How Cardinals’ manager Mike Shildt makes it harder to defend him each week


Albert Cesare/USA TODAY Sports

Dan Buffa, Special to the Jewish Light

One day, the St. Louis Cardinals will have a manager who can properly manage a bullpen. One day, the Cardinals front office will hire someone with real experience.


In the past 10 years, the ballclub has tried two different Mikes — Matheny and Shildt — to little or no avail. Each leaves pitchers in too long, pulls them too late and makes some form of excuse after the game is over and lost. Case in point: Thursday’s game versus the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates. Allow me to set the mood for you.


It’s the bottom of the seventh inning at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, with visiting St. Louis leading 7-3 and their fans having just stretched their legs. Genesis Cabrera — all of 24 years of age and already having his young arm burnt to crisp before September — comes in to pick up a lead and hand it to the next bullpen arm. Simple enough, right? Not this year. Six hits later, the Pirates lead 11-7. By the time Pirates’ pinch hitter Yoshi Tsutsugo bashed a two-run home run to cement the final and a few fans returned from the bathroom, another broken Cards lead had fizzled away.

Somehow, while Cabrera was giving up line drive after line drive, Shildt’s legs either became frozen or worse, his mind froze suddenly. This has happened way too many times in 2021. Save the excuses about the roster not being the strongest. Any team with Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt both executing at least an OPS of .800 shouldn’t look this bad–or have such a hard time beating a really bad team.

Beth Shalom Cemetery ad

Pittsburgh definitely qualifies for a layup, even for a team desperately holding onto a chance at competing in a one game wildcard playoff. The Pirates lost 15 of their first 17 games in August before taking a series against St. Louis last weekend. If there is one definite link to this troubling season, it’s fumbling the easier parts of the schedule. Back in June, this team couldn’t compose a winning streak for their lives, wasting series matchups versus teams that were unofficially eliminated from playoff consideration. A good portion of that blame falls on the front office and injuries, yet Shildt should carry his own water here as well.

This is a different guy than the skipper who collected the Manager of the Year award two seasons ago, or in the last full season. Shildt can’t hold his end up late in games, when his decisions could be the difference between a win or a loss.

All he had to do was pull Cabrera after the third hit, when things were getting too hot for the lead to be stable. He lifts an arm and maybe the Cardinals are still four games out of the second wildcard spot. It’s a manager’s job to give his team the best opportunity to win. Since the beginning of that troubling COVID-19 impacted 2020 season, Shildt hasn’t been sharp when the team needed him to be. When the little things add up, Shildt has come up short.

Afterwards, he will tell the media the team played their butts off. Instead of being straight with the press, he will check down to effort and a lack of results. Shildt will emphasize that the players are not at fault, and the paychecks support that statement. No matter what, win or lose, those fat checks go into the bank. What he rarely does is properly and fully break down his decision-making skills late in games, where his struggles are illuminated in an ugly way.

Ask yourself this question. If Tony La Russa is in that dugout last night, do the Cardinals win? How about Terry Francona? Sometimes, it pays extra to have solid experience in a manager–something St. Louis has bypassed with their last two hires. It doesn’t matter what a guy can do in the minors–the stage is so different and the stakes are much lower.

If the Memphis Redbirds lose, it doesn’t make the news. If St. Louis loses, you hear from me and about 15 other local writers. That’s the difference in pressure. Maybe, Cardinal Nation will get a leader that isn’t simply a hand-picked yes man for the front office to wiggle around however they want. Someone who won’t get outmatched every other game.

Granted, Shildt doesn’t deserve all the blame. There’s only so much he can do from the sidelines, but what he didn’t do on Thursday night-an area he has struck out on several times this season-is notice a game heading downhill and do something to fix it. He’s just too late. But yeah, the roster isn’t great and that’s the main issue. Wrong.

If a manager had a WAR, what would Shildt’s be this season? How many wins has he personally delivered to his team with a key move? The answers to those questions will involve calculators and headaches, so let me assure you that it’s not a good one. When the St. Louis Post-Dispatch delivers grades in five weeks to this team, Shildt’s should rise above a C- or D+.

This season has been stuffed with plenty of rough losses, heartbreakers that took a chunk out of a fan’s morale. Thursday’s defeat takes the cake, and it fell on Shildt. He didn’t use his power as a leader to change the course of a very bad inning, and the team lost. It’ll happen again in less than a week.

The truth is I’ve spent many words and minutes defending Shildt to angry Cards fans wondering when this guy will act like he’s been around the game for decades. I’m running out of excuses for him. Sooner or later, the idea of “cleaning house” should shift its weight to accommodate for a dugout group of instructors that aren’t getting the job done.

Maybe, just maybe, hiring someone with genuine experience would have been a good idea. Perhaps more crucial wins would occur. Remember what happened the last time there was an experienced mind in the dugout? Two World Series titles were won. Can the Cardinals win one with Shildt? I’m starting to truly doubt it. How about you?