I have no idea when the Cardinals will fire Mike Matheny. I have no idea why they haven’t done it already. But as the wheels continue to come further off the bus of the 2018 season, it seems we must be closer to that point than ever before.
So today, won’t you come along with me and imagine, what might that day look like? When might it be? Could it happen this season?
First off, it’s worth noting that midseason managerial firings are becoming quite rare. When the Reds sacked Bryan Price in April, after a 3-15 start, it was the first time a manager had been fired in-season since the Braves dumped Fredi Gonzalez in May of 2016. That’s just two managers fired in-season over three years.
By contrast, six teams changed managers during just this last offseason, and three of those were playoff teams. So it’s clear teams are inclined to wait for the offseason to make full-scale managerial changes - perhaps now more than ever.
When would an in-season firing happen?
While an in-season firing may come right after a particularly brutal game or series, it’s generally more of a “straw that broke the camel’s back” situation. Team’s may try to fire managers on an off-day or while they are at home, but neither is completely necessary.
The Reds dismissed Price on an off-day, but in between away series at Milwaukee and St. Louis. Gonzalez was likewise dismissed on the road. In fact, he essentially found out when he received an e-mail alert from the airline that he would be flying back to Atlanta midway through a series with the Pirates.
Mike Redmond was notified by the Marlins that he was fired on a Sunday night, following a series sweep and a game in which they were nearly no-hit.
There certainly look to be some prime firing days for the Cardinals in the next two weeks. The team has off-days Monday and Thursday of next week, followed soon after by the All-Star break.
Who takes over after an in-season firing?
There are many ways a team can choose to deal with the whole “interim coach” thing, but a few trends emerge. It’s worth noting that it’s common for a few other members of the coaching staff to be shown the door along with the manager, be it a bench coach, pitching coach, etc.
The bench coach seems to be the most common choice for interim manager, unless they are close to the manager - in which case they tend to be fired as well. AAA managers seem to be the 2nd most likely to be tapped with the interim tag.
For the Cardinals, it seems clear the team has been grooming Bench Coach Mike Shildt for some time, though Memphis Manager Stubby Clapp has also had a lot of success. Mike Maddox was considered a frontrunner for a few different managerial positions over the years, though he has never managed. Jose Oquendo has managed in the World Baseball Classic, though never at the big league level.
If Matheny goes, I’d lay pretty heavy odds on Shildt getting the job, but they are absolutely busting with solid interim candidates.
Could a managerial change spark a 2nd half comeback for the Cardinals?
That’s like an 80-grade narrative you’ve got yourself there, and I’d sure like to see it happen. But as a Man of Science, I must report that such things are exceedingly rare.
The last time a manager who took the reins midseason led his team to the playoffs was
Ned Yost Jim Tracy* with the 2009 Rockies (taking over for Clint Hurdle). In fact, only four times in the last 20 years has a manager who came on midseason taken his team to the playoffs.
All that being said, the Cardinals are certainly the type of team that you could imagine getting a boost from a change of leadership. They are not a 2018 Reds or 2016 Braves, mired in catastrophic losing streaks and pretty clearly light on talent. The Cardinals are a team with a lot of talent who have underperformed expectations.
So seriously, is it going to happen?
I’m more baffled by the Cardinals these days than at any time since the ‘90s. I really don’t have a good idea how they see themselves, or how they plan to remake themselves into something like a contender. But I do believe it has to be sinking in that big changes are necessary, and it’s hard for me to imagine big changes happening that did not involve a change of manager. I think the day is coming.
*I mistakenly typed Ned Yost in the initial version of this post, revealing my shameful secret that Ned Yost and Jim Tracy are the same person in my mind. Apologies for the error.