More than any player Tony La Russa was the St. Louis Cardinals. The clichés of his tenure--playing a hard nine, taking the season one game at a time, making winning plays--came to define the Cardinals as an organization. The Cardinal Way became cross-pollinated with the La Russa Way. The future Hall-of-Fame manager's fingerprints could be found on personnel machinations as well as in-game tactics.
La Russa is quoted as having said that, "The coach gets an office, but the player gets a locker. The player needs to figure out who is more permanent." La Russa was permanent; the players temporary. By announcing that he was voluntarily cleaning out his office and retiring, La Russa has ended his managerial permanence.
For as long as many Cardinals fans can remember, La Russa was manager of the Cardinals. For years being a Cardinals fan has included questioning what La Russa does and not what it is that a manager does. In the week that has passed since La Russa took a Happy Flight into the sunset Cardinals fans have had to ask themselves about what they want in a manager. Along with Cardinals fans, general manager John Mozeliak and chairman Bill DeWitt have also had to form a profile of what the qualities they are seeking in the club's next manager.
Mozeliak appeared on ESPN 101 Radio with Bernie Miklasz after La Russa's retirement was announced to discuss the manager search that was then in its infancy. Mozeliak stated that the organization would "idenitfy the profile of the type of manager we are looking for and there may be a couple that we identify and in that sense go out and try to see if we can find those type of applicants to fit that." Mozeliak also discussed two types of profiles for candidates, "one that has success or history in the game" and "another profile that is more of an up-and-comer and one that can create their own identity."
In the Post-Dispatch Joe Strauss offered further illumination of the type of manager the Cardinals are looking for, reporting that "[e]mphasis will be placed on a close working relationship with Mozeliak as well as player development." On Friday this characterization was expanded further in a Post-Dispatch article by Strauss and Derrick Goold:
The Cardinals want to more closely integrate their next manager into a top-down organizational chain of command and philosophy. Since being named general manager in October 2007, Mozeliak has tried to create a more linear chain of command that brings the major-league clubhouse in line with the front office and player development.
Based on reports from Strauss and Goold in the Post-Dispatch we know that the candidate list includes former Cardinal player and minor league manager in the White Sox farm system Joe McEwing, Hall-of-Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg who has managed in multiple minor league systems, incumbent Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo, current Memphis Redbirds manager Chris Maloney, and former Cardinals catcher and current roving minor league instructor Mike Matheny. DeWitt shared with Hall-of-Fame Post-Dispatch scribe Rick Hummel that three interviews were conducted on Thursday, three would be conducted on Tuesday, and that there are more potential candidates on the Cardinals list but that not plans to interview any of them had yet been made.
One of the candidates interviewed last week was Matheny. A post-interview story in the Post-Dispatch provided quotes from the former Cardinals catcher that offer further insight into the focus of the managerial search committee.
"They made it clear that this is a leadership position and that what they were looking for to fill the role is a leader. Yes, there are baseball things and the knowledge of baseball, but we talked a lot about the characteristics that are necessary to be a leader at this level and a leader in that clubhouse."
Matheny's comments seem to jibe with the characterization of what the Cardinals are looking for in their new manager given by DeWitt in an interview with Hummel that was published in Sunday's Post-Dispatch:
A good leader who has the respect of the club. He understands the Cardinal franchise and the Cardinal organization and what it means. Not only to the city but through an entire area where the Cardinals are such a big party of daily life.
The Cardinals' profile and their interviewing process appear to stand in some contrast to the one being employed by their foil in one of the National League's longest running feuds. Fresh off the hiring of Theo Epstein the Cubs find themselves searching for a new manager for the second time in as many offseasons. Paul Sullivan wrote an interesting piece in the Chicago Tribune on the process utilized by Epstein and his lieutenants in their manager interviews.
One part of the process is game simulations, in which the candidate is handed lineup cards, statistics, a history of the relievers' workloads and other relevant facts. A candidate will watch a tape of a game with the Cubs' brass, who will stop the tape at various junctures to ask the candidate what he would do in a particular situation.
Epstein explains that the point of the process is to create some intensity so that he and his subordinates can get an idea of how the candidate thinks, "what pieces of information he would use -- what his thought process would be in trying to make a decision (under pressure)." Lastly, there is also a component to the interview process in which they gauge how a potential manager would handle the media by bringing candidates to face the Chicago media itself after interviews. (After watching "Tony T.V." fairly regularly, one wonders if La Russa would stand a chance of getting hired with such a hurdle placed in front of him.)
Based on these reports, it seems that the Cardinals and Cubs are employing two distinct processes with somewhat different focuses as they each search for a manager. The process being employed by Epstein for the Cubs led to the hiring of Terry Francona when Epstein was in Boston. Francona won two World Series titles as manager of the Red Sox before leaving town as reports surfaced suggesting he had lost control of the clubhouse during Boston's historic collapse at the end of this 2011 season.
Francona was reportedly under consideration for the Cardinals manager job. One of the concerns voiced by Cardinals fans about Francona is the fact that he presided over the late-season meltdown of the Red Sox during which he allegedly lost control of his team--in short, folks are worried about his leadership, the very thing the Cardinals are emphasizing most.
Francona is the only named candidate that fits the established brand profile described by Mozeliak. With the vast majority of the managerial candidates having developed their experience coaching and/or managing in the minor leagues, the profile the Cardinals seem to prefer in developing their candidate list for manager is that of an up-and-comer who can create his own identity. It also appears a portion that identity will be as Mozeliak's subordinate in a linear chain-of-command. Given the candidate list and statements from Mozeliak it seems that the hiring of La Russa's successor could very well be the final step in an organizational shift in philosophy from Jockettyism to Mozeliakism.