First off, St. Louis probably is the only place where the resignation of a bench coach who never worked one regular-season game creates much of a reaction. Such is life in a baseball crazed city. Especially when that bench coach is a Cardinals Hall of Famer. No point in ignoring it or pretending otherwise. So, some thoughts this morning on Matt Holliday's coaching changeup . . .
Let’s not sugarcoat this too much. It’s not a great look for Holliday. He should not have agreed to take the job in November if he wasn’t prepared to follow through. He could have left the Cardinals in a jam by backing out when he did, so close to the start of spring training. Holliday wasn’t the only one who put the cart ahead of the horse. At Winter Meetings a certain someone – whoops – wrote about how this hire could fast track him for a manager’s role. If Holliday wants back into coaching or managing somewhere down the line, this reversal could and perhaps should give a hiring team pause. They will need to know he’s all-in, and not just on the day he says yes. Where the Cardinals will miss Holliday the most is in the cages and at the plate. Players love hitting coach Turner Ward and the team now working with him, but they were also excited about working with Holliday, who recently helped ex-Cardinal Matt Carpenter save his swing.
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That said, Holliday’s reason – not wanting to be away from his family, upon further reflection – makes a lot of sense. Holliday was an obvious candidate from the moment the job opened, but it was fair to wonder if the timing would be right, with one son, Jackson, just being drafted first overall by the Orioles, and another, 2025 graduate Ethan, climbing the draft rankings. Ideally, Holliday would not have told the Cardinals yes if he was not fully committed, but sometimes full commitment one day feels a lot different the next. Who hasn't experienced that to some degree? Credit to Holliday for being candid about his change of heart in his comments to the Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold. It’s better that Holliday realized and reversed course now than halfway through a season, or spent his inaugural season as manager Oli Marmol’s right-hand man wishing he would have declined the offer to return to the dugout. Let’s not get too carried away on the Holliday criticism. He’s still a Cardinals Hall of Famer and a great advocate of the Cardinals. Don’t forget, he’s a big part of the reason Nolan Arenado was so desperate to join the Cardinals.
The Cardinals seemed to have recovered quite nicely from Holliday’s curveball. Maybe they are in an even better spot now. Marmol is entering his second season in the big chair and could benefit from some more seasoned help. Former Cardinal Joe McEwing had nine years of MLB playing experience (his first two with the Cards) before transitioning to coaching in the White Sox organization, where he started in the minors and climbed all the way up to roles as the third base coach and bench coach. The Cardinals had considered him for the manager role in the past. Holliday would have been learning his new role on the fly, embracing whatever rookie coaching turbulence came with it. McEwing has been there and done that.
Here’s how Hall of Famer Tony La Russa summed up McEwing’s credentials in a comment to Katie Strang of The Athletic, back when McEwing was being interviewed by the Detroit Tigers for their opener at manager.
“He was the epitome of a winning teammate that would do anything that required,” La Russa said about McEwing then. “He’d be ready for anything at any moment. That’s how highly we thought of him and, or me personally, he’s very competitive. He’s a quick study and the best thing I can say is, he’s a student under George Kissell and he’s taken a lot of lessons from George and carried them forward in managing and coaching.”
More from TLR in that interview:
“There’s not this innate ability to be a leader. You can develop team leaders. and Joe was one of the guys that looked to take responsibility and step up. He was encouraged to do that in situations when he was a player and I think he learned the value of team leaders in forming a cohesive family, a brotherhood, for a long six- month season. He learned it was important and he did it.”
Pretty good endorsement, and that was back in 2017.
This offseason has been a bumpy time for Marmol’s staff. Hitting coach Jeff Albert left for a hitting coordinator role with the Mets. Pitching coach Mike Maddux left for the Rangers after flirting with retirement. Bench coach Skip Schumaker left to manage the Marlins. Change can be good, but constant turnover tends to be a not-so-good sign. The sooner Marmol locks in a staff and keeps it together, the better.