Do the Cardinals want a better manager than Mike Shildt, or just another “Yes Man?”


Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports

Dan Buffa, Special to the Jewish Light

It’s been six days since the St. Louis Cardinals abruptly fired Mike Shildt, which came only eight days after the Cardinals were eliminated by the Dodgers in the National League wildcard game.

Easily one of the most bizarre firings in the recent memory of any sport, it left local sportswriters and radio talk show hosts scrambling for answers and different ways to describe something that no one has actually confirmed yet. In other words, in the time since the dismissal, both John Mozeliak and Shildt have spoken about the sudden parting of ways, but nothing has been answered yet. “Philosophical differences” was the team’s company line, and all Shildt could do was be grateful for the opportunity to be hired and ultimately fired.

Why did the Cardinals fire him? We may never know exactly what went down in that postseason meeting, or what the words were that got him canned. Did he simply go against their plans for the next few years? Was there a dispute with hitting coach Jeff Albert that couldn’t be mended? Did Shildt want the team to reload the roster with an MLB-quality shortstop and difference-making starter this winter? Or was the team and manager simply not on the same page going forward, in what will be a very important year for the team?

After all, as I stated in last week’s reaction article, it’s hard to find a logical reason to fire a guy who will most certainly gather plenty of Manager of the Year votes in the next month or so–especially a guy who owns one of those awards already.

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Shildt’s overall winning percentage in his three-plus seasons here was greater than Tony La Russa or Mike Matheny. Against all odds, as well as multiple seasons of non-activity at the trade deadline by the front office, Shildt led this team to the playoffs in three straight years. Yes, cry out as loud as you might, but the 2021 wildcard berth does count. 17 wins in a row can’t happen without a manager making key moves and pushing the right buttons.

While Shildt had plenty to learn on the job — few managers grasp the entire concept in three seasons, even in St. Louis-there was no clear-cut reason to let him go. Usually, the way these things happen is a manager compiles an average or troubling record over multiple seasons, leading to his dismissal to take the team in a new direction. In each of his two full seasons, Shildt helped the Cardinals win 90 games. In the middle of a world-halting pandemic, he pushed them into a playoff series somehow, even with multiple stoppages due to positive COVID-19 tests.

Word on the street is that several in-house or former Cardinals are among the top candidates for the job, even if every knowledgeable mind in town should understand the guy has already been chosen. The Cardinals wouldn’t fire someone in the middle of the playoffs if there wasn’t someone already waiting to take over. Bill DeWitt Jr. and Mozeliak can humor us with the interview process, but they most likely already got their guy. My question is simple: Will it be another “Yes Man?”

For years, many including myself thought Shildt was one of those managers: taking orders from the top and filtering it into his own baseball philosophy. But that wasn’t true, because if it were, he would be getting set up for the third and final year of his contract extension. Apparently, Shildt was about as much of a “Yes” guy as I am a man who prefers pineapple on his pizza. Unless the Cardinals shock me and hire a manager with real MLB experience, like Bruce Bochy or Buck Showalter, will they get better with one of their internal options?

With no disrespect to Skip Schumaker, will the Cardinals react better or play better for him than they did Shildt? I doubt it. Everyone on that roster adored Shildt, championing him after the dismissal of Matheny in 2018. Mark McGwire has been in many Major League dugouts over his illustrious and partially infamous career as both a player and coach, but does the team want to pack two hitting coaches into one dugout? I think not.

Stubby Clapp took the 2017 and 2018 Triple-A affiliate Memphis Redbirds to the Pacific Coast League Championship and won each time before he became a base coach for Shildt’s staff. He was a hero for the United States in the Olympics as well, even collecting some MLB at-bats. Clapp is the only guy the Busch Memorial Stadium crowd gave standing ovations to after consecutive strikeouts at the plate. He’s beloved and makes the most sense of any of the coaching staff, even Oliver Marmol. The latter carries a similar background as Shildt and Clapp, managing Cardinals affiliates before joining the team as a bench coach. But he’s 35 and doesn’t have the tenure of Clapp, or the close rapport with those Memphis teams that should plug many holes on the 2022 roster.

Each guy is qualified, but will they get to manage themselves or will they be reporting to Mozeliak upstairs constantly? According to the bizarre weirdness of the Shildt firing, I think not.

Here’s the million-dollar question: Could Clapp, Schumaker, or Marmol do a better job with this roster than Shildt? I would wager no, and that’s considering my issues with his late game tactics and bullpen usage. The events over the past week make me feel uncomfortable and wondering which direction this team takes. Are they going all in on 2022 with the final year of Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright? Or are they slowly retooling with the unknown status of next season, due to the pending Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations?

Lots of questions and little answers at the moment, which is a weird feeling for what was set up to be a vital offseason. Cardinal Nation will most certainly know what this team is prepared to do once a new skipper is announced. I’m wondering if the new guy will have much different makeup than the previous fella? After all, baseball looks a lot different than it did 20 years ago. Sabermetrics and analytics are calculated more in depth and influence decisions, which could have left an old school mind like Shildt in the cold. But he was with the team since 2003, including all of Mozeliak’s formative years, so one could assume he was aware of the plan and strategy.

Perhaps, it changed and Shildt wasn’t on board. He’ll find an even better job, most likely with the San Diego Padres. The Cardinals will introduce someone new within the next two weeks, I presume. Let’s just hope it’s not another “Yes Man.” In the words of Kris Bryant, that sure sounds boring.