can Cubs take advantage of soft schedule?

Road Ahead: Can Cubs take advantage of soft schedule?

CSN's Cubs Insider Patrick Mooney and Tony Andracki discuss the upcoming matchups in this edition of the Cubs Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland & NW Indiana Honda Dealers.

American Legion Week is upon the Cubs and Joe Maddon has instituted a fine if players or coaches get to the field more than three hours ahead of time.

It's designed to give everybody more rest in the dog days of August and it comes at a perfect time, as the Cubs are in the midst of 13 straight games against last place opponents.

That soft schedule got out to a great start for the Cubs Monday night when they hammered the Cincinnati Reds 15-5 behind big games from Jon Jay, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.

The Cubs still have three left against the Reds at Wrigley Field before welcoming in Miguel Montero and the Toronto Blue Jays this weekend at the Friendly Confines. 

After that, it's three more against the Reds in Cincinnati next week and then three against the last-place Phillies in Philadelphia. 

The Cubs don't play a team above .500 until the Milwaukee Brewers on Sept. 8, meaning they have almost four full weeks in a row against losing teams.