Now that John Mozeliak has broken the heart of the St. Louis media by sacking kind manager Mike Shildt – obviously a heinous act that has left a lot of anger and grief – the president of baseball operations has a more serious case to be made. adjust.
Shildt was a good manager, and we have reviewed his impressive track record on several occasions. And even with the “philosophical differences” that led to the pre-layoff split, Shildt leaves with a more than three-season streak of successful, winning and fundamentally sound baseball. He also cultivated approval and loyalty in the clubhouse. And in direct contrast to Mozeliak’s perceived distance, Shildt conquered the media in our city with his kindness.
Mozeliak is in a more difficult situation now, and I’ll explain why in a moment. But first, let’s say the obvious: the pressure will be exerted from the outside, including paying customers, suite owners, viewers, marketing partners, and those who spend time and money on them. Cardinals.
But Mozeliak has security thanks to his close working relationship and friendship with Bill DeWitt Jr. The team president loves and respects Mozeliak, and they have both established a winning legacy. Senior management thinks their baseball model is working. And the facts back it up – unless, of course, the critics want to end the bookkeeping by introducing bizarre evidence of failure… or something like that.
(Oh, the Cardinals have played 10 seasons since their last World Series win? My God, what a nightmare. The horror. What a meltdown. It’s a crime. It must be easy to forget that the Cardinals didn’t. won the World Series before Tony La Russa’s 11th season as manager Or that 21 seasons elapsed between the 1982 World Series championship and the 2006 World Series title. This does not include the 1994 season shortened by the player-owner union battle.)
That said, here is where I am:
First, I respect and appreciate DeWitt-Mozeliak’s impressive track record. I see no reason to take a position to appease the enemies. Their model works and it is sustainable. Just watch Baseball Reference if you need a refresher. Their overall record isn’t something that should be put aside just because (A) the media people are upset that their buddy Shildt was sacked, or (B) some rowdy fans hate DeWitt for not spending more on the payroll, even if it systematically ranks in the Top 10 of player salaries; or (C) that the front office is guilty of making a lot of stupid moves. You know, like all front offices do.
Together, even with their undeniable success, the Cardinals can do better. And should do better. Considering resources, the Cardinals shouldn’t be left behind by the Milwaukee Brewers or settle for wild-card entry. They have to push and reach higher. And they don’t have to destroy their model to do so. And I don’t need them to spend as much money as the Dodgers or the Yankees or any other team you want to mention. I want to see them be smarter and more aggressive.
My God, the relatively simple act of building your team depth isn’t an impossible endeavor. I don’t need the Cardinals to sign the most expensive players; I just want to see them add more good players. And you can find good players at reasonable, even great prices. I applaud the Cardinals for making the playoffs so often. But they have to start winning more playoff games. And while there are no guarantees in the playoffs – something every baseball fan should know – better rosters can put you in a better position to win and progress.
Here’s why the next executive hire is so crucial:
1) If the next player doesn’t win as many games as Shildt, the uproar will be heard: what’s the point of changing managers?
2) Shildt excelled at giving the Cardinals a reliable and solid base of elite defense, a smart and opportunistic base run, and generally good skill to hit the spot. If these areas slip, the next manager will be scrutinized and criticized and compared (unfavorably) to Shildt. You can fire a manager, but it is better not to weaken the foundations.
3) The players liked Shildt. Loyalty has grown over the course of his three and more seasons. Will players automatically line up with the next manager? It’s delicate. If the Cardinals promote from within – Oliver Marmol, Stubby Clapp, etc. – familiarity is a plus. But that doesn’t mean loyalty is automatic. Shildt had an advantage in replacing Mike Matheny – because Matheny had become increasingly unpopular in the clubhouse. But the new manager will replace a popular manager. If the selection comes from within the Cardinals baseball family, the new manager will have a head start. But it won’t work out if the players don’t like or respect him. A plug-in approach does not guarantee a smooth and successful transition.
4) In planning for 2022, the Cardinals have many bright spots. A more open payroll space. A highly respected core of highly experienced and proven veterans who include Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. An emerging group of potential young stars such as Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson, Jack Flaherty, Harrison Bader, Dakota Hudson, Alex Reyes and possibly Edmundo Sosa. They have some exciting prospects on the way, especially Nolan Gorman and Matthew Liberatore – with Jordan Walker, Masyn Winn, Joshua Baez, Ivan Herrera and more to follow. More winning pieces are expected to be in place at the start – and middle – of the 2022 season. The 2021 90-win season was a staging area heading into 2022. Expectations are higher for 2022. That’s it. that I feel, and I’m sure many of you are feeling it too.
5) Already the most disgruntled segment of fans and pro-Shildt media are launching this search as Mozeliak-DeWitt searches for an easier and more malleable puppet. Much of this comes from ignorance; for some puzzling reason, there are too many people who refuse to recognize that the manager’s job is changing dramatically across the landscape.
When La Russa retired from the Cardinals after the 2011 World Series, I wrote a column with this headline: “The Last of the Lions”. That was 10 years ago, and part of it was my riff on the MLB manager’s watered-down strength.
There would never be another La Russa. Not even La Russa v 2.0, when he returned to manage the White Sox this season. MLB front offices – EVERYWHERE – are now in the driver’s seat. Managers are only part of the device. You don’t have to like it, but it’s not going to change. There is no going back.
In 2021 and beyond, all managers – at least to some extent – are ‘puppets’. The Cardinals are just part of the new way to lead a team, with several areas of the baseball operation working together to form a cohesive approach. The manager is one voice among many voices, at least until the start of the game. And I don’t know why a manager would refuse the help of analysts and their valuable upper-level information. But that doesn’t fit the “Mo Wants A Weaker Marionette” crowd.
Mozeliak and DeWitt welcome the manager’s opinions, suggestions and comments – and will adopt some recommendations. But if there is disagreement, management has the final decision. As Shildt learned the hard way, the high command can’t resist a manager who tries to strengthen himself and resist their plans. And this is happening with the other 29 franchises. But the local meows are silly – those who do the meow think the manager’s influence has been weakened ONLY in St. Louis, and no other MLB jurisdiction. Damn it, try to find out, please.
But how do the Cardinals hire a younger, less experienced manager and give him weight in a way that players and fans will respect? It’s a terribly difficult mission in a wonderful old-fashioned baseball town that’s also overdue. The Cardinals can run the franchise however they want, but public perception is a factor here. There are two problems with a potential baseball dictatorship: (A) the manager will be seen as a debuff, and (B) Mozeliak and DeWitt will be the target of harsher and more relentless criticism. Welcome to a public relations mess.
6) Unlike Matheny, Shildt was not averse to advanced metrics. He liked using some of it, especially the use of changes that improved the team’s defense. But his enthusiasm had limits, and it became a management problem. If management plans to deepen the analysis as a competitive advantage, the new manager must accept reality before he accepts the job. Cardinals must make it very clear – unequivocally – that their plan with analysis is part of the manager’s daily plan. There can be no confusion. On top of that, Mozeliak and the new manager should strive to educate fans and the media on the value of analytics, with real-time examples of how it helps the Cardinals win. It is unlikely that people will embrace something that they cannot understand.
7) Speaking of communication: a manager who doesn’t have a knack for gossip – and sucks on TV – can be a handicap unless the team is having a great season on the pitch. Matheny was desperately stuck. Shildt didn’t read the mood; he thought that just because the media loved him, he had nothing to fear. He never learned that the people watching at home had little tolerance for an absurdly disconnected Happy Talk when the Cardinals were playing terrible baseball. This too is part of the challenge for the front office: if your choice of manager is awkward with the media and cannot perform in front of TV cameras, his job instantly becomes more difficult. So you better work with him and prepare him. Start by creating a video diary of the pre-game and post-game sessions led by Boston manager Alex Cora. No manager does better.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his sports talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It is broadcast Monday to Thursday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. .
The weekly “Seeing Red” podcast with Bernie and Will Leitch is available on 590thefan.com
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
* All statistics used here are from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, and Brooks Baseball Net, unless otherwise noted.
Over the past 35 years, Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
Although he is best known for his voice as the Senior Sports Columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington DC
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood in Saint-Louis.