I wrote a book-length column on this topic on Friday, but there’s still plenty to discuss about the Cardinals’ decision to fire Mike Shildt.
1) On Monday Shildt displayed class, and nothing but class, in his first official public statement since his dismissal last Thursday. In his first post-Cardinal message, delivered through “invited media,” Shildt took the expected tone, one with grace and humility. He had no interest in stirring the pot.
The synopsis: “I invested my heart, soul and most of my professional career into helping maintain and be a part of an organization that I cared more about than I cared about my own career. I was taught not to talk out of school and while clearly there were differences that led to this parting of ways, out of respect for this organization and the people that run it, I can only express my gratitude in all those philosophies that were shared over the many years together that allowed us to part ways as professional friends. What differences there were will be left to remain unsaid.”
2) Truth is, Shildt would have nothing to gain by blasting Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, or other members of management. He wants to manage in the big leagues ASAP and would be foolish to hit his STL bosses with venom. That would raise red flags with potential employers.
3) We can expect the San Diego Padres’ upper management team to reach out to Mozeliak and possibly DeWitt to gain a better understanding of the reasons for Shildt’s sacking.
The reasons would likely include:
4) Increasingly harsh criticism of Mozeliak and the front office, delivered privately to them by a frustrated Shildt. There wasn’t one area; there were multiple areas. Shildt wanted help for a damaged pitching staff and eventually received it — but not as soon as he wanted it. The role and future of hitting instructor Jeff Albert was a frequent pressure point. And the organization’s plans to be more ambitious with the implementation of analytics was met with considerable resistance by Shildt. I discussed this in my Friday column. And Shildt acknowledged the analytics dispute in a text interview with The Athletic’s Katie Woo.
5) Shildt evidently went too far with his roasting of Mozeliak. Which is interesting to me. No manager ever pushed Cardinals management as hard as Tony La Russa. But La Russa told me this many times: you push, tell them what you need, what you want, and make your case. You have an open, candid discussion. And once a decision is made you move on if it didn’t go your way. There are boundaries. You don’t cross the line. I don’t know if Shildt crossed the line — in management’s view — but ultimately he was fired.
6) For the record, I don’t blame Shildt for pushing hard for pitching help during the challenging months of June and July. As a columnist, I was raising hell about it. Fans were raising Cain about it. But we don’t work for DeWitt and Mozeliak. Employees do have boundaries and can’t go too far.
7) Despite predictable claims to the contrary, there were problems with Shildt and his staff. Not all coaches, but Shildt was rough on some members of the staff. Perhaps there was still some lingering resentment. If so, this became part of the “philosophical differences” rub. I say that because Mozeliak said (last Thursday) that he wants the staff to return. We’ll see how many coaches stay on for 2022.
8) I alluded to this Friday. But if an informal overture was made to Shildt about a contract extension and he responded with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm — this wouldn’t go over well. This was the management team that hired Shildt into the organization when no one knew who he was. Then promoted his coaching and managing career through the minor league system — and into the major-league dugout as a coach … and into the major-league manager’s office. If Shildt initially brushed off the preliminary suggestion of contract extension in an attempt to gain leverage or something, that would cause more damage to the relationship. The contract was basically there for Shildt … and then it wasn’t.
9) I can’t emphasize this enough: if you aren’t fully on board with an analytics train that’s moving forward — there’s no ticket to ride. If you ask me to choose the No. 1 reason for Shildt’s dismissal, this would be it. Other reasons, yes. But this would be at the top of the list from a pure baseball standpoint.
10) In his Monday statement, Shildt did a really nice thing by praising bench coach Oliver Marmol, saying that Oli had his “deepest and most trusted respect.” Is this Shildt’s endorsement of Marmol for the manager’s job? Is it a signal to Marmol that he shouldn’t feel awkward about accepting the St. Louis managing job if offered?
11) Mozeliak absolutely needs to clear the air on Jeff Albert. Many outspoken fans and pro-Shildt media types continue to raise questions about Albert’s protected presence and authority. Mozeliak needs to explain why management believes Albert has been successful — and provide the details. I believe Albert has been better than his harshest critics would have you believe. But I have questions on this too. And I’ve pointed some arrows at Albert. But unless Mozeliak takes the lead on defending Albert — specifically his work for the major-league team — Albert won’t gain public favor. If indeed it’s possible for him to do so.
12) Conclusion: This firing could have been avoided. As I said the other day, Shildt overplayed his hand. He must have thought he had more power than he actually did — and could leverage his bosses to get what he wanted. It was an unfortunate read by Shildt, and it cost him his job.
Since DeWitt’s purchase of the team before the 1996 season, here are the number of managers and coaches that have successfully flexed the leverage muscle to get what they wanted: Zero.
Thanks for reading …
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