The Cardinals are getting into a sticky position with manager Tony La Russa'a up in the air status.
While we wait for the longtime skipper to make up his mind, other clubs are well along in the interview process. In fact, the Braves have already hired Fredi Gonzalez to replace Bobby Cox. The Redbirds can't allow themselves to be the last team standing when the game of managerial musical chairs comes to an end.
I think the team needs to put a deadline on the deliberations. If La Russa doesn't come to the conclusion by this time next week that he wants to manage in St. Louis, the Redbirds need to pull his offer.
It's a shame that the Cardinals are in this position. There isn't much they can do about La Russa wanting to take things year to year. And it's his right as his age and at this place in his long career. But the reason things are could suddenly become desperate is that the team hasn't come up with an heir apparent. Shouldn't that be something you're thinking of when, at the end of the last three seasons, La Russa has made it pretty clear that he might walk at any time.
The only guy on the Cardinals' staff that has even been talked about as a potential manager is Jose Oquendo. Superstar Albert Pujols has endorsed the St. Louis third base coach as La Russa's successor with his words. But Pujols' actions would seem to say something completely different.
To a casual observer -- not to mention the front office and the other players on the team -- Pujols' message is that he doesn't feel any requirement to listen to Oquendo's orders. I can't remember a time that Oquendo told Pujols to do something on the bases that the big guy actually followed.
I'm sure than Pujols isn't intentionally disrespecting Oquendo. And all evidence points to the fact that nine times out of 10, Pujols is correct to run through stop signs at third base. But what sort of message does that give about Oquendo's abilities to be the ultimate authority on the bench?
Oquendo is a great team player. He's been with the Cardinals almost his entire professional career and he is as in tune with the "Cardinals Way" probably more than anyone else in the organization at this point. That being said, one of Oquendo's jobs is to teach defense and fundamentals. And those are two areas where the Cardinals have been sorely lacking lately. Again, I don't think Jose forgot how to coach. But is there a problem with getting today's players to listen to him?
The Cardinals have let word float that if they do find themselves in need of a replacement for La Russa that they would prefer a person with previous major league experience. So that factor, too, would seem to count out Oquendo.
If La Russa quits and pitching coach Dave Duncan decides to stay, which would be uncharted territory because they have spent their entire careers together, I'm guessing the Birds will go with a short term replacement, like Joe Torre maybe.
Torre, at 70 years old, would probably be on the same page as Duncan as far as timing. Duncan has said he wants to coach a maximum of three more years. Another nice thing about Torre would be the fact that La Russa is going to be a tough act to follow after 15 years as the Cardinals manager. It would be much easier for an old salt veteran to be compared to a future Hall of Famer and the third winningest manager of all-time than it would be for a youngster. Torre could manage two or three years in St. Louis with the luxury of having some decent players this time around and then there would be a buffer for the next guy.
I just hope the Cardinals know sooner rather than later which way things are going to go.
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