I don’t say this lightly, but I can’t see any way the St. Louis Cardinals can move forward with Mike Matheny as their manager in 2018.
It was bad enough that this team has eroded in baseball fundamentals for the past three seasons, seemingly forgetting how to play defense, run the bases or do anything at the plate besides swing for the fences. But, while the front office seemed to turn a blind eye to those things at least in part because the skipper signed a contract extension last year that covers the next three seasons, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Matheny has lost the clubhouse and is openly feuding with the fanbase.
In the past week, Matheny pulled star catcher Yadier Molina from the lineup, explaining to the press that it was because he thought Yadi looked tired. Anyone who has played baseball at any level knows that when the manager claims someone appears to be tired that he is actually accusing him of making a poor effort in baseballese.
As is to be expected, Molina took exception to the remark and went public on social media with his unhappiness about the decision in an Instagram post. That irked team chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. who expressed “disappointment” in the catcher for his retort.
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Did Yadi back off? Hardly. He later posted a photo of him posing with former Cardinals coach (and managerial candidate Jose Oquendo) in which he stated how much he misses the fielding guru who reportedly left St. Louis’ major league coaching staff in frustration after being passed over for the top job.
To make matters worse, several of Molina’s teammates “liked” the post, seemingly indicating on which side of the line in the sand they stood.
What did Matheny do to smooth things over? Well, naturally, he attacked the fans who shell out money to support the team, calling them “bitter” because they dare to be disappointed by a sub .500 season and told them that they basically aren’t welcome to come back if they jump off the bandwagon when things aren’t going well.
The saying goes that it’s easier to fire one manager or coach than it is to fire the whole team. And that’s certainly true. But the Cardinals leadership needs to consider the fact that major league players don’t seem to want anything to do with Matheny and his antics.
Dexter Fowler seemed to have a really tough time accepting a five-year deal from St. Louis when he was a free agent because he reportedly didn’t want to play for Matheny. That’s after Jason Heyward turned down more money from the Cardinals to go to the Chicago Cubs because he didn’t want to stay here.
The clubhouse culture that made St. Louis a destination for players who wanted a chance to play for a perennial contender seems to have evaporated into the wind. So how do the Cardinals expect to address their lack of pillar players and middle of the order sluggers unless they change the leadership and the perception of this club?
I feel bad for the skipper. He obviously takes his job very seriously. The bar was set very high when he joined a team fresh off a World Series victory that was stocked with experienced and winning players. But as that roster faded, Matheny’s weaknesses were exposed. He’s horrible handling pitching staffs, makes bizarre moves with his position players including pulling his offensive producers too early in close games and now his supposed greatest strength — motivating players to give their best — has abandoned him.
The Cardinals need a fresh new approach. This team has too much talent to play as poorly as it has this year. Its sum is less than the total of its parts.
It’s time for a new manager who can take things in another direction, who can make the most of the team speed the Cardinals lacked for so many years but gained with the addition of Fowler, Tommy Pham, Kolten Wong, Randal Grichuk, Harrison Bader and Magneuris Sierra to the mix.
There is no reason to drag this out. If the Birds are going to have any chance to turn things around this year, they need a fresh approach. And, failing a miracle, the team still needs a new skipper if it is going to be successful in sorting things out in time for the 2018 campaign.