Oct. 21—There are plenty of adjectives one can use to describe Mike Shildt’s firing last week.
Shocking, confusing and downright mind-boggling were my emotions when Shildt was canned after leading the St. Louis Cardinals to a historic 17-game winning streak in September and third straight playoff appearance this past season.
In fact when Shildt first took over for Mike Matheny at the All-Star break in 2018, it was a team that was disjointed. It was a team that struggled mightily defensively and on the basepaths.
In a short time under Shildt’s watch, he helped transform the team into one of the best defensive and baserunning teams almost immediately. When the Cardinals announced an out-of-nowhere press conference on Friday afternoon, I thought it would be to announce an extension for the 2019 National League Manager of the Year.
But you truly never know what happens behind closed doors.
Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak refused to expand on what he called “philosophical differences” between Shildt, the coaching staff and the front office.
The brass made it clear that the decision had nothing to do with winning percentage, which made the firing all the more surprising because Mozeliak hired Shildt as a scout in 2003.
Shildt transitioned into coaching a few years later and became a fast-rising manager in the Cardinals system before he was eventually added to the big-league staff.
Shildt was a Cardinal lifer. He was Mo’s guy, but evidently the business side of baseball outweighed everything.
“In today’s baseball world, business has gotten more and more complicated,” Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt said. “You can see the growth in baseball operations staff, so there’s more to it than an element or two on the field. One thing you want to make sure is everybody’s on the same page. That’s pretty critical or you’re going to kind of stumble along the way. That was kind of the discussion that we had.”
Did Shildt make mistakes? Yes. He put too much trust in closer Alex Reyes late in the season and it backfired in the wild-card loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but even the beloved Tony La Russa made his fair share of mistakes.
And that wasn’t the reason for Shildt’s firing.
Some could be tied to hitting coach Jeff Albert’s philosophy as reportedly Shildt was not as big of a believer as the front office. Some could be tied to the roster as the St. Post-Dispatch wrote that Shildt made frequent comments about his team doing the best it could with what it had during the season despite the front office not being a fan of managers lobbying for upgrades — publicly and privately.
One of the bigger reasons, I thought, was the front office’s desire to implement analytics that Shildt was less hesitant to do so.
Shildt did not speak publicly until Monday about his firing. He did not take questions and only read a statement.
“I was taught not to talk out of school, and while clearly there were differences that have led to this parting of ways, out of respect for the organization and the people that run it, I can only express my gratitude,” Shildt said. “All those philosophies that were shared over the many years … allowed us to part ways as professional friends.
“I did my best at every turn to be a good caretaker of the Cardinals’ legacy. I invested my heart, soul and most of my professional career in helping maintain and be a part of an organization that I cared more about than I cared about my own career.”
And I don’t think the Cardinals will have to look far in the dugout for Shildt’s replacement. There have been many names floated around already, but the most realistic one and safest bet, is bench coach Oliver Marmol.
Marmol knows the organization better than most on the Cardinals’ current coaching staff. He was drafted by St. Louis in the sixth round back in 2007, shifted to coaching in 2011 and moved quickly through the system like Shildt.
His first stop at the big-league level was a first-base coach and was named Shildt’s bench coach in 2019. He served as Shildt’s right-handed man and helped the team game-plan for opponents and implement analytics and data in the clubhouse.
Perhaps this quote is a good elevator pitch?
“This game is moving really quickly,” Marmol told the Post-Dispatch in a story from 2020. “One way to think about is you can rely on your talent or you can develop it, and I think there is an edge there because many people just rely on what they know and just continue to teach that. Then there are people who want to keep pushing, pushing the boundaries of what is out there. I lean more towards that.”
After Shildt gave his thanks to a number of people with the Cardinals on Monday, he gave a special shout out to Marmol.
“Oli has my deepest and most trusted respect,” Shildt said.