Whenever I say that Mike Matheny should be fired, whether in a post, on Twitter or mumbled under my breath at the grocery store checkout, someone often chimes in with the followup question, "so who should they hire, then?"
My stock answer is: I don't care. I've long since resolved that Matheny's management is a detriment to this ballclub, so simply removing removing him for whatever a replacement-level manager might be looks like a clear win.
But it's a fair question, and the idea that they should simply hire "anybody else" is an oversimplification of both the politics of staffing such a high-profile position and the real limitations of what the talent pool might be. So here's my new response:
The Cardinals should hire Mark McGwire as their next manager.
As you're probably aware, McGwire became the Cardinals hitting coach in 2009, moved on to the same position with the Dodgers in 2013, and is now the bench coach for the San Diego Padres. That's a progression that often leads to the manager's seat, and in recent interviews with both ESPN and the P-D, Big Mac has said he "wouldn't rule out" managing.
McGwire has enjoyed his chances to manage already, both during Spring Training and taking over following an ejection of Padres skipper Andy Green.
It seems pretty clear that Mark McGwire is going to be a big league manager in the near future. So if a Cardinals Hall of Famer is going to ascend to the manager's role, shouldn't he do it with the Cardinals?
Fans would love it. From a marketing standpoint, it's a... (puts on sunglasses) home run. It's also in-line with a preference this front office has shown for candidates with prior experience with the organization, be it a Randy Flores or a (cough, cough) Mike Matheny.
It's easy to dismiss the whole popularity contest aspect of a new hire and say all that matters is winning, but I don't think that's true. The Matheny Era has sown the seeds of distrust in the fanbase if not the clubhouse, so a significant job for the next Cardinals manager will be to win back those hearts and minds. Someone like McGwire will have a clear leg-up on a perhaps talented but unknown candidate.
So we can be reasonably sure that Mark McGwire 1) will soon be a big league manager and 2) would be extremely popular in St. Louis. That leaves only the biggest question of all, "will he be any good?"
Next to "what is the sound of one hand clapping" or "if a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound," there is perhaps no more unanswerable question than "will Candidate X make a good manager?"
It's nearly impossible to even come to a consensus on whether or not a current manager is good at their job. Are they good at managing personnel behind closed-doors? We'll never know. If the team is winning or losing, how much of the responsibility for that falls to the manager? Nobody has isolated those variables yet.
So if we can't even determine how good a current manager is at their job, it's truly a fool's errand to speculate too much on how a potential manager might do. But I challenge you to find anyone who has been anything but complimentary toward McGwire's work as both a hitting and bench coach.
In several of the articles I linked above, Padres Manger Green is particularly complimentary of the preparation McGwire does for each game, noting that he does his own thorough analysis of the batting and pitching of the opposing team, and comes ready with strategies for various situations.
We know that great players don't necessarily make great managers, but they are granted an instant level of respect from the current players that others may not be. One challenge the Cardinals Manager will face over the next few years is managing the declines of Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina. We've already seen that this could get ugly. I have a hard time believing Yadi would be as apt to start an Instagram feud with someone of the stature of McGwire. It's always hard for players with the greatness and pride of Waino or Yadi to hear it's time for a diminished role, but it's hard to imagine someone better equipped to deliver that message than Mark McGwire.
The bottom line is, I don't know if McGwire will be a good manager. Neither does anybody else. But what little information we have sounds promising, and his nearly ten years of big league coaching experience is a hell of a lot more than the last guy the Cardinals hired.
It is worth noting that McGwire has expressed an interest to stay close to his family in Southern California, hence the Los Angeles and San Diego gigs. But a big league managing job is a pretty coveted position, and given it would be with the Cardinals, I have to think that would be enough to lure him to Missouri for the summers.
Maybe the Cardinals have other options in mind. Mike Shildt, in particular, seems like an internal candidate they have been grooming. If they believe he's got the skills, I'd say give him a shot. And who knows what options might open up outside the organization if the Cardinals Managerial position were to become available. Certainly, there may be very good and even better options out there.
But Mark McGwire looks to me like a very good candidate, uniquely fit to manage the Cardinals. He's ready to move into that role and the Cardinals are overdue for a change.