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Hochman: The Cardinals shouldn't be the last team Mike Shildt manages

Hochman: The Cardinals shouldn't be the last team Mike Shildt manages

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Detroit Tigers vs St. Louis Cardinals

Mike Shildt walks back to dugout after exchanging lineups at home during a game with the Tigers. Photo by David Carson

In today’s 10 a.m. video, columnist Ben Hochman shares thoughts on who the next Cardinals manager should be, while also trying to dissect what “philosophical differences” means. And, as always, Hochman chooses a random St. Louis Cards card from the hat.

A respected baseball man was the manager; a respected baseball mind ran the front office. The team made the playoffs three consecutive seasons. In the third season, the team went on a historic winning streak that enraptured a city and, really, all of baseball. But after the season, the manager was fired. Philosophical differences.

This, of course, is the story of … the 2002 Oakland A’s.

They even made a movie about it (the book was better, though).

And now, nearly two decades later, the St. Louis Cardinals are living out their own “Moneyball” plot (maybe, in this scenario, just drop the “ney” from the title?). In the A’s version of the story, the skipper Art Howe went on to manage the New York Mets. In the Cardinals’ story, will the skipper Mike Shildt go on to manage … the New York Mets?

As of now, the only major-league managerial vacancies are with the Mets, Padres and, for the first autumn since 2011, the Cardinals.

We still don’t know what the philosophical differences were, but we do know that Shildt won a bunch of ballgames. Even if there was something questionable in his philosophies, he went 252-199 as the Cardinals manager (and 471-432 as a Cardinals minor-league manager). Being around his St. Louis teams, I was impressed by the way Shildt navigated tricky situations, pumped up his players, created in-house dialogue, improved the defense and fundamentals, showed fire on the field when needed and, more times than not, pressed the right buttons with the bullpen. Alas, he’ll be forever remembered for his last bullpen decision.

And Shildt’s teams caught fire every final stretch of the season. Three full seasons, three postseasons. Also, when discussing his St. Louis tenure, some folks overlook that first year when he overtook the reigns from Mike Matheny. The Cards were at 47-46. Shildt went 41-28, his club torrent down the stretch, almost slipping into the playoffs.

There are numerous qualified candidates to manage in Major League Baseball. There are only two openings. He may not get a serious look from San Diego or New York. But Shildt sure should.

And here’s the thing, knowing Shildt. He’s constantly learning from his experiences — he prides himself on that — so he’ll even learn from his firing. He’ll have perspective about the philosophical differences. This isn’t to say he’ll just have an about-face on whatever the issue was. But he’ll get a better grasp on why the Cards were so staunch on their side of things. Maybe the firing will actually help him become a better manager?

Another thing about Shildt — he’s got something from his past experience that many managerial candidates won’t have. Shildt managed — and managed successfully — during the 2020 pandemic season.

And as time moves on, some people forget just how much of a disadvantage the Cards had, compared to other teams. During that year, they had 17 missed days and 18 positive tests of COVID-19 for players and staffers. They had so many daunting doubleheaders and so few reliable reinforcements. This wasn’t just tactical managing — this was being a leader, a navigator, a motivator. Shildt did it all and the Cardinals made the playoffs. It was his most-impressive season, and that’s saying something, considering he won manager of the year the previous season (and will receive votes for the hardware this season).

Now, there’s never a good time to be looking for a managerial gig, but at least the options are opportunistic. The Mets and Padres are extremely enticing — or, if anything, fascinating. Teams loaded with big names. Teams who were in playoff contention for much of 2021. Teams that offer a chance at icon status — the Mets haven’t won the World Series in 35 years, while Padres have never won the World Series. Be the manager to make it happen and you’re that town’s Craig Berube.

Similar to the players’ praise of the Blues coach, a lot of the Cardinals spoke highly of Shildt. Nolan Arenado spoke both highly and honestly of Shildt. It was the “night of No. 17,” the triumphant win that won the Cards a wild-card spot. On the field, the prized third baseman was asked about his skipper.

“He’s been great to me,” said Arenado, who had some ups and downs in the 2021 season, but finished with some strong numbers. “We’ve had some great, honest conversations. Some tough conversations, too, right? I mean, some real conversations. I’m very thankful for him. I’m just thankful of all the staff, all these guys. They show up every day, same guys, don’t get too high, don’t get too low. It’s just been unbelievable being a part of this group.”

And most of the group is coming back.

But they’ll have a new voice in charge.

Then again, the same voice is in charge, so to speak.

The leader of the Cardinals may be the manager, but the guy who runs the Cardinals is John Mozeliak.

And just like Oakland’s Billy Beane in the fall of 2002, he’s looking for a new man to manage his perennial playoff team.

Derrick Goold and Ben Frederickson break down the manager's clash with the front office and introduce the candidates the Cardinals could consider as they search for a replacement who won't stray from the front office's script

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