I can’t say that Oliver Marmol was born to manage the Cardinals. But this is true: he was raised to manage the Cardinals. Raised in the St. Louis system by some of the legends of the organization including the late George Kissell.
The Cardinals drafted Marmol in 2007, and repositioned him on the coaching track as soon as his career was ended by curve balls, sliders and other pitches that put the idea of a big-league playing career to rest in 2010.
Marmol became a minor coach in 2011 at age 24. Then a manager at age 25, leading teams to five first-place finishes in five seasons at three different levels. Then the Cardinals’ first base coach at age 30. Bench coach at 31.
And finally, the big club’s manager at age 35. If you’ve followed along then you shouldn’t be surprised by Marmol’s appointment to become the 51st manager in Cardinals franchise history.
The inevitable became official on Tuesday morning, when chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak presided over a video news conference to introduce their choice as manager. As soon as the job became open I listed Marmol as the frontrunner, and this was his job all along. There was little if any suspense to the job search.
Marmol was raised as a Cardinal.
And now will lead the Cardinals.
“It was very impressive,” DeWitt said of Marmol’s rise through the STL organization. “He transitioned at a young age into coaching and managing. And became a bench coach at a very young age. It was clear he had the talent and the baseball knowledge to move him up the line that quickly. He was a very young bench coach, and he’s become a very young manager.
“But as I’ve often said, I’d rather have talent than experience. And he fit that bill. He fortunately had experience. He paid his dues along the way. And when he got to the big-league level as a coach, he kept getting picked for better opportunities. (As) a young bench coach (he) did a great job.
“You know he’s got such a great knowledge of the game, he’s got good relationships with all of the players and staff. He’s been an impressive talent coming through the system. So he’s been on the radar as a managerial candidate.”
For the third time since Tony La Russa’s retirement at the end of 2011, the Cardinals have hired a new manager. Each decision was made by the family — which kept the job in the family. Mike Matheny, Mike Shildt, and now Marmol.
Well, shouldn’t the Cardinals go outside the organization?
My answer is a question: why, exactly was that necessary?
Since La Russa left, the Cardinals have the third-best winning percentage (.556) in the majors behind only the Dodgers and Yankees. Post-TLR, the Cards have qualified for the postseason seven times in 10 seasons; in the majors only the Dodgers (10 times) can top that.
The Cardinals haven’t won the World Series during the first 10 seasons afer La Russa. But after becoming Cardinals manager, it took TLR nine seasons to win his first NL pennant, and 11 seasons to win his first World Series here. Winning it all isn’t easy to do. Or more teams would do it. Since 2006, only the Giants and Red Sox have won more World Series than the Cardinals.
My point: The Cardinals continued their winning ways under Matheny and Shildt. And while both flamed out for similar but also different reasons, that shouldn’t exclude Marmol from getting his chance. He’s smart, an excellent communicator, and does not break out in a rash when someone mentions “analytics” or “advanced metrics.” He’s quite comfortable in that corner of the baseball universe. He’s not scared by other smart people. He won’t feel insecure when he receives information from the data heads. He wants that stuff.
“At times there’s a misunderstanding as to the newer managers and what it looks like when it comes to just saying ‘yes’ to the front office,” Marmol said. “It’s a matter of being collaborative with the resources that are at hand. It’s a matter of being collaborative with the departments that are continuing to grow in each organization.
“I mean when, when you look at what that could look like, if there’s true synergy between the front office, the baseball development department and your on-field staff, there’s an opportunity to do a couple of things. It’s being able to understand why you’re acquiring certain players. How best to use those players whether that’s the starting rotation, bullpen, platoon guy, lineup construction.
“There’s just so many facets to it — there can be synergy there. And then understanding as well how to implement some feedback loops to make sure that there’s accountability to your decision-making. There’s just so much information at hand that can be used, and when you work in a collaborative manner with the front office and your analytics department, it allows you to get feedback on, ‘are the decisions that you’re making sustainable for 162.’ What decisions are you making that are (sustainable?) What decisions are you making that aren’t? It’s more of a collaborative mindset.”
Marmol’s signature wasn’t dry on his manager’s contract before the usual faux-outrage people began shrieking “PUPPET!” on the interwebs.
First of all, it’s insulting to Marmol and a needless attack on his integrity. Second of all, this puppet nonsense confuses me because it makes absolutely no sense.
I understand that “Puppet!” gang actually loves this hiring because it provides a 2-for-1 bonus. They can blast the manager as an inexperienced and frightened puppet-child who wasn’t ready for a job this big. And they also get to shred Mozeliak for hiring a puppet manager instead of bringing in a “real” and experienced manager.
Never mind that the last two “puppets,” Matheny and Shildt, had winning percentages better than La Russa, Whitey Herzog and Red Schoendienst.
Matheny had no managing or coaching experience. Shildt was a coach and manager in the system and a coach with the big club — but never played a game of professional baseball.
If Matheny and Shildt were puppets, well, the results from the puppeteering were very good — with a winning percentage better than 27 MLB teams since 2012. And if Mozeliak was controlling them, then he was terrific at telling them what to do every day, every game, every minute. Seven postseasons and MLB’s third-best record over the last 10 seasons, with only Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina and Matt Carpenter in place the entire time?
Hmm. So if the “puppet” managers did this well despite being lowly little puppets, then they must have had a lot of really good players. After all, the Cardinal roster turned over multiple times in 10 years.
And who is responsible for drafting, developing, signing and trading for personnel? Who’s been in charge of stocking the roster for the last 10 years, for better and for worse? Oh, gee, that would be Mozeliak.
My, my. The Cardinals sure have won a lot of games over the last 10 seasons despite having marionette managers and a doofus front office. Obviously, all of this winning was nothing more than luck. Marmol is one lucky dude! (Sarcasm alert.)
“Overall, obviously when you look at Oli’s career and his career development, and the connections and the dotted lines to all the similar mentors,” Mozeliak said, “and when you look at where we are today, Oli’s going to have his own voice. He’s going to be able to put his own fingerprints on this. Ultimately you hope, and expect, that he learned things in his own way, and one that he has a lot of confidence in. The easiest takeaway to say is that Oli learned a lot, and now he has an opportunity to grow from that.”
I second that emotion.
But it’s up to the front office to help the young manager by providing a more talented and well-rounded roster. It’s up to the front office to give Marmol the players that can help take the Cardinals deeper into the postseason. This can be done; it’s a matter of wanting it to be done.
The front office is on the spot — more on the spot than the young manager. You can’t hire Marmol and give him less of a team or more of the same. And more of the same isn’t bad; it’s just that the Cardinals should set the bar higher.
As I wrote after Shildt’s firing: even with its flaws, this organization has a strong infrastructure that doesn’t require a superstar manager, or even a “name” manager with vast experience.
OK, so why change managers? Matheny wasn’t into analytics and became more petulant in his resistance over time. His paranoia and aloofness with some players were bad for the team. Morale was sinking. He had to go. Shildt’s firing came down to power — and his failure to recognize who held that power. You can make the playoffs three years in a row and earn applause and respect, but that doesn’t make you Mr. Big. You don’t start giving the orders and telling the bosses how it’s going to be.
Marmol knows this, and it doesn’t make him a “puppet.” He knows this because he had an up-close view of Shildt’s positives and negatives. He has learned from both ends of the Shildt spectrum.
Marmol is shrewd and intelligent and up to date with the job he’s been hired to do. He understands that the fancy stats shouldn’t be viewed as a mysterious, menacing threat to his authority — no, the info helps him make informed decisions that will help the team win.
Marmol doesn’t see his new job as “Manager vs. Front Office And Numbers Nerds” — but as a cooperative endeavor that leads to more success if everyone behaves like adults and makes an earnest effort to do the right thing — no matter who comes up with the most sensible idea.
And Marmol understands that communication is the key to everything. You can’t fly into this and just give orders. Or just take orders. Communication leads to learning and understanding. Communication opens minds. And if you’re willing as a manager to show others that you really want to know what they think, and respect their opinions, they’ll know that your heart is in a good place, even if you don’t agree with their views.
Baseball organizations are a big tree with many growing, flourishing limbs. So why cut the limbs off? Why not try to do your part to have everyone involved to help the tree grow bigger and healthier?
“That’s just having a feel for the people that you’re around,” Marmol said of the value of communication. “There are certain times when people need that tough conversation. There’s time where they need encouragement. And when you get that wrong, that’s when there’s a rub, right?
“Your ability to know when a player needs that, when they don’t need it, when they need to be left alone, is extremely important. That goes for staff as well. But that’s definitely, in my opinion, one of the most important parts of the job. Is being able to have a conversation with the people around you, disagree, but still move the mission forward.”
First-time managers are thriving.
Seven managers in the 2021 postseason are in their first big-league managing job: Brian Snitker (Braves), Dave Roberts (Dodgers), Craig Counsell (Brewers), Shildt, Kevin Cash (Ray), Aaron Boone (Yankees) and Alex Cora (Red Sox.) Another, Gape Kapler is on his second job and had managed only 321 MLB games before the Giants hired him before the 2020 season.
The last three World Series have been won by first-time managers: Cora in 2018, Dave Martinez in 2019 and Roberts in 2020. Snitker can make it four in a row if the Braves beat the Astros in this year’s World Series.
DeWitt and Mozeliak made the right choice for a manager. Marmol offers continuity, curiosity, and a forward-thinking mind. He cherishes the old Cardinal way and the men who cultivated it — and he’s very comfortable with the new way.
Marmol understands the value of being a manager that the players respect. But part of what will help him gain that respect is his commitment to tending to relationships by communicating openly and honestly and making everyone feel involved.
He’s a young manager willing to embrace the advanced-metrics era — but maintains just the right of old-school sensibilities, and that’s just what you want.
Marmol is a manager made for these times. This would be his job one day, but we didn’t know when. But the Cardinals turned to him now, and Marmol will be ready. He was raised to be the Cardinals manager, and he’s prepared for this moment.
Thanks for reading …
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* All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.