Mike Matheny on Willie McGee, Jose Oquendo, Bud Norris and Miles Mikolas
A lot of St. Louis Cardinals fans seem to be upset that longtime third base coach Jose Oquendo won’t be a part of the big league club in 2019.
But I’m here to reassure all of you that, as much as I respect The Secret Weapon, I’m certain that this is the best move for everyone involved.
I’ve spent quite a few years in the working world and I have seen many esteemed colleagues come and go. It always stinks to lose a teammate. But I’ve always felt that if someone had an opportunity to better themselves or improve their family’s situation, I am no one to stand in their way. We’ll miss you around the water cooler. But we wish you the best of luck.
There is a lot of speculation that Oquendo decided not to come back to St. Louis next season because he’s miffed that Mike Shildt got the job to replace Mike Matheny as field manager. But Oquendo insists that’s not the case. While he had previously harbored thoughts of becoming a major league skipper, he said last season that he didn’t aspire to be a manager any longer and that he wholeheartedly endorsed Shildt for his new role. Jose isn’t leaving the Cardinals and slamming the door behind him while whistling the melody of the Johnny Paycheck anthem “Take this Job and Shove it.” He’s taking a different role within the organization. That doesn’t sound like a disgruntled employee to me.
Oquendo sat out the 2017 season after suffering through persistent knee problems that limit his mobility and make it uncomfortable for him to stand. That seems like a problem for a third base coach.
Jose said last year that he appreciated, after three decades of spending half the year away from his family, that he enjoyed remaining close to his year-round home near the Cardinals spring training complex in Jupiter, Fla. So, he’s going to go back to coaching up the kids in the farm system instead of telling big league base runners when to hold up and when to head for home.
Why is that a good thing for the Redbirds franchise?
Well, for one thing, I don’t believe the hype that Oquedo’s presence in St. Louis makes players who have been in the big leagues for a decade suddenly better at fielding and throwing. I do, however, believe that his expertise with a glove can have a career-altering impact on 19 and 20-year-old kids in Class A ball who are still learning the way professionals do things.
The Cardinals built teams for decades with players taught the fundamentals by George Kissell. Oquendo still has a lot to offer, and he will have a lot more impact on future St. Louis teams by teaching the kids in Jupiter. It’s more important that he’s there to coach Nolan Gorman than it is that he’s here to coach Jedd Gyorko or Matt Carpenter.
A secondary benefit of Oquendo shifting roles is the fact that it potentially creates room for the Cardinals to keep rising star Stubby Clapp who has been in the conversation for a big league manager role after doing a spectacular job as manager of the Memphis Redbirds. If Clapp doesn’t get a big league skipper position, he could be promoted to become a base coach with the big league club and potentially remain in the organization.
That’s a big deal because Clapp was the leader of guys like Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, Harrison Bader and several other young players who now populate the St. Louis roster. He can reach those guys in a way Oquendo can’t.
So, we’ll miss you Jose. You’ve been a great asset for the Cardinals over the many years you’ve spent with the big league team. I’m certainly glad you’re going to remain in the organization. But, if this is what you want to do, I’m happy for you and I think this could be a great situation for everyone involved.