Just when we thought the off-field stories about the Cardinals couldn’t get anymore concerning, another one jumps to the front of the fray. This most recent story features Bud Norris, Jordan Hicks, Mike Matheny, and naked male insecurity. The tale goes a such, according to Mark Saxon of The Athletic.
The game has changed since the years when rookies were afraid to open their mouths for fear of retribution from grumpy veterans and that is a good thing by most accounts, but vestiges of the old school remain. The relationship between the two best relievers on the St. Louis Cardinals is defined by one stubborn adherent of said old ways: closer Bud Norris.
The 33-year-old Norris has been mercilessly riding 21-year old rookie Jordan Hicks since spring training, reminding him to be at meetings on time and publicly calling him out when he is lagging in any of the details a visitor might not notice, but other players do.
The biggest take-away from the article is not just Norris’ treatment of Hicks, but how it is encouraged by the Cardinals skipper. Per Saxon:
Perhaps Hicks will one day appreciate the treatment?
”Probably not,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny admitted with a chuckle. “But Bud’s going to continue to do what he thinks is right as a veteran, so you respect that.”
Matheny sees Norris’ actions as an effort to carry on the dying tradition of teaching younger players in the harshest possible ways....
”I think the game has progressively gotten a little softer,” Matheny said. “Man, it had some teeth not that long ago.”
Of course, we could all be looking at this the wrong way. Perhaps Jordan Hicks understands that Norris is just trying to help him be the best player he can be. Perhaps Hicks is grateful that the veteran player is looking out for him. Perhaps it is all in good fun.
Matheny said he has had conversations with Hicks to remind him that Norris’ badgering is a way to show he is invested in his success...
Hicks, the hardest throwing right-handed pitcher in baseball, isn’t a fan of the treatment. Asked if he thinks it will one day pay dividends in his career, he said, “I have no idea. No comment.”
The optics are not great. Basically it looks like the Cardinals have an older player bullying a younger, better player that will probably supplant him eventually, the bullied player, unsurprisingly, does not appreciate being bullied, and a manager that has been recently involved in a public spat with one of the game’s most likable players encouraging this bullying under the guise of some nonsense about “toughening him up”. Maybe this is not the case. Maybe we are all falling for a narrative crafted by the author of the article because how he framed the story. It is certainly possible.
But why was it so easy for readers, including fans that hold the Cardinals so dear to their hearts, to be convinced that these dastardly deeds were happening? Whether this story is as concerning as we have been led to believe or not, the fact that it is so believable is a huge problem. Story after story spews from the Cardinals locker room, each more unsettling that the last. From Kolten Wong not understanding his role on the team, to Yadier Molina being offended at being called tired, to Dexter Fowler not even talking to his manger, it is obvious that there is a huge breakdown in communication - an area that is supposed to be Matheny’s strength.
To the outside observer, the clubhouse looks like a total disaster right now and the person seemingly responsible for the drama is the person that is supposed to be in charge - the leader of men, as they say. Mike Matheny either needs to get his clubhouse in order or not be in charge in of it anymore.
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