By: Will Burchfield
Brad Ausmus didn’t carve out an 18-year career in the majors by being critical of his teammates — not publicly, at least.
There’s a code within the sport that, for better or worse, bars that very behavior. Cubs catcher Miguel Montero violated that code on Tuesday night by blaming pitcher Jake Arrieta for the fact that the Nationals stole seven bases en route to a 6-1 romp.
“That’s the reason they were running left and right today, because they [Arrieta] were slow to the plate,” Montero told reporters, via ESPN. “Simple as that. It’s a shame it’s my fault because I didn’t throw anyone out.
“It really sucked, because the stolen bases go on me. But when you really look at it, the pitcher doesn’t give me any time, so yeah, ‘Miggy can’t throw anyone out,’ but my pitchers don’t hold anyone on.”
The Cubs designated Montero for assignment on Wednesday afternoon.
“This was an example of being a bad teammate publicly and that we’d be better off moving on and not standing for it,” president Theo Epstein told reporters.
Ausmus, a former catcher himself, both empathized with Montero and acknowledged his mistake.
“I don’t know that I would ever blame a teammate. Especially as a catcher, you gotta kind of protect your pitchers. That surprised me, although I’ve said it all along, pitchers are much more instrumental in holding on base-stealers than catchers. Certainly, to point a finger at a teammate, I don’t know that I would recommend that,” Ausmus said.
Montero failed to throw out a single base-stealer in 31 attempts this season. That wasn’t completely his fault, and Ausmus admitted it’s true that catchers generally take a disproportionate share of the blame for stolen bases.
“But I don’t think I would ever blame my pitcher, at least not in front of a camera. I might blame him in the locker room with the just team hanging around,” said Ausmus, before adding later, with a wry grin, “You get the batter out, you don’t have to worry about him stealing second.”
Arrieta, for his part, said he had no issue with Montero’s comments and even shouldered some of the blame himself.
Said Ausmus, “I think people in the game have a pretty good understanding. Most catchers fall into a middle category where if the pitcher holds a runner you’re gonna throw him out, and if a pitcher doesn’t hold the runner you’re not gonna throw him out. Then there’s the outliers who are either really good or really bad and they can make up for the pitcher or the opposite.”
Ausmus was known as a strong defensive catcher in his day. He won three gold gloves and led the league with a 49% caught-stealing rate in 1997. He threw out 35 percent of base-stealers over the course of his career.
Then again, this was never a solo act. A catcher’s arm is only as strong as a pitcher’s ability to hold runners on. The two must work in unison.
“It can be worked on, I don’t think it’s terribly difficult. But the truth is you rarely see teams steal their way to a championship. If the pitcher does his job of getting the vast majority of the hitter’s out, a stolen base here or there may make a difference in a game but it probably won’t make a difference in the season,” Ausmus said.
The Tigers have allowed 40 stolen bases this season. They’ve also caught 22 runners, tied for second most in the majors.
“I do think, as a hole, a team should look to keep runners from advancing at will, because if it’s that flagrant it will cost you games. The more games it costs you, obviously the worse it is,” said Aumus. “Maybe the Cardinals in the 1980s stole their way to a pennant, but generally speaking you just don’t see it happen very much.”