There are so many fascinating ways to destroy oneself. Sometimes we need a change in life and we just can't bring ourselves to risk it -- we might never find another job, another wife, a better house -- and so we just stick, sullen and frozen... Until the moment all that caged bitterness and resentment breaks free and we do something truly stupid that launches us into a new life, like it or not.
One possible option in this line for a scout: heckle a player from your own organization, then further rile him with an elaborate fat joke.
Not all the details are in, we don't know much more than the basics, but on Thursday night, Mariners minor leaguer Jesus Montero -- the swollen, non-slugging slugger acquired in the Michael Pineda trade with the Yankees -- was coaching first base for the Class-A Everett AquaSox while on a rehab assignment. He wasn't playing, just moonlighting as a coach. Sounds fun, right? A good way to be part of the game and help along your younger teammates even if you can't contribute from the lineup. Well, not so fast. The initial reports, primarily from Steve Mims, an Oregon beat writer for the Register-Guard in Eugene, made it sound as if Montero had simply snapped:
Talked to guy in Boise tonight, said Montero threw ice cream on Mariners crosschecker, spit on him and threatened with a bat in front row.— Steve Mims (@SteveMims_RG) August 29, 2014
Everett coach had to drag him out of the stands. Montero was there on rehab. Was first base coach tonight, but was supposed to play Friday.— Steve Mims (@SteveMims_RG) August 29, 2014
There was, however, a provocation or two. From MiLB.com: "the unidentified cross-checker yelled at him to hustle off the field, according to Boise official scorer Liza Safford. Montero then headed to the AquaSox dugout on the third-base side. According to a game official, the cross-checker then ordered an ice cream sandwich and had it sent to Montero in the dugout."
Or perhaps not. Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times has an interview with the scout in question, Mariners national crosschecker Butch Baccala:
"It's not what is being portrayed,'' Baccala said Friday.
Baccala denied attempting to provoke Montero - who gained notoriety this spring for reporting to camp 40 pound overweight - in any way.
"Of course I wasn't,'' Baccala said. "Why would I? I work for the Mariners. I've worked my ass off for the Mariners. Why would I do anything to hurt anybody. That wasn't even close to the intention.''
Baccala said he couldn't reveal more without first talking to Zduriencik, who has said he is investigating the matter fully.
"I don't want to lose my job,'' Baccala said, adding he'd provide more detail later. "I love my job.''
Like I said, we don't know all the facts. People who love their job still do stupid and self-destructive things, then deny them by talking about how much they love their job. Regardless, there is now there's a question of an apparently unmotivated ice-cream sandwich finding its way to Montero, dessert as artefact of the unmoved mover. The Ice Cream of the Baskervilles.
None of this necessarily excuses (or, on my part, condones) Montero spitting on another human being or threatening him with a deadly weapon, but it does frame the issue a little differently than as a simple act of rage. Whoever did send it is, well, kind of a jerk. As is well known, Montero is a problematic player. We'll explore that more in a second, but there are constructive ways of dealing with problem players and then there's being an asshole.
Reading about the ice-cream sandwich, I keep having this flashback to seventh grade, my first year in junior high. On the first day of school, I walked into the cafeteria, a little bit late as is my custom, and saw one kid sitting alone at one of those huge white tables. He was a squat fire-hydrant of a boy, about as wide as he was high. Kids at the surrounding tables were throwing food at him, like they were in a petting zoo, the Petting Zoo of Unprovoked Hostility. It was mostly scraps, garbage. It would land around him, on him, on the floor.
His hand would snake out, pick up the food, and bring it to his mouth. Whatever it was, he would eat it.
Since it was the first day and yet the other children knew about it, it must have carried over from wherever he went to elementary school. In an instant, I imagined years of that, every day, going to school and having food thrown at you, and then, due to some defect or abuse, actually playing along. He was pathetic. The children were cruel. I felt sorry for him. He disgusted me. It's still hard to reconcile those feelings.
Sending an overweight player an ice-cream sandwich is probably about as close as you can get to that in the minors without actually throwing things from the stands -- which people have done, of course, accidentally or on purpose. If there's a good way to express disdain, for whatever reason -- work ethic, team affiliation, political preferences -- that's not it.
To a certain extent, Jesus Montero is a victim of expectations and his own inflexible limitations. Both the Yankees and Mariners tried to make him a catcher, but he's not that. It's been apparent from roughly day one that he wouldn't be. Call it a massive #coachingfail or #scoutingfail or whatever you want, but players play where they're told, not necessarily where they should.
As Montero and the "Gee, we didn't know he was a rapist" acquisition of Josh Lueke from the Rangers in 2010 demonstrate, the Mariners are not very good at doing their due diligence. One of the reasons the Yankees were willing to ditch Montero despite his being a 21-year-old proto-slugger whose bat was being compared to Vladimir Guerrero's was that his defensive limitations were such that there was nowhere to put him if the team didn't feel like being locked into a single designated hitter. Maybe even that wouldn't have been a problem, but it meant tremendous pressure on the kid to hit at a consistently high level right away.
The Mariners, long landlocked -- but in a positive way -- by Edgar Martinez, should have been okay with that, but they thought they'd give it the ol' college try. That it didn't work out isn't Montero's fault. You know the saying, "And if your grandmother had wheels she'd be a wagon?" If Montero had wheels he would be a wagon with a police boot on it. He's just not capable. That he also apparently can't hit in the Mariners' pitcher-fetishizing ballpark isn't his fault either. In 2012, his one healthy season, he hit .295/.330/.438 on the road, .227/.268/.337 at home.
Sure, that's bad, but it's not even close to being one of the 10 most miserable seasons a hitter has had in that park. It's just a structural thing the Mariners can either ignore and/or try to adjust to, like Whitey Herzog looking at old Busch Stadium and designing a team of switch-hitters who could bounce the ball off of the artificial turf and run to first base at WARP 12. It's just a structural thing they have to deal with. From 2000 to present, 170 Mariners have had a minimum of 100 single-season plate appearance at Safeco, and 31 of them, or 18 percent, have slugged .450 or better. In Herzog's old park? The number was closer to 40 percent. Maybe that's a reflection of the Cardinals being faster to move on from players like Justin Smoak or Willie Bloomquist, or possibly the Mariners just have an even more difficult hitting environment or both.
The Babe tries to work off some winter poundage with a little boxing prior to the 1926 season. There was also a lot of jogging around wearing a rubber suit. (Getty)
It's also not Montero's fault that he lost a good deal of last season to a knee injury. What is Montero's fault is exacerbating all of this by coming to camp this year massively and cheerfully overweight. It's nothing that Babe Ruth didn't do on an annual basis, but (A) that was Babe Ruth and Montero doesn't have his track record, and (B) Babe Ruth didn't have year-round access to state-of-the-art training facilities. If a poor defensive player wants to improve, gaining weight is almost certainly not the way to go. It's right to question Montero's integrity at that point.
Hence, apparently the delivery of the ice cream sandwich. Insult received. Reaction: Probably not what whoever sent it was expecting, but it's interesting to think about what he possibly could have expected, if he was in fact thinking at all.
If it was indeed the scout, I figure he expected he to be fired, because Montero, bust or not, is still only 24, has hit well in the minors this season when healthy, and there is every chance that some organization is going to find a place for him to do the things he can do -- be an overweight DH -- instead of being offended by the things he can't. If he needs to learn professionalism, consistency of approach, dedication, somewhere there is a manager or coach who can teach him those things. There are always players who are unreachable, but if the Mariners have determined Montero is one of them, why not let him move on instead of making bad jokes? There's a simultaneous sadism and masochism in prolonging a relationship you've already concluded is dead.
Cliff Johnson, safe at third in 1985, but not without a struggle. (Getty)
There was a player very similar Montero in the 1970s and 1980s, Cliff Johnson, whose problems had nothing to do with conditioning or lack of effort and more to do with a then-racist organization not wanting to use an African American as a catcher and a bulky 6'4" guy probably not being meant to be a backstop anyway. He didn't get a chance to play until he was 26 despite incredible minor league production, but once teams just let him do this thing he had a 15-year career slugging about .450 in the majors. There's every chance Montero has a career arc something like Johnson's.
He could even have it with the Mariners, who in the Jack Zduriencik years have gotten some special non-production out positions like first base and designated hitter. This year, M's DHs have hit an incredible .189/.267/.285, pretty much the worst production ever at a position that is about nothing but production, and but for Raul Ibanez's fluke fit-‘n'-41 season last year, the rest of the GM's candidates haven't been much better. As for first base, it has gone up in a puff of Smoak.
In short, there's something exploitable about Montero for the Mariners, but never mind trying to fix him, just mock him instead and let it be someone's turn to wring value out of him. The Michael Pineda trade is already a loss for the Mariners even if Pineda continues to have his arm fall off on the roughly bi-weekly schedule it has with the Yankees. If Baccala didn't send the ice-cream sandwich, someone did, and if that person is affiliated with the Mariners, well, he's as much of an asset to the organization as Montero has been to date.