The Cardinals stumbled through the end of Mike Matheny‘s tenure like Mike Shannon making a bathroom run in extra innings. Consequently, the 2018 season may already be a goner, but at least Mike no longer has the keys to the company vehicle. Mike Shildt now has the enviable task of driving the bus under which Matheny was thrown, and I believe he was handpicked as the next chauffeur long before Matheny turned into a speed bump.
John Mozeliak’s ability to appear to shape the future of the franchise falls somewhere between a modest conspiracy theory and supernatural prescience for me. While I don’t actually believe he can see into the future, I think he’s fairly practiced at influencing it. To wit, I think he patiently turned Mike Shildt into the manager-in-waiting and waited for Matheny to completely lose favor. Enter Shildt as the interim manager – a title which may simply be a facade to placate those who would move Jose Oquendo from one pedestal to another.
I’m a huge Oquendo fan, but this team is Shildt’s now, and I’d argue that it was built for him to run. Through both organic and artificial means, the team’s identity changed as the individual pieces changed, and the current construction is right in Shildt’s wheelhouse. Young arms? Check. Defensive stars with unproven offensive potential? Check. New players? Sure. Collectively, these guys check boxes that Matheny didn’t even know were on the sheet.
In fairness, maybe Matheny was slightly handicapped in the “trusting young players” department by his lack of managerial experience. It certainly didn’t help that his exposure to prospects was mostly limited to glancing at the back fields in Jupiter. While I’m sure he read the non-roster invitee list once or twice, he acted like a man who predetermined which pawn to move first before getting to the chessboard.
One of Matheny’s glaring deficiencies in a list not wanting for length may be a strength for Shildt. Shildt managed actual minor league players in actual professional sportsball games. He seems familiar with what his players can do and isn’t afraid to let them do those things. Instead of the guy who drives his Ferrari to the mailbox and calls it a day, he’s the guy who revs the Prius at the stoplight.
Even better, the guy in the passenger seat is Mark Budaska who is a hitting coach with actual hitting coach experience. The man actually received his promotion on something called “merit” and not because his jawline was stout enough to allow him to bask in Matheny’s handsome glow without shrinking into the shadows.
Perhaps it’s a bit early to canonize Shildt, but it’s never too early to take shots at Matheny and/or Mabry. It remains to be seen whether Shildt deserves the same treatment his predecessor received, but it’s not like he was handed a team fresh off of a World Series title either. Elevated expectations go with the territory, but he’s making the most of the grace period, and he’s getting a lot of love on the interwebz.
Personally, I’m not quite there yet.
Maybe FDR was onto something when he said that “a smooth sea never made a good sailor”, and Shildt hasn’t faced bad weather yet. His current job comes complete with a plethora of built-in excuses for the team to fail, and it’s a lot easier to play free and loose when trailing than when hanging onto the 2nd WC spot. That’s not meant to discredit Shildt for the team’s 11-8 record during his tenure (though Matt Carpenter‘s 417 home runs during the past month might). Given the level of competition over that stretch, he’s looked like the unholy bastard child of Stephen Hawking and George Kissell compared to Matheny. It’s just that I’m withholding judgement for a while.
Regardless of when or how that particular gavel falls, it’s obvious to me that it’s Shildt’s show, and I’m here for it.