By Tim Baffoe–
(670 The Score) Know what’s really important about the latest mini-kerfuffle involving Cubs catcher Willson Contreras and catcher Yadier Molina? Nothing.
By that, I mean it should be a big ol’ nothing, and it’s there being nothing to it that holds some significance.
To review, at last weekend’s Cubs Convention, Contreras, the brash young pup of the catching fraternity, told Steve Greenberg of the Chicago Sun-Times:
“I used to watch a lot of those guys. But now I’m watching myself because I know that I’m going to be better than them. That’s my plan. That’s my (mindset).
“I know that I have a lot of talent, and I thank God every day for giving me this kind of talent that I have. In my mind, I want to be the best catcher in the game for a long time — like it was with Yadier Molina, like it is with Buster Posey.”
People who are literate can easily see that Contreras cited two other great active catchers, noting that one was the best at one time and the other is the best currently. Contreras managed to insert respect into a proclamation of self-motivation that really shouldn’t be all that controversial coming from a 25-year-old who was third among all MLB catchers in 2017 in wOBA, third in OPS, fifth in fWAR and second in Defensive Runs Above Average.
Anyway, Molina decided to respond, posting an Instagram picture Wednesday of himself, Posey and Royals catcher Salvador Perez with a caption in Spanish that translates to ““Respect the ranks, rookie. Here are those that have proven they are the hard ones.”
Maybe Molina should be given the benefit of the doubt here and was playfully posturing and joshing his division rival instead of sonning him. After all, the two had a cool moment last season when Molina told Contreras during a game that the latter would be an All-Star someday if he keeps doing what he’s been doing. Asked about that afterward, Contreras called Molina “the best” and said Molina and Perez were his favorite catchers.
On Wednesday night, Contreras clarified his comments to appease the delicate who think he’s crowning himself by saying aloud the self-motivating stuff of every college athlete’s social media bio.
That explanation probably wasn’t necessary. But it’s January, and the Hot Stove is chugging Freon, so sheer boredom is forcing this to be a thing until our attention spans find some other shiny lights to follow.
A few years ago, I’d have lapped all this up and rooted for some major Jerry Springer stuff between the two catchers from a rivalry between respective fan bases who wouldn’t much mind each other contracting the Bubonic plague. But a funny thing happened since then. The Cubs won the World Series in 2016. It was in all the papers.
I’m not here to milk that or make the weird argument of “This team won a championship more recently and is therefore superior.” Since then, though, the quick fix of Cubs/Cardinals bickering — a lot of it centered around Molina, whom most Cardinals fans treat as a symbol of ideal baseball and whom most Cubs fans find emblematic of the other side taking itself far too seriously — doesn’t much move me anymore.
Hating the Cardinals and any discussion involving them used to be all that Cubs fans had while their team was bad and the red team was and in many ways still is a well-oiled baseball operation. “The Cardinal Way” and the easy jokes about that perceived culture aside, St. Louis has had the trophies to cite as evidence of a model winner and could always mention the Cubs’ empty cupboard before arguments deviated into geographic ad hominem. I’ve deviated to it before.
But after 2016, the anti-Cardinal-ness as something bigger than baseball games just doesn’t burn as much. There’s no boogeyman anymore. Seeking out rhetorical pissing contests with Cardinals fans now doesn’t feel necessary for nourishment. Plus, and this may be hard to believe, arguments between a Cubs fan and Cardinals fan have never ended with, “You raise some good points, sir/madam, and I concede to your rationale.”
Some Cubs fans still go for those scraps, and, hey, enjoy it if you can find a formidable and willing master debater on the other side, I guess. But Molina challenging Contreras — if that’s even what he was seriously doing — gets a shrug now instead of the salivating over a potential public beef between two athletes that can be the empty calories to temporarily fill the hunger of a sports fan with nothing else meaningful to fulfill him or her.
Contreras make me laugh, he’s a fantastic talent that should be a staple of Cubs lineups for years to come and he makes watching baseball fun. His lack of a filter — both on the field and off, as seen in some other hilarious but NSFW comments at the Cubs Convention — is often refreshing in a starchy sport like baseball. If it’s fun and doesn’t literally hurt anyone, that’s playing any game “the right way” in that it’s the right way to get me to watch and want more of it.
And if a player like that wants to talk a big game about himself while adding some homage that gets overlooked anyway because woo hoo tribal sports fans, then cool. He’s got numbers and jewelry to back it up and will play for a World Series contender in 2018 and probably some years after. Not sure it’s going to make me high five anyone in January.
Any fan who has an issue with Contreras’ confidence can demand he kneel at the feet of baseball’s history all they want. But it doesn’t feel like much worth feeling all that strongly about, nor does much else regarding the Cubs/Cardinals posturing outside of talk of specific game play and management between established teams competing to win the NL Central.
At least not anymore. That’s the something of a nothing that would have been a thing not too long ago.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for 670TheScore.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not Entercom or our affiliated radio stations.