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Shildt, Out of Luck

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In a surprising move, the Cardinals have decided to search for a new manager

League Championship Series - Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals - Game One Photo by Scott Kane/Getty Images

The St. Louis Cardinals dismissed Mike Shildt as manager on Thursday afternoon. It was a shocking move. Will Leitch aptly described why it was such a surprise:

Apparently, even Shildt was shocked, as John Mozeliak intimated in the press conference. Just a few days ago, all rumors were that the team was working on an extension. Something happened in recent organizational discussions to indicate to Mozeliak that Shildt was no longer the right person for the job. For now, there’s no obvious reason for the dismissal. Instead, we’re left with speculation. Mozeliak cryptically answered a question from Ben Frederickson about whether or not tension between Shildt and Jeff Albert was the cause for dismissal. Mozeliak said that it wasn’t the “sole reason” for the rift. If you’re following along at home, that means that it was part of the reason. Just not the only one. We also know that Shildt wasn’t afraid to make comments to the press earlier this year about needing more arms when the injury bug hit... not that he was wrong, of course.

Mozeliak was guarded, as per usual, but did offer, “While these decisions are difficult, both parties agreed that philosophical differences related to the direction of the organization brought us to this conclusion.” The dreaded “philosophical differences” phrase came up many times. There was never clarification on what those opposing philosophies were. Perhaps in their one-on-one meeting at the end of the season, Shildt claimed that Sartre’s Being and Nothingness was existential twaddle, instead clutching tightly to Foucault’s Discipline and Punish.

There’s ample room to speculate. Obviously, Shildt- like all managers- had his share of questionable moves this season, with the season ending on one. Given Mozeliak’s reference to “the direction of the organization”, it’s hard not to think that the way money will be spent in the off-season could be a part of the divorce. With potential contributions from Juan Yepez, Nolan Gorman, Matthew Liberatore, Johan Oviedo, and others on the horizon for 2022, it’s very possible the front office wanted a youth-forward plan for next year while the skipper (like all managers) simply wanted as much proven talent as possible supporting him. That’s my wildly uneducated guess. We know that there was tension of some sort between Shildt and Albert. We also know that Tommy Edman let some choice comments slip about the team’s pre-game prep work earlier this season, though Mozeliak seemed adamant that the divide only became apparent recently. There are a lot of reasons we can make up, but nobody on the outside knows at this point. It’s pointless to speculate. Whatever the case, the Cardinals are moving on.

Shildt’s 19-year Cardinal career- capped by three and a half seasons as a manager- ends with a 252-199 record at the helm. That’s a .559 winning percentage, the best of any Cardinals skipper since Johnny Keane (.560 from 1961-1964). Then again, his tenure is also the shortest for a Cardinal (non-interim) manager since Ken Boyer’s 357 game run from 1978 to 1980, resulting in a dreadful .466 winning percentage. It all adds to the mystery. Further adding to the mystery is Leitch’s point. The Cardinals value continuity and consistency, particularly in the DeWitt era. It took several off-field incidents and the spectre of a third missed playoff season to finally pry Mike Matheny out of the manager’s seat. By contrast, Shildt’s Cardinals never missed the playoffs when he was given a full season at the helm. And whatever you thought of Shildt, he wasn’t Matheny.

None of this should be interpreted as a defense of either Mozeliak, Shildt, or anyone else in the front office. If anything, both share plenty of blame. It’s more a commentary on how bizarre it is that the Cardinals dismissed him. Now for the second time since 1996, the Cardinals seek to hire a replacement for a manager they fired. Or dismissed, canned, axed or whatever euphemism you prefer.

San Diego Padres v Seattle Mariners Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

Other names will emerge in the coming days and weeks, but there are three obvious candidates to replace Shildt.

Oliver Marmol, whose career trajectory mimics Shildt’s in that he’s a Cardinal lifer. Marmol was a Cardinal minor leaguer from 2007 to 2010. Upon his release, the Cardinals hired him in 2011 as a coach for the Batavia Muckdogs. Since, he has managed at multiple levels of the farm system, served as the first base coach in St. Louis, and has been their bench coach the last few seasons. If you want to know more about Marmol, I recommend Howard Megdal’s The Cardinals Way.

Stubby Clapp has been a candidate for multiple managerial openings over the last few years, including the Cardinals’ own opening when Shildt was hired. He managed the 2018 AAA squad that featured Randy Arozarena, Tyler O’Neill, Patrick Wisdom, Adolis Garcia, Carson Kelly, Austin Gomber, and Dakota Hudson, amongst others. He has been with the big league club since 2019.

Skip Schumaker has served as a first base coach and then associate manager for the Padres since December 2017. Obviously, he has plenty of familiarity with the organization. He interviewed for multiple managerial openings last year.