Late Saturday evening, an hour or so after a rain-delayed game resulted in a Cardinals loss to the Reds, the Cubs’ biggest rival made a surprising announcement:
July 15, 2018
The timing of this firing is... odd. If you’re going to fire a manager mid-season, just before the All-Star break, why not just wait the one more day and then make a clean start right after the break?
Matheny’s recent issues were well-documented. This article from The Athletic last week suggested that he and former Cub Dexter Fowler barely spoke, and another recent Athletic article had Matheny defending the old-school hazing reliever Bud Norris was giving rookie Jordan Hicks:
The 33-year-old Norris has been mercilessly riding 21-year old rookie Jordan Hicks since spring training, reminding him to be at meetings on time and publicly calling him out when he is lagging in any of the details a visitor might not notice, but other players do. Perhaps Hicks will one day appreciate the treatment?
“Probably not,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny admitted with a chuckle. “But Bud’s going to continue to do what he thinks is right as a veteran, so you respect that.”
Compare this sort of attitude with the way Joe Maddon manages the Cubs and you can see why the Cubs are succeeding while the Cardinals have been floundering the last three seasons. This sort of thing just doesn’t work with modern players. And Maddon is 16 years older than Matheny! This St. Louis Post-Dispatch article sums up all the issues with Matheny:
Matheny’s dismissal comes at the end of a turbulent week for the Cardinals that featured questions about his communication with players, a tense clubhouse, in-house criticisms about the team’s energy level, and familiar losses that teetered from concerning to chronic.
Here’s the problem summed up quite well by a writer who’s covered the Cardinals for many years:
The lethargic and messy baseball aside, and crumbling player relations aside, I can share this: management was not happy with Matheny’s quotes in @markasaxon piece in @TheAthletic (1/2)— Bernie Miklasz (@miklasz) July 15, 2018
As I wrote for @TheAthleticSTL Friday, management uncomfortable with Matheny’s expressed zeal for old-school tough guy stuff and referring to today’s game as “soft” ... felt (2/3)— Bernie Miklasz (@miklasz) July 15, 2018
That (3/3) whenever Matheny gets on the soapbox with old-school preaching that’s a huge turnoff to young players, it reinforced team’s rep as uptight, stressed, humorless and not a fun place to play.— Bernie Miklasz (@miklasz) July 15, 2018
That’s why I was astonished by the attacks on @markasaxon ; without Matheny running his mouth and all but bragging over having Bud Norris being his enforcer/snitch, Saxon had much less to build his piece around. Today’s players are different. This manager never got that.— Bernie Miklasz (@miklasz) July 15, 2018
Wow. What an awful mess the Cardinals are, based on those tweets — the Mark Saxon article referred to is the second Athletic link above.
The Cardinals were expected to contend for a playoff spot this season, but currently stand one game over .500 (47-46) and closer to last place in the N.L. Central than first place. The dismissal of both Cardinals hitting coaches, as noted in their release, indicates they think that’s part of the problem, but as noted above, it goes far deeper than that.
In my view, the selection of Mike Shildt, a Cardinals organization guy (he was a manager in their system for more than a decade) who’s been their bench coach this season, as their interim manager suggests that they’re punting on the 2018 season and will re-tool after the year is over. Since June 11, when they were 2½ games out of first place, St. Louis is 9-18 and the entire organization seems in turmoil. Matheny was just the easiest piece to get rid of, even though he’d never had a losing season as a manager. We’ve joked here that the best thing for the Cubs would be for Matheny to continue as Cardinals manager, but it doesn’t seem likely to change much under an interim guy the rest of the year.
It’s quite possible that the Cardinals will go after managerial free agent Joe Girardi to run the team starting in 2019. Girardi, who finished his playing career in St. Louis in 2003 and who has a track record of success as a manager, would seem to be a good fit there — but given some of the things we’ve heard about the way the Cardinals are run, I’d think Girardi would want assurances he could do things his way before taking on a job like that. You might remember that one of the reasons, supposedly, the Cardinals signed Fowler was to try to change the clubhouse culture there. Instead, that culture ate Dexter up.
In summary, the Cardinals appear to have more problems than they can fix by simply changing field managers. For the Cubs, that has to be a good thing. We’ll see the Cardinals’ new interim manager very soon, as the Cardinals visit Wrigley Field for a five-game series beginning Thursday. In the meantime, the release above says the Cardinals will hold a news conference Sunday morning at 11 a.m. CT, at which time maybe we’ll find out more about why this happened when it did.