After firing manager Mike Shildt, his second firing in less than four years, Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak has said one thing loud and clear. While calling it “philosophical differences” between Shildt and the front office, Mozeliak was clearly saying, “It’s my way or the highway.”
It has mainly been discussed that a move towards an even more analytical process is the reasoning for the disconnect. Management wanted more, while Shildt wanted more balance with traditional methods, which he learned from the legendary instructor and creator of The Cardinal Way, George Kissel. The Cardinal Way, which Mike Shildt has followed religiously, is a commitment to fundamentals, playing the game the right way, and winning.
Since first joining the organization as a scout, Mike Shildt had been a practitioner of The Cardinal Way back in 2004. The man that hired him all those years ago and groomed him for the position he just left was the very man that fired him. Mozeliak just fired the man he wanted. The man he put in charge of the team. The man that brought this team back to relevance and three straight postseason berths. Shildt brought back a commitment to winning and winning the right way.
It seems like an odd move to be quite honest. They have only sniffed at it once after winning the World Series in 2011 with Tony LaRussa at the helm. That year was 2013 with a team still full of leftovers from LaRussa’s team. What Mozeliak and then-manager Mike Matheny did was take a Ferrari and turned it into a Pinto. The team began a severe downward trend that wouldn’t truly recover until Matheny was fired and Shildt took over mid-season 2018.
It didn’t matter, though. That wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough that Shildt took mediocre rosters and got the best he could out of them. It didn’t matter that he fought as hard as he could with what he had. All that mattered was he and Mozeliak didn’t see eye to eye. Not that they had such a bad relationship that Shildt saw this coming. He was entirely caught off guard. It mattered that Shildt questioned Mozeliak’s decision-making.
The Cardinals are known for concealing any chinks in their armor, but the cracks began to show this year. In June, with a decimated starting rotation and piecemeal bullpen, the team was in free fall. At the time, Shildt was criticized by many (including yours truly) for saying the team was playing their most challenging baseball. When pressed about it, Shildt had a moment of weakness where he said, “I can only play the guys on the roster.” And there it was, the crack in the armor shone through.
What Mike Shildt did was say what every single fan was already thinking. The roster had holes and was incomplete. It was incomplete before the season started, and Mozeliak did not address it. Nolan Arenado was a huge coup, but Arenado alone wasn’t enough. The pitching staff was a ticking time bomb. And explode it did.
That’s what ultimately led to Shildt’s frustration. He was getting no help from the front office. Sure, they signed Wade LeBlanc and acquired JA Happ, John Lester, Luis Garcia, and TJ McFarland. But they waited way too long. By the time those moves were made and finalized, the Cardinals were already out of real contention for the division. Blame Shildt all you want, but a better roster earlier on would have closed the gap that saw this team finish only five games behind the division-winning Brewers.
There were moves to be made, moves that could have closed that gap. The Dodgers, for instance, made the trade that the Cardinals should have made. They were able to get Max Scherzer and Trea Turner from the Nationals. Those two players alone would have filled the two most significant holes at the time, starting pitcher and shortstop. Instead, those same Dodgers bounced the Cardinals from the playoffs and are now playing in the NLCS. That could have been the Cardinals.
Whatever the “philosophical differences” were, one thing is clear. Shildt did the best with what he had (except bullpen management), and the front office didn’t give him the help he needed. Whether it was differences in philosophy between more analytical and more traditional methods or something else, Mozeliak has given his marching orders, and anyone who disagrees might as well go ahead and pack their bags.
If this doesn’t end with the twelfth World Series Championship in franchise history, the only person packing their bags should be Mozeliak. He can’t blame the manager anymore. He had his pick twice. He has fired them both.
Brian Swope is an editor and staff writer for Gateway City Sports. He is also the host of the Yakker Jacks podcast and an IBWAA member.