The baseball season is long. Over 162 games, you need a little controversy to stimulate discussion. And last night, we saw plenty of controversy.
Wilson Contreras, notoriously hot-headed catcher of the Chicago Cubs, was at the center of a flare up in Wrigley Field. During one of his at-bats, the umpire called a strike with which he disagreed. He turned to the umpire, telling him, presumably, that if he was calling that a strike against Contreras, he had better do so for Contreras’ pitchers, too.
During that exchange, Braves’ catcher Tyler Flowers was seen laughing. On the next pitch, Contreras drove the ball to the opposite field, and turned to stare down Flowers before running the bases. The ball scraped over the fence for a home run.
Words at Home Plate
That’s when things really got interesting. As Contreras crossed home plate, he got in Flowers’ face with some, shall we say, impolite language.
Players began to mill and come onto the field, lining up like Jets and Sharks. The umpires (to their credit) did well to corral the players and keep them from potential conflict. But the players’ temperatures are certainly elevated, and its only game one of the series.
This was not the first flare up between the Braves and Cubs, and it’s certainly not the first time Contreras has gotten agitated on the field. But this one seemed to rise out of nowhere. We needed post game comments to clarify things for us.
The Players Explain
Contreras explained his actions to the media after the game, addressing the umpire first: “He’s great behind the plate, but to be honest, those pitches weren’t even close to the strike zone,” Contreras said. “And [Flowers] got mad because I was talking to the umpire about that and he jumped into the conversation.”
“Those things are going to happen in games a lot,” he continued. “I don’t think this is the first time it’s happened against the Braves.”
Flowers, unsurprisingly, did not see himself as the culprit.
“It was all very unnecessary in my opinion,” he said. “The guy’s a decent hitter. He doesn’t need to complain about every call. Sometimes you need to pick your battles and, hopefully, that’s something he’ll learn as he gets a little older.”
Braves’ pitcher Julio Teheran was one of the angriest players in the bubbling altercation, and vented his frustrations after the game as well.
“[Contreras] was kind of taking forever to get on the plate,” he said. “I don’t know if Flowers said something to him, but obviously, [Contreras] was trying to do something. He called time twice. There’s no reason to call time twice. What are you trying to do? You just hit the ball out. Just touch the plate and go back to your dugout. You don’t need to be talking and kind of screaming something like that because that doesn’t look good.”
But ultimately, disaster was averted, and Flowers was quick to credit Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon as a major reason why.
“He came up to me pretty quickly trying to figure out what was going on,” Flowers said. “I think I played against him long enough and he’s seen me long enough [to know] I’m not really an instigator in those type of things. I gave him a quick rundown on it. He said he’ll talk to him and take care of it. I thought that was first-class by Joe.”
Great for the Game
These moments might seem like side shows, but they are actually critical to the health of the game. Baseball needs stars with attitude to generate headlines, and Contreras does just that.
The NBA and NFL are notorious for the personalities in their games. Rivalries and wars of words are the norm in those sports, and the sports are healthier for it. (By the way, Contreras has miles to go with his trash talk).
Baseball’s commissioner, Rob Manfred, is obsessed with “pace of play,” convinced that shaving a few minutes off the run time of a contest will bring fans flocking back to the ballpark. But what MLB actually needs is stars. No league is worse than baseball at marketing its stars (and yes, I’m counting even the NHL in that debate).
Nobody wants every baseball game to devolve into chaos with the benches clearing and fists flying. It’s not 70s hockey, and it never should be. But baseball should never shy away from its players’ personalities. Flowers and Contreras made headlines last night, and MLB needs people to be talking about their game.