Cheap Seats

It’s time for St. Louis Cardinals to make big changes

On Thursday, national baseball writer Jon Heyman wondered aloud, “Whatever happened to Cardinals baseball?” on Twitter.

It was a brief, pointed — and accurate — assessment that the Redbirds have eroded in all facets of the game. The 2017 version of this club doesn’t deserve to wear the Birds on the Bat. It’s time to answer the wake-up call. Something needs to be done about it right now.

A significant portion of this roster and most of the coaching staff ought to be shown the door for letting things become this bad. It’s not Cardinals baseball and it can’t be tolerated. What would Ozzie Smith do if he was in this clubhouse? I know what Chris Carpenter would do. He’d be knocking heads together.

Anyone who has watched this team sees it handle plays in ways that would get high school players benched. The latest example came Thursday when Trevor Rosenthal contributed mightily to a Cardinals loss when he neglected to cover first base on a ball to the right side of the infield. Matt Carpenter was able to get to the ball. But when he looked to first base to make the throw, no one was home. The hapless New York Mets tied a game that the Cardinals led 2-1 in the eighth inning — then won it in the ninth.

Efforts don’t get much weaker than that. The guy has been pitching most of his life. Am I to believe he forgot to cover first base? Doubtful. I think he didn’t care enough to cover first base. To dig down really deep, I think Rosenthal probably assumed Carpenter wasn’t going to make the play and was pouting about it.

I love Rosenthal’s talent. I thought he was going to be Jason Isringhausen in his prime with the ability to blow batters away with his heater — or make them look silly on a changeup or curve. But he doesn’t care enough to be half as good as he could. It’s a crime.

To make matters worse, Carpenter then went to the press and criticized his teammate for the blunder. Yeah, it was a bone-headed play. But does creating a clubhouse rift help anything at all? Especially when the complainer is a guy who cost the Cardinals a game earlier this year by violating one of the most universal unwritten rules of the game — making the first out of the inning at third base as he tried to stretch a double into a triple?

It’s a public affront to your team to imply that you have so little faith in other people to do their job that you have to be stupidly reckless. I’m sure fans recall that Carpenter was so uninterested in being criticized for his blunder that he ducked out of the clubhouse in a snit, refusing to talk to the media.

One of the problems with the fact that the Cardinals haven’t replaced their superstar players who have left, including Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Chris Carpenter and Matt Holliday, is that there is no veteran presence to provide clubhouse leadership.

Yadier Molina is still there. But he’s busy trying to manage the pitching staff, he can’t do everything, including referee clubhouse spats. And it’s unfair to him to put all that burden on his shoulders. It’s easy to tune out one guy. But if you have a pack of three or four or five guys who are respected and accomplished and they all tell you you’re out of line and that half-hearted play, whining and other distractions won’t be tolerated, that’s the law of the clubhouse.

It also helps if the malcontents and young players fear that they might lose their jobs if they don’t straighten up. But the Cardinals are committed to their homegrown talent which means that those are the players they’ll sink or swim with. When is the last time the Redbirds made an in-season trade of major-league players?

I don’t know how much longer this club can survive under its current manager and coaching staff. Mike Matheny, who ownership calls “a leader of men” seems like he was able to stay out of the way when he had a team of veterans. But now that he has a team that is predominantly younger guys like Kolten Wong, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, Carlos Martinez, Aledmys Diaz, Paul DeJong, etc., it seems like he’s trying to herd cats. The young guys, in many ways, seem happy to just be here. They lack fire and grit.

Those older players respected Matheny because they played with him. But when it came to pushing the buttons and pulling the levers in managing a game, it seemed that they had an awful lot of sway in his decision-making. Now Matheny doesn’t have crusty veterans he can count on to know what to do. Meanwhile, he and his staff have done a terrible job of teaching the kids how to be major-league players.

Last offseason it was almost universally expected by the folks who pay for tickets that this team was in need of an infusion of talent and some roster turnover because of the club’s sloppy, disinterested play. In the front office, however, Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and then former General Manager John Mozeliak insisted that the Cardinals had the right people — they just needed to clean things up defensively and in the baseball fundamentals department during spring training.

St. Louis fans were incredulous. But they took the Redbirds at their word and waited for Matheny and his crew to work some sort of baseball magic in Florida. In short: It didn’t work. It it was Matheny’s charge to make this team field, throw, run the bases and bat better. He failed entirely.

I don’t know how a manager can survive when a team so publicly laid out the expectations and then the skipper so completely failed to complete his task.

Sadly, I thought this team was one centerpiece player away from being a legitimate contender when the season started. And it might have been. After all, it’s only 4 1/2 games out of the division lead on July 21. But it seems like sometime between opening day and now, the wheels have completely fallen off. Some of the bad attitudes need to be removed from the roster — and some of the bad defenders, sloppy baserunners and strikeout artists need to be eliminated — not just to help fix those problems on the field, but to show that play of that sort won’t be tolerated by the St. Louis Cardinals.

I hear a lot about people being sick of the whole “Cardinals Way” thing. Well, as I have said before, every team has a “way” they teach their players to instill a certain ethic in them. There is a “Dodgers Way” and a “Yankees Way.” There is probably even a “Marlins Way.”

The problem is that somehow the “Cardinals Way” was changed from a motivational tool into a marketing tool.

The “Cardinals Way” is hard-nosed play for nine innings, sound defensive play, knowledge and ability to execute the fundamentals and being united as a team. It’s not a mental or ethical superiority, it’s more about dedicating oneself to the game.

Bottom line: The Cardinals need to stop talking about the Cardinals Way and start living the Cardinals Way. If those guys, with the mistakes they make, don’t see the need and make the effort to put in extra work to get better, they don’t belong here.

Molina is out there before every game working on blocking balls until he’s covered with bruises. He’s working with pitchers on game plans and making sure they’re as prepared as possible. Is Rosenthal, who was once an elite closer but who has regressed the last two years while he constantly whines about wanting to be a starter, putting in that sort of effort? Is Carpenter, who has hit in the .230s for most of the year while complaining that he wants to bat first and not third and while his defense has made him a liability at every position he plays, put in that sort of effort?

If not, why?

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