In a historically embarrassing 2023 season that’s been short on success and joy and loaded with failure and misery, let’s take a moment to express our respect and appreciation for Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras. In a year of hopelessness he’s a source of happiness.

That’s why it was so special to watch Contreras – seething with intensity – rock the Padres and enliven the Cardinals two homers, three RBI and three runs scored in Tuesday’s 6-5 victory in 10 innings. Contreras cut San Diego’s lead to a run with a solo home run in the sixth. And then, with the Cardinals down 5-3 with two out in the eighth, Contreras boomed a tying two-run homer. The Cardinals would go on to win it on Tommy Edman’s pinch-hit single in the 10th.

As Contreras approached the plate in the eighth to take his game-rearranging at-bat, the Cardinals had a minus 5% win expectancy and were drifting to a fifth consecutive defeat. After his 427-foot homer left the yard, the Cardinals’ win expectancy jumped to 40%. Contreras replenished his team’s energy with an instant-impact swing. And he did this with his parents in the stands at Busch Stadium, to watch Willson in person for the first time as a Cardinal.

Contreras, the loving son, welcomed mom and dad with a gift of two home runs – one for each parent. It was a wonderful moment for a guy who deserves that feeling of euphoria. His first season in St. Louis has been challenging – understatement! – but he’s stayed above the dishonorable pettiness and unfairness to prove he’s worthy of the Birds on the Bat uniform.

With only one month to go in the first year of his five-season contract, Contreras has given us plenty to think about. I can only speak for myself here, but this is what I’ve learned about him.

1. No Cardinal plays harder or is more competitive. It doesn’t matter if the Redbirds are 10 games under .500, or 15 games under, or 20 games under or interred in the standings. Contreras never backs down. Never goes at it at less than full speed. You can count on him to honor the game that he loves by giving max effort. His spirit crackles. His emotion cannot be calibrated. Every day at the ballpark is a special day in his life.

2. Contreras has an admirable soul. He wanted to be a Cardinal. He wanted to play for St. Louis. He sought the honor of succeeding future Hall of Fame catcher Yadier Molina and taking on a job that came with extreme, potentially intimidating, pressure.

3. Contreras displayed more dignity and character than any of the snakes within the Cardinals organization who tried to bring him down to shift the blame for their own failures.

4. Contreras is doing exactly what the Cardinals are paying him to do – provide a substantial upgrade on offense for a catcher position that had ranked 27th in the majors in OPS in the previous two seasons. More on this later.

5. Contreras is below average in pitch-framing and pitch-blocking – which Cardinals management should have known before signing him for $87.5 million. He was coveted for offense, and his defensive shortcomings aren’t horrendous. This season Contreras is a minus two in framing and a minus four in blocking. According to Statcast, Contreras ranks fourth among MLB catchers with a caught-stealing rate of 35 percent. The composite defensive rating for Contreras at FanGraphs is on the plus side, slightly above average.

I’ve been writing and talking about the Cardinals since 1985. I’ve been doing it on a full-time basis since 1989. In my many years, I’ve never seen a new Cardinal treated as rudely and poorly as this team dealt with Contreras at the beginning of his St. Louis career.

And I’m not talking about the fans.

In early May, when the Cardinals starting pitchers, manager Oli Marmol and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak ganged up on Contreras to make him the scapegoat for their own failures, Cardinals fans were too smart to fall for the disgraceful attempt to shift the blame to the new catcher.

Mozeliak vegetated through the offseason and made no attempt to upgrade the team’s perilously thin starting pitching. The pitchers themselves – including Miles Mikolas and Adam Wainwright, who left their new catcher behind in camp to participate in the WBC – couldn’t suppress their egos and take responsibility for their awful performances. Instead they shoveled a lot of bullspit on Contreras. Shameful.

I have a few questions:

If Contreras is so substandard defensively, why did Mozeliak and Marmol overlook it? Why didn’t they know about this already? As a Cub, Contreras caught 80 games against the Cardinals and Mozeliak and Marmol have know excuse for being out of touch on the catcher’s defects on defense. But instead they flipped out and benched Contreras after his first 23 starts as a Cardinal. If Contreras wasn’t what they expected defensively, Mozeliak and Marmol only have themselves to blame.

If Mozeliak and Marmol expected Contreras to be Yadier Molina, then both men really have no business doing the jobs they’ve been given. But that’s exactly what happened  here — Contreras isn’t Molina, shocker! – and the bosses tried to make Contreras the fall guy.

Remember this Mozeliak quote, given to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic?

“I do think the nuances of the catching side, we haven’t had to spend a whole lot of energy thinking about it because of what Yadi did for us,” Mozeliak told Rosenthal. “You know that saying, you sometimes feel like you had a coach on the field? That was Yadi. That’s how we thought. Even though you might have a game plan, Yadi had the ability to allow that to evolve during a game, real-time decision-making.”

So the Cardinals expected Contreras to be at Molina’s level after one month of the regular season? And this, after pitchers abandoned him in spring training to play ball in the WBC?

Good grief. Contreras wasn’t going to be Molina defensively, period. Ever. But a reasonable team would be patient and give Contreras some time to learn and get through a difficult transition. A smart team would realize that his defensive minuses are offset by his impactful offense.

Mozeliak and his manager may have been the only people alive who thought Contreras could succeed the retired Molina without a glitch. And when reality hit, their response was to go after Contreras and humiliate him.

Once upon a time, Bill DeWitt Jr. would have done something about this.

Evidently those days are long gone.

If Contreras was so clueless and inept in game planning and calling pitches, then why did Jordan Montgomery have a 2.74 ERA this season with Contreras catching him? Answer: because Monty is a good pitcher and a good teammate. He didn’t turn on Contreras. He pitched well, stripped his ego, took responsibility for a few bad starts and didn’t point a finger at his catcher to avoid taking the heat.

Why does Mikolas have a 4.76 ERA this season with Contreras as his catcher – and a 5.10 ERA when partnered with his personal fave, Andrew Knizner? Answer: Mikolas is having a disappointing season that has little – if anything – to do with the catcher. It’s all on him. Take some dang responsibility for your below-average performance. I still chuckle at Mikolas making the passive-aggressive gesture against Contreras by calling his own game in one start. That lasted one inning and Mikolas. Pitch calling wasn’t as easy as Mikolas thought.

If Contreras was so bad, then why did Jack Flaherty have a better ERA (4.84) when working with Willson … and a 7.07 ERA since teaming with heralded young catcher Adley Rutschman after the trade to Baltimore?

To their immense credit, Cardinals fans have backed Contreras all the way. As soon as the pitchers, the manager and front office enacted the plan to expel Contreras as the starter in early May, the fans could see through the chicanery. The sting of the public backlash – and the ridicule and rebukes from national media – caused the Cardinal collusionists to retreat, scramble for cover and restore Contreras to the starting job.

Contreras is coming through offensively … which was the point of signing him in the first place.

Contreras is someone to root for in a lost season. Here’s a capsule look at how well he’s doing offensively.

+ Among 33 MLB catchers that have at least 200 plate appearances taken at catcher – and not DH – Contreras ranks fourth at 27 percent above league average offensively based wRC+. The only catchers ahead of him are Sean Murphy, Ryan Jeffers and Will Smith. The Contreras wRC+ is superior to that of Rutschman, J.T. Realmuto, Salvy Perez, Danny Jansen, Elias Diaz, Cal Raleigh, and Alejandro Kirk.

+ In plate appearances made from the catching spot in the lineup, Contreras ranks third in MLB at the position in slugging (.480), fourth in OPS (.827) and sixth in onbase percentage (.347.) He also has the top hard-hit rate, is seventh in offensive WAR, and is 7th in Win Probability Added offensively.

+ Contreras is one of the best Cardinals at hitting with runners in scoring position this season: .293 average, .407 onbase percentage, .533 slug and .940 OPS. He’s 56 percent above league average offensively (wRC+) with runners in scoring position. The only Cardinal who tops that is Brendan Donovan.

+ Contreras had a very good April at the plate, followed by a poor May. Well, no surprise there considering how the front office, the manager and some pitchers tried to mess with his head. But since the start of June, Contreras is batting .293 with a .396 OBP and .518 slug for a .914 OPS. And his level of offense over the last three months is 52 percent above league average, per wRC+.

+ Since the beginning of July, Contreras has hammered out a .333 average, .439 OBP, .577 slug and 1.016 OPS. He’s 79 percent above average offensively over that time. Since July 1, his splurge includes a .333 average and 1.042 OPS with runners in scoring position.

+ In 2021-2022 combined, St. Louis catchers were 30th in the majors and below the replacement level with a minus 0.6 WAR. The metric encompasses offense, defense and baserunning. This season Contreras has 2.1 WAR as a catcher. And with Knizner’s help, Cards catchers rank ninth in the majors with 2.8 WAR in 2023. Major upgrade.

+ In 2021-2022 the STL catchers were 24th in OBP, 25th in RBI, 27th in OPS, 27th in wRC+, 28th in slugging and 30th in homers.

This year STL catchers are third in OPS (.796), third in wRC+, fourth in RBI, fifth in slugging, fifth in homers and sixth in OBP. Major upgrade.

+ In 2021-2022, Cardinals catchers combined for 21 home runs and a .318 slug over the two seasons. This year STL catchers already have 23 homers and a .464 slug. In 2021-22, Cards catchers were 33 percent below league average offensively per wRC+. This year they’re 18% above average offensively. Major upgrade.

Contreras wants to lift his also-ran team but can’t do it alone. At least he’s trying. He’s trying hard. The fans have noticed. And the fans have been behind Contreras all season. They’ve had his back – especially when the knives came out earlier in the season.

Thanks for reading …


Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can stream it live or access the show podcast on or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.

All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.