It’s amazing to me how personally some St. Louis Cardinals fans are taking the firing of former manager Mike Matheny.
On Sunday, there were two kinds of social media comments on the subject: One was “thank goodness, I thought the day that Matheny’s reign of terror would end might never come” and the other was “Shame on all of you negative people for getting Mike Matheny fired. He was a good man and you all should burn for eternity over this.” I exaggerate only slightly.
Look, I know we’re not used to this. The Chicago Cubs change managers like some people change their shirts. The Redbirds haven’t fired their skipper in the middle of a season since Joe Torre got the short haircut 23 years ago. The time it happened before that, none of us had even heard of a light-hitting infielder named Ozzie Smith yet. So, this is uncharted territory and that tends to make everyone a little bit uncomfortable.
That being said, I had nothing personal against Mike Matheny in recent weeks or even months when I said that I thought his time was up as manager in St. Louis. I don’t want to see him escorted to the St. Louis County limits to be told never to come back again. I just want the Cardinals to start playing like the Cardinals again. If the team wants to make Matheny a scout, an assistant to the general manager or head of ticket sales, that would be great. He just wasn’t getting the job done in the dugout anymore. I was with the “but he has the best record to start a managerial career of any skipper in history crowd” right up to the point that he missed the playoffs for the second season in a row. And it wasn’t just that the Birds MISSED the playoffs. It’s that their play got worse and worse in the process. The fielding, the offense, the fundamentals started to slide in the last few years and never recovered. They never even leveled out. Someone had to be responsible for that and, in professional baseball, it’s the manager.
So, best wishes Mike Matheny. The recently-departed and dearly-beloved Cardinals icon Red Schoendiesnt was fired by the team. And he rebounded with the club to become a coach here for many, many years. So, you never know what might happen.
What happens next?
Well, there is already a lot of talk about interim manager Mike Schildt or Class AAA skipper Stubby Clapp becoming the new manager. I have to say, I really hope that isn’t what happens.
Nothing against either of those guys. But I believe it was a mistake when the Birds hired a manager who never previously had been even a coach at the major league level. If this team needed a new direction, then go in a new direction. Don’t continue down the same troubled path with a different tour guide. I have no problem if those two fellows are added to the major league coaching staff in some way to help them gain major league experience for the future. But it’s hard for me to imagine that an analytics guy like Schildt who never even PLAYED professional baseball can keep the respect and attention of multi-millionaire athletes. Clapp has been WONDERFUL as the manager of the Cardinals’ top minor league club. But that’s not the same job as being the major league manager. Yeah, you fill out the lineup card and change the pitchers. But the job of the minor league staff is to DEVELOP players while the MLB staff takes those completed athletes and tries to win as many ballgames as possible with them. The minor league ranks and filled with guys who are wonderful teachers who will never get a chance to be a skipper in the big leagues.
Stan Wasiak won 2,537 games as a minor league manager, mostly in the Dodgers organization. He’s the winningest minor league skipper in history and he NEVER managed or coached at the big league level. Bob Coleman managed 23 years in the minors before becoming skipper of the Braves for parts of three seasons, getting fired and going back to the minors to coach. Buddy Bailey of the Chicago Cubs organization has been a minor league coach and manager for 29 years. I don’t recall hearing his name when the Cubs ultimately hired Joe Maddon. it’s not the same job.
When Bill DeWitt II took over the Cardinals in 1995, he fired Joe Torre and made a move to win now, hiring Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa to guide his new team. The Cardinals need to make a similar move now to right a franchise that has been unusually unsuccessful the last three years, both on the field and in the market of procuring talent. If the Birds fancy themselves players for the likes of Manny Machado, they better act like they want to win now. Carlos Beltran in 2012 turned down more money from other teams to come to St. Louis to play for Tony La Russa and have a chance to win. Machado isn’t coming to play for Stubby Clapp.
The message was that the current team is under-performing and needs new leadership, not that it needs an overhaul. If the Redbirds are going to tear things down to the stud walls and rebuild from within, then you hire Clapp. If you think you’re one or two pieces away, you hire a proven winner.