ST. LOUIS — It was about three years ago that Cubs catcher Willson Contreras and Cardinals legend Yadi Molina engaged in a back-and-forth on social media after Contreras told the Sun-Times that he wanted to be the best catcher in the game.
“It was not a back-and-forth,” Contreras said. “It was something that was misunderstood by a lot of people. We’re OK; we’re good. Yadi’s a great guy. He’s the perfect example to follow, on and off the field.”
That’s a lot of what Contreras meant at the time, when he basically said he hoped to be the next Molina or Buster Posey.
But here’s the thing: He actually accomplished that almost as soon as he said it, beating out both for the starting nod in the All-Star Game that year (and again in 2019).
And three years later? He and his little brother, William, might be about to supplant all three Molina brothers as the first family of catching in the majors.
As Contreras works on what would be a third consecutive All-Star selection, William, a rookie, has been pressed into starting duty for a defending division champion in Atlanta because of injuries to Travis d’Arnaud (thumb surgery) and Alex Jackson (hamstring) early this month.
William, 23, has made 15 starts since being recalled then — after a 10-game big-league debut last year — and produced an .868 OPS, including four homers.
“It makes me proud to see my brother play this well in the big leagues,” said Willson, who talks almost daily with William and who has tutored him on what to expect and adjustments to make.
“Being really young on a really good team, that must put a little bit of pressure on himself, but he’s been doing good since he got to the big leagues, and the adjustments that he’s making are really good,” Contreras said.
They might have a long way to go to catch Bengie, José and Yadi — the brothers with a combined five World Series championships, 11 Gold Gloves and nine All-Star selections over 46 combined big-league seasons.
But this weekend’s series in St. Louis might as well be another shift in the slow-play changing of the guard happening with the All-Star catchers in the NL Central, even if the 38-year-old Yadi — who owns nine of those Molina Gold Gloves and all of the family’s All-Star selections — isn’t quite ready to go away.
Molina led off the seventh with a go-ahead homer off Adbert Alzolay, who otherwise looked dominant in a seven-inning performance.
Contreras, 29, singled during the Cubs’ scoring rally in the first and walked twice.
William? He might wind up better than the other Contreras — at least according to a source close to him.
“The way he played in the minors was better than I did,” Willson said during a conversation with NBC Sports Chicago before Saturday’s game against the Cardinals. “The way that he manages himself with his emotions is better than I do, and that’s something that’s going to help him a lot.
“That’s why I think he’s going to be better than I am.”
Just don’t let Yadi see all this talk about replacing the Molina family on the MLB catching marquee with the Contreras boys. Not unless you want another one of those not-back-and-forth things.
For now, Willson will settle for beating Yadi in St. Louis this weekend.
“As a family, we’re proud to be in the big leagues playing this well, living our dream, and we only wish that we could play as well at the Molina brothers did,” Willson said. “Those are three special guys. … I wish we can achieve some of those goals that they achieved.”