Before last night’s game, Mike Shildt met with the media and held court for a longer stretch than he has since he’s been manager. If you only read Twitter, you would think that he was looking for praise and completely avoiding how this season is going. I really recommend you read the whole thing. Jeff Jones has up a transcript of the comments and I wanted to talk about some of them.
First off, I think his last sentence is really the key:
“It is creating awareness that, you know what, this team has done some things well, and I’d at least like to identify and support it.”
Tony La Russa always used to stick up for his players in the press. At times, he’d pick a fight with the media to take the spotlight off a rough stretch of games or some bad performances. In a similar vein, Shildt is letting the guys know he’s there for them, whatever heat may come. He’s also letting them know that what they are doing right is appreciated and noted.
As he said, he’s not getting asked about bad defense or crazy baserunning, which is a remarkable improvement from last year. We’ve come to take the defense, for the most part, for granted, expecting that there will be minimal mistakes overall. While errors aren’t the best way of marking defense (what we saw Tuesday night with Matt Carpenter‘s “triple” is proof enough of that) but they have made the second fewest of them in the National League. Kolten Wong‘s on his way to that Gold Glove but the entire infield has played well defensively and the outfield, save an occasional Marcell Ozuna play, has at least caught the ball, even if the range isn’t exactly stellar.
There’s a lot of focus on the negative around this team. It’s hard to fault the leader of it wanting to push back with some of the positives.
Second, Shildt didn’t downplay the need to win or why people are frustrated at all:
“No one here is going to run from accountability. I won’t run from the fact that our offense has decreased gradually from the start of the season. It’s got to get better. Our starting pitcher has to be more consistent. Dakota has been our most consistent guy. Other guys have to carry the weight of that. I have a responsibility to help them and lead it. I get all that.”
Reading the comments, you can tell that Shildt isn’t saying that everything is fine, that there’s no cause for concern, that everyone is completely crazy for not believing in this team. That’s something that we have heard in the past and might be informing some reaction to his comments as well. (I saw a lot of people talking about how this was a Mike Matheny-ish move for Shildt.) Actually looking at what the manager said, though, and you don’t get a Pollyanna vibe from it. All he is trying to say is that they aren’t a terrible team. “The old A for effort doesn’t cut it, I get that.” They have things they need to work on, but they do some things really well. Instead of completely dwelling on the negative, he’s looking at what the positive is as well.
Which seems reasonable enough for a guy that’s in the trenches with these guys every day and who, by all accounts, seems to be a positive person. If you want to say that he’s not being realistic, well, dwelling on everything that is going wrong isn’t completely realistic either. Thinking this is a trash team that is worse than the Marlins and the Mets (as someone told me on Twitter last night) isn’t being realistic. As a certain purple Titan would say, there’s balance in all things. We can talk about what is good without downplaying what isn’t working.
Third, it should be noted that this wasn’t really a diatribe about the fans. It was more about the media and the questions they ask him every day:
“I literally open every interview with something negative. We win five out of seven and I will go on an interview and they will start with, ‘what’s wrong with this? What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with this? How come this isn’t happening? How come that isn’t happening?’ It’s like, I signed up–we signed up for a championship-caliber club. I’m not going to run from it. Holy cow, you know? Does something always have to be a problem? Does something always have to be wrong?”
Again, note above he’s not saying that there aren’t problems, that the club doesn’t need to be better. He’s just saying that it seems like he never gets asked, “How did you clean up the baserunning?” or “The defense is better than last year, can you talk about that?” It’s a laser-like focus on the negative that gets under his skin. Shildt acknowledges he doesn’t read a lot about the team (but hey, Skip, if you stopped by today, welcome) so it’s more about his interactions with the media (and the fans that he comes in contact with, of course).
There was a lot of people that grabbed the comment about not much credit given when the club was 20-10, but let’s look at that in context:
“But gosh darn, if I hear one more thing about May at the end of June where we played pretty good, I mean, get over it. We didn’t play well for a while. It was a stretch. No one goes back and says ‘you know what, you guys were the best team in baseball at 20-10. You guys killed it last year.’ Nope. ‘Hey, you lost five of six at the end of the year.’ Which I get. Timing’s everything.”
What Shildt was saying was if you are going to be asking questions about things that happened a month ago, why not go back farther and recognize what happened two months ago as well? I don’t think he’s really advocating people talking about that 20-10 stretch as much as he is trying to get the focus away from May and on what they are doing right now. Because even though the offense isn’t great, June has been a much better month for the Cardinals. They just lost their first series since the one at Wrigley back at the beginning of the month. It hasn’t necessarily been pretty, but it has been better. Are some of the issues the same? Sure. I think Shildt would just like them framed in the context of the last few weeks rather than going back to a stretch that he doesn’t feel is that relevant anymore.
Fourth, Shildt has a great point in my mind about some of the fanbase:
“We’ve worked our tail off and continue to work our tail off to give this group and this fan base a product that they want to see, a style of play that they want to see. Somebody said, ‘man, this team’s boring’ to me the other day and I went, ‘what do you want?’ I saw Ozzie the other day, maybe we can get him to do a back flip, I don’t know. We lead the league in stolen bases and percentage. We hit and run, we play the game that people want. You know, the Whiteyball. We play our ball. We play smart ball.”
I’ve contended before that a large part of this fanbase still overly romanticizes the 1980’s. That’s why we have the Saturday powder blue jerseys now, for instance. There were probably people in 2004 wishing they’d steal more bases even as the MV3 were crushing home runs and winning 105 games. People have been on Twitter the last two, three, four years complaining about how this team is station to station and they wish they’d run more and Whitey Herzog would be rolling over in his grave except he’s not dead.
Now, they have what they want and they still aren’t happy, saying “this isn’t Whiteyball” and things like that even though Whiteyball has been shorthand for speed and defense for a long time. As Jon Doble said on Twitter, people like to use Whiteyball to talk about 1982, 1985, and 1987. However, the same style was there in 1983 (79-83), 1984 (84-78), 1986 (79-82), 1988 (76-86), and 1989 (86-76). We’ll give 1990 a pass since Herzog quit in the middle of it, but it should be noted that the same players that produced all this excitement also were there in ’90 when they produced the only last place finish the Cardinals have had since the 1920s.
What that section of the fanbase means by “Whiteyball” is “winning with speed”, which is a bit out of the hands of the players, who can only play with speed. Honestly, there’s a section of the fanbase (and it’s not completely the same ones that revere Whiteyball, but there’s some overlap) that wants to find something to complain about, that things were always better “back then” and today’s team is terrible. They truly seem never to be happy, even when the Cardinals win some games. Feels like a rough way to fan to me, but different strokes for different folks.
For years, YEARS, people have wanted a team that could go first to third, that stole bases, that played a crisp game. Even if you aren’t fond of the results right now, even if there are still flaws here, you can at least acknowledge that they are playing in that way. Shildt speaks to that as well, saying “but can you appreciate the fact that a guy makes a nice play, which we’ve always done in this town? Appreciate the fact that guys are just laying it out there.”
(Now, it would help if the club got more hits to get people on to steal or go first to third, but that’s a different topic.)
Overall, I think Shildt’s comments, when read in full, make a lot of sense. I don’t get the feeling, as some did, that he’s looking for “participation trophies”, but there’s nothing wrong with a pat on the back even while acknowledging things can be better. If we never got any praise or support until we were perfect, this would be a miserable world. I imagine some of the people complaining about Shildt’s request for positive reinforcement also expect to be thanked when they do a chore around the house. Just because it’s their job, just because not everything is wonderful, doesn’t mean that there aren’t good things out there about this team. We love people even when we don’t agree with them. We focus on what we like about our friends rather than their annoying qualities. While I don’t think you avoid talking about a sputtering offense or inconsistent pitching (and neither does Shildt), it doesn’t mean that it has to be ALL we discuss either.
“Look, we don’t win, find someone else to get it done. That’s fine. I accept all of that. But at least have a little bit of understanding, a little patience for what’s taken place and how the guys play. Everything doesn’t have to be a problem every day. I think a lot of the questions we get are just about that and it’s like, hey, spin, no? Just be honest. I’m honest about the fact we need to score more runs. I’m honest with the fact that our starting pitching needs to be better. I’m also honest with the fact that we do a lot of things really well and we’re that close to first place. And we’ve been in first place. And we’ll be back in first place.”
Asking for understanding and patience in this world that seems hyperfocused on today and what have you done lately might be a big ask but it’s a fair one. The season is a process. We’d like to think that by the end of it, some of these issues are old news. Take the bad of the team, sure, but also take the good. Look for the heroes as well as the goats. It’s a fair ask, I think, even though it’s not going to read like one online.
Which means the fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars but in ourselves.