When it comes to baseball, the fieldhouse trumps the White House
Miguel Montero trumped the president.
The Wednesday White House visit of the world champion Chicago Cubs originally drew attention because reporters weren't to be allowed in, including those covering the team's series against the Washington Nationals.
By mid-morning, however, events having nothing to do with Trump overtook the interest of the Chicago sports press, if not the White House press corps, that rightfully cringed when the initial schedule indicated they'd be barred from the event.
Sports radio back in Chicago, as well as the beat writers with the team in the capital, were cranking out content (and on-air punditry) about the team's announcement that it was cutting loose catcher Miguel Montero, a central component of its World Series-winning club.
The surprise move came after locker room comments by the veteran after a Cubs loss to the Nationals in Washington the night before. There he badmouthed a Cubs pitcher for not effectively holding runners on base and thus making it easy to steal off Montero.
“It really sucked because the stolen bases go to me, and when you really look at it, the pitcher doesn’t give me any time. So it’s just like, ‘Yeah, OK, Miggy can’t throw nobody out,’ but my pitcher doesn’t hold anybody on."
As fate would have it, I was in the car, coming back from a chess camp dropoff, when starting first baseman Anthony Rizzo did his weekly radio gig on Chicago's ESPN 1000 and made clear he wasn't happy.
He pointedly criticized his teammate for going public with his gripes. He alluded to a previous instance, during the off-season, when Montero groused about his playing time and an alleged lack of communication with Joe Maddon, the manager.
“It’s his second time barking at the media and not just going to his teammates," Rizzo told the two co-hosts." As a veteran like he is, you’d think he’d make smart decisions about it.”
He didn't know it then, but the Cubs had already decided that enough was enough and released Montero. The move came despite the team's ongoing poor play and the fact that Montero has been one of the few brights lights when it comes to hitting.
But for the likes of Mark Gonzales, baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune, the bottom line was the same.
Was the Montero story now rather bigger than what actually is the team's second post-World Series visit to a White House and thus, oddly, second president in six months since visiting Chicago native Barack Obama? (This second trek was being called a meet-and-greet, not an "official" visit).
"Yes," said Gonzales who quickly wrote up the Montero flap from a Northern Virginia hotel.
"We were told, 'it's not an event,' therefore, no access. Some traveling members in Miami on Sunday anticipated they were going, as if it were a done deal. But the Cubs wouldn't publicly confirm until Tuesday. I sensed they knew they were going but didn't provide any specifics until Tuesday. They're not expected to arrive at the White House until 2 p.m. ET."
Then came word that at least photographers would be allowed and finally, and belatedly, a healthy group of reporters. This was after the regular White House press corps had voiced its chagrin with what it feels is another example of needless Trump secrecy, with New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush essentially rolling his eyes in a Tuesday night tweet.
And there was the intriguing question of how many Cubs would accept the invitation. Like all Major League teams, the Cubs has a heavy minority contingent, primarily Latinos, and it had seemed possible that many would be no-shows, given the Trump position on immigration and related issues.
The ultimate turnout included a majority of the team, including Latinos. It also included two star pitchers, John Lackey and Jon Lester, who were conspicuous by their absences at the Obama gathering in January.