If you go to Google News, click on to the full coverage of the Matheny firing, and scroll through all the available headlines; you’ll find 18 different articles on who may fill the position of Cardinals manager in 2019. Social media is abuzz with fans throwing out different candidate names, each one convinced that their choice is the right choice.
Post-firing on Saturday night, Bob Nightengale of USA Today immediately tweeted out (his opinion) that Joe Girardi was the favorite for the job. That’s been the most common name, because its the biggest name currently available.
However, if there is a “favorite” on July 16th, it’s the guy that was just handed the keys as interim manager. Mike Shildt. And it’s not simply because he is the interim, he’s as qualified as anyone.
Shildt gets mentioned in the articles regarding potential managers, but it’s more in passing. It’s more of a, “this guy is the interim for the remainder of the season so he’ll have a shot, but…” situation, than serious consideration. Let’s be honest, the writers and bloggers are penning these articles because they want to push the Girardi idea, or present a dark horse or more creative candidate like Mark DeRosa, Carlos Beltran, or even current Reds interim Jim Riggleman. Saying that Shildt is the favorite, or even a top 5 contender, is boring.
Bob Nightengale threw out the most dismissive statement I’ve ever seen:
“Mike Shildt is the interim manager, but he may not even be managing the Cardinals by the time they resume the season next Friday after the break, perhaps promoting Triple-A manager Stubby Clapp for the rest of the season.”
First of all, the Cardinals resume play on Thursday. But moving on. Listening to Mr. Nightengale on the Bernie Miklasz Show on Monday, his dismissing of Shildt seems to be based in a (false) perception that because Shildt was the bench coach for Matheny, he is part of the ongoing issues and his failed leadership, and would bring nothing new. There are two reasons that is wrong. 1) Mike Shildt has only been the bench coach for 3 months, whereas Matheny’s serious issues have been growing since the end of 2015 (if not earlier), and 2) Shildt was not brought in by Matheny, so he is not an extension of the manager. It’s a lazy take that shows a lack of knowledge of who Shildt is and how this coaching staff was assembled.
It also ignores that Matheny’s style seemed to suffocate the voices of his staff. Mark Saxon of the Athletic went as far as reporting that Matheny had recently become “an island” and was no longer receptive to input from others.
I don’t mean to just rip on Nightengale, but I think that his perception could be common for national writers and audiences that know very little about Mike Shildt. So I want to quell that fire. He is a relative unknown, a non-player that spent 15 years rising in the Cardinals system. That doesn’t mean he isn’t the man for the job.
So Who Is Mike Shildt?
Simply, a smart and interesting baseball man. There is an interview with Shildt at Scoops with Danny Mac that I encourage all fans to listen to. Most of what I document below is in that interview.
He is not a former player, though he did play in college. He got into professional baseball through scouting, hired by then Scouting Director, John Mozeliak in 2003. At the time, his interest in scouting was already fading as his real interest was in player development. Mozeliak agree to give him some opportunities in player development in addition to scouting duties. Slowly but surely he gained prominence and in 2006, Mark DeJohn agreed to take over the manager’s position in Johnson City on the condition that Shildt become his assistant full-time. From there he would take on other coaching positions in the organization and eventually manage for 8 seasons between Johnson City, Springfield, and Memphis prior to joining the major league team. He won two championships in Johnson City and one in Springfield. In 2009, while with Johnson City, he was named both the Cardinals Minor League Manager-of-the-Year, and the Appalachian League Manager-of-the-Year.
Shildt also has kerataconus, the rare eye condition that is now widely known of in Cardinals circles because of Tommy Pham. It has nothing to do with his managerial abilities, but it is interesting that two members of the team have it, considering it’s rarity.
Shildt was lucky enough to be directly influenced by legendary organizational man, George Kissell. Documented in this Derrick Goold article, Upon George’s passing in 2008, his family had replicas of his trusted book of baseball notes made and presented a copy to Shildt. It’s a reference Shildt uses to this day. A past winner of the organizations George Kissell Award for “excellence in Player Development”, this is a man that is engrained in the Cardinal Way.
So Why Is He A Fit?
Buy-In: When he was brought to the big league staff in 2017, he was touted as a liaison between the Front Office’s analytics team and the dugout. He is receptive to new numbers and new ways of doing things. He is a nice combination of old and new schools of thought. He’s shown that during his ascent through the system. He buys in to the organizational philosophy, a stark difference after years of Matheny’s resistance to change.
Communication: All reports that I have heard or read in regards to Mike Shildt and his relationship with players are positive. According to MLB.com’s Jen Langosch while on air with the Kevin Wheeler Show, she stated that she had never heard a negative word, on the record and off, in regards to Shildt.
His immediate message in the introductory press conference was to be “open and honest” and his personality and openness to explanation were refreshing in his first post-game press conference. He is low-key, but he doesn’t seem dry or boring. We’ll see what he looks like after a loss, but he seems to value some semblance of transparency.
He also stated that he would be contacting each player individually over the All-Star break, seeking to talk over direction and expectations. He used the word “inclusive” to describe the culture he wants. For a clubhouse that has been described as having cliques and clubs over the last few years, and various reports that allude to some divisiveness, “inclusive” would be a major change.
Experience: He has extensive managerial experience, with 8 season in the minor leagues. That’s more managerial experience than Mike Matheny had at the time of his dismissal. The Cardinals gambled that they could develop a manager when they hired Matheny. He seemed like he had the tools, but the years showed that it wasn’t the case. Names like Mark DeRosa and Carlos Beltran are intriguing, but I just can’t see them going that direction again. Shildt is an organizational man that has actually held the position, and had success in it. Add to that, he was tasked to run the entire minor league spring training in 2008, which was the largest spring group in franchise history. He has experience across the board.
Coaching Staff: If experience is a factor, you have to consider that a veteran manager, such as Joe Girardi, would want to install his own coaching staff, or at least have some say in it. If you’ve been paying attention, you know that the current Cardinals coaching staff was assembled by the Front Office, not by the manager. The hitting coaches were the last positions held by “Matheny guys”, prior to Sunday, but have now been filled by highly regarded instructors Mark Budaska and George Greer. The internal promotions or the last two years and the hiring of Mike Maddux have given the Cardinals an impressive coaching staff that was hand picked by Mo.
To make an outside managerial hire you would risk losing some, if not all of your coaches. Now, I don’t think they would hire a manager without compromising on staff, but I also don’t see them wanting to break up this group. With Shildt, they wouldn’t have to.
The Next 3 Months
I can’t sit here and tell you that Shildt will be a good big league manager. He’s had 1 game. However, if you do your research and know his story, you’ll see that he has been being groomed for this opportunity for years. After years of managing, the team created a “Quality Control” coach position simply to find him a big league spot, and then promoted him to bench coach. He was in-house to replace Matheny if the move was ever needed. It was.
I believe that as we sit here on July 16th, the Cardinals Front Office wants very much to see the results that will allow them to lift the interim tag, either later this season or in October. I believe that he is currently the top contender and that they THINK he is absolutely the right man for the job.
He has been given 3 months to prove it.
Dream about the other candidates all you want, but don’t sleep on Mike Shildt.
Thanks for reading!