All-Star

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

hendircksmonterocubs.jpg
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.”    

Why Chris Sale thinks White Sox are in good shape with Rick Renteria

Why Chris Sale thinks White Sox are in good shape with Rick Renteria

BOSTON -- He can’t identify many current faces, but the direction in which the White Sox are headed is recognizable and Chris Sale thinks it could be successful.

The Boston Red Sox pitcher spent Thursday afternoon catching up with old White Sox teammates, coaches, etc. at Fenway Park. But the bulk of the lengthier conversations have been with staff members because of the tremendous amount of roster turnover that has occurred since Sale was traded eight months ago. Seven of the nine players moved have come in the two months since Sale first returned home as the White Sox are in the midst of the franchise’s first rebuild since 1997. But no matter who fills out the uniform, Sale thinks the White Sox will be in good shape with Rick Renteria as their manager.

“I’ve said it before, I think with Ricky leading the way, he’s got a great presence over there,” Sale said. “Obviously talking with a few of the guys stuff like that, they said he’s really set a tone over there. It’s good to see. It’s good to see. It’s good to hear about.”

Sale’s in a great spot with the first-place Red Sox. He currently leads the American League in wins (13), ERA (2.70), innings (153 1/3), strikeouts (216) as well as FIP, WHIP, hits per nine, strikeout per nine and strikeout to walk ratio. As evidenced by Tuesday’s start when the Red Sox rallied twice for a 12-10 victory over Cleveland, Sale is also confident his loaded team can win even when he has a poor performance.

The six-time All-Star loves pitching in the electric atmosphere of Fenway Park. He attributes the endless energy for an uptick in velocity. Aside from the inability to find good late-night food — he and his family live about 15-20 minutes outside of Boston — Sale is pretty pleased with his new life.

“I definitely am appreciative of it,” Sale said. “This is a perennial team to go to the playoffs and realistic goals of winning the World Series. The history not only with this team but in this ballpark. Pitching here is as fun as any place in baseball. I even said that when I was with Chicago, that I loved it down here.”

Sale has tried to keep an eye on what’s transpired on the South Side, where he played from 2010-16. He lobbed a text message to Jose Quintana after he was traded to the Cubs to tell him he’d look good in blue. While he’s sad to see that era come to an end, Sale is happy for Quintana to land in a great spot.

“It’s one of those things that’s bittersweet,” Sale said. “You are sad to leave your friends but you are obviously excited for the new opportunity. Seeing him go to the North Side where they are in the thick of things, I’m just happy for him.”

But the veteran pitcher also thinks the new direction the White Sox have taken can have them competitive for years to come. He knows about the talent the team has acquired in all these deals. And with Renteria in place and setting the tone, Sale thinks the White Sox should be in great shape —even if there are fewer familiar faces.

“It’s different, but it’s baseball,” Sale said. “That’s how it works. They know the direction they are going in. They could be pretty darn good here in a few years.”

Why Brian Campbell knew it was time to retire from NHL

Why Brian Campbell knew it was time to retire from NHL

Brian Campbell had barely sat down at his retirement presser when his eyes started to water. It wouldn’t take long for the tears to come, even though he told teammates he wouldn’t cry. After 17 seasons, this was really it.

Campbell met with the media on Tuesday, one day after he announced his retirement from the NHL. While he’s leaving the Blackhawks as a player he’s joining them in the front office, as special advisor in business and hockey relations. With his family — wife Lauren, daughters Harper and Everley and parents Ed and Lorna— in attendance, an emotional Campbell talked about leaving the game.

“I didn’t solicit any offers. I talked to some teams. I just didn’t think it was fair, if I wasn’t going to play, to do that to anyone and just try to start negotiating with teams,” Campbell said. “I’ve been thinking about [retirement] for a while. At the end of the season, I didn’t know if I was ready to do it anymore. So that was only fair. But I will say July 1 was tough, a tough day. There’ve been some tough days. But I think we’re happy with our decision.”

Blackhawks president John McDonough said Campbell called him about six weeks ago and mentioned he was contemplating retirement. The two talked of the possibility of Campbell staying with the Blackhawks in some capacity.

“I wanted to give him the requisite amount of time because it’s a tough decision. Seventeen years, four-time All-Star ... and the timing had to be right. He kept talking to me about the importance of his family and didn’t want to leave Chicago, so I tossed it back and I said once you are firm on your decision, give me a call. When he called me back, I said the door is wide open.”

Leaving the game is bittersweet. Campbell wasn’t going to be returning to the Blackhawks as a player; the team told him they were moving in a different direction on defense, and he appreciated the Blackhawks letting him know with plenty of time. Campbell gets to stay in Chicago and with the Blackhawks front office. But saying goodbye to his playing days was nevertheless difficult.

“I don’t think I’d want to retire any other way but a Blackhawk. It was fun. I had a blast. There were a lot of nights after games, I was with my buddies. That was the best part of all of that,” Campbell said. “It wasn’t fun pulling off the jersey [in April], that’s for sure. These are just thoughts I’ve had for a while now. I feel like this is the time for me to step away.”