The Montero Incident
Last evening, Keith Law tweeted a rumor that launched a thousand fat jokes. Jesus Montero, one time can’t miss prospect and current whipping boy had apparently tried to enter the stands during some sort of vague altercation. Soon after, conflicting information started filtering in – no one had been ejected. Montero wasn’t in the line-up. A few hours later, we learned what had apparently happened was that Montero had some sort of verbal altercation with a scout in attendance, and had to be restrained by the team pitching coach from going after the guy. The twist in all of this was that the scout’s employer was the Seattle Mariners. That version of events is reflected in MiLB’s story about the incident, which you can read here - seriously, go read it.
At the time, this seemed to be the last act in the tragic drama of Montero’s Mariner tenure: from starting catcher and future All-Star to minor-league DH to a casualty of anger management issues in a short-season Northwest League park. Today, as we learn still more about the incident, it’s no longer clear that all of the blame lies with Montero, and what seemed like a colossal mistake by the young 1B/DH (he’s still only 24) begins to look more like the sad end of a seriously dysfunctional relationship. This is the baseball version of Rashomon; we have visions of an incident from a few vantage points, but I’m not sure we can see – or understand – the full picture.
What we think we know is that Montero was acting as the 1st base coach (this is really common in the minors; a player on his off-day generally acts as the 1B coach), and at the end of the Aqua Sox half-inning, a Mariner cross-checker (senior scout), Butch Baccala, yelled at Montero to hustle off the field. I have no idea if Montero yelled something back at that point, and a part of me hopes he did, so I can better understand/begin to rationalize the cross-checker’s escalation of the sitaution. The cross-checker then bought an ice-cream sandwich and had it delivered to Montero in the Aqua Sox dugout, at which point Montero came out of the dugout, threw the ice cream sandwich back at the cross-checker and had to be restrained from heading up to, uh, discuss the situation in more detail.
Everything here depends a bit on your prior assumptions about Montero. Given everything we heard this spring, and given the way the story trickled out of Boise last night, it was easy to jump all over him. After a suspension for PEDs, Montero ate his way out of playing shape – by his own admission, not by reading between the numbers of various weigh-ins or whatever. His hustle was constantly challenged, and when you put that together with his off-season of indulgence, you understand why the M’s might want to reinforce the message that he needs to demonstrate some effort on and off the field. His lack of effort imperiled (at best) his chances of a productive career, and you sympathize with the M’s a bit: as frustrated as fans are about The Trade and what’s happened since, think about how the front office must feel.
Some of the frustration and incredulity about Montero’s fall from grace, though, has been directed at the M’s player development group, too. Montero is responsible for his choices, and he’s responsible for showing up to camp overweight, but the organization needs to ensure that their employees are doing what they’re supposed to. How does Montero just show up to camp overweight and surprise everyone? Wasn’t he playing 1B in the Venezuelan Winter League? Maybe they’d tried the nice-guy approach and saw that it wasn’t working, so they changed tack and criticized his weight in February/March. Maybe that didn’t work either. Maybe they were working with him behind the scenes, and a scout who hadn’t been home in weeks just snapped. I just can’t imagine that this is going to have a good outcome on Montero’s effort or the perception of the M’s organization. If you’re the type who was upset about Zduriencik’s latest extension, this is just more grist for the mill, and you can see this as evidence that the M’s mismanaged Montero from January of 2012 through today.
Now, we’ve learned a lot more about the incident since Keith Law’s first tweet. We know the two people involved, but we still can’t piece it all together. As Geoff Baker’s story today makes clear, Butch Baccala disputes the standard version of events, but he’s not able to talk about while the M’s pursue an investigation. We still don’t know what really happened, but it seems harder and harder to imagine Montero in an M’s uniform again. Who’s fault that is depends a lot on what you thought about Montero and the M’s before last night.
GM Jack Zduriencik released a statement about the incident which notes that Montero’s rehab assignment is over and that he’s being called in to talk to Jack directly. Butch Baccala’s been pulled off cross-checking duty and is heading home to California indefinitely. The M’s will also be working with Montero on his “personal issues” throughout the off-season. Hat tip to Ryan Divish, who’s been all over this on Twitter. Good on both Divish and Geoff Baker, whose coverage of this strange story has been exemplary.