Franchise HOF'er Holliday returns to Cards as bench coach

Ward, Blake receive promotions as team sets 2023 coaching staff

November 6th, 2022

ST. LOUIS -- Matt Holliday, one of the most beloved players in Cardinals history and a recent inductee into the franchise’s Hall of Fame, is returning to the organization as bench coach under manager Oliver Marmol.

Holliday, 42, played for the Cardinals from 2009-16 and was a key member of the 2011 World Series championship team. He will replace former teammate Skip Schumaker in the role of bench coach. Holliday, who had previously worked with Oklahoma State, mentioned during his August induction to the Cardinals Hall of Fame that returning to MLB in a coaching capacity appealed greatly to him. Holliday’s eldest son, Jackson, was the No. 1 pick of the Orioles in the MLB Draft in July.

Now, Holliday takes over for Schumaker, who left to become the Marlins' manager. Marmol and Holliday, friends for more than a decade from their years together in the Cardinals' system as players, agreed that the time was right for him to rejoin the franchise.

“In that bench role, all our guys know Matt, and he brings instant credibility,” Marmol said. “Our veteran group knows him personally, and the young guys know of him. He’s low key, but the way he goes about teaching is meaningful. He’s not the rah-rah type who is going to be in your face and make a ton of noise, but there’s this persistence and a relentless pursuit of doing it as well as possible that is contagious with him. We’re looking forward to him instilling that into our guys.”

Marmol also filled out his coaching staff by promoting from within for two other key positions left vacant following Jeff Albert and Mike Maddux’s departures. Turner Ward, assistant hitting coach in 2022 and a favorite of star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, was promoted to hitting coach.

“When the hitter is in the box, they feel like Turner is in there with them,” Marmol said of Ward. “He’s living and dying with every pitch and he’s experiencing it as if he’s in the box. And when they get back to the dugout -- good or bad [result] -- they know he’s got their back. When you think about that position of the hitting coach, that’s the trust that matters. Those hitters knowing you are living it with them, he does that better than anybody. Aside from that, the guy knows the swing well and he knows how to mentally prepare a hitter. When the lights come on, Turner makes them feel that they can take on the world.”

Dusty Blake, who worked previously as the Cardinals’ pitching strategist for the past two seasons, was promoted to pitching coach. Marmol predicted that Blake will someday become “one of the brighter pitching minds in the game.”

Adam Wainwright, a longtime franchise fixture who announced recently that he will return to pitch a 18th and final season for the Cardinals, is a strong proponent of Blake and his deep knowledge of the game. Blake will be just the fourth pitching coach Wainwright has had with the Cards.

“I get asked all the time how many pitching coaches I’ve had -- and it’s just three -- and people cannot believe I’ve only had three pitching coaches in 17 1/2 years,” said Wainwright, referring to Dave Duncan, Derek Lilliquist and Maddux. “The thing is, we just have a long history of winning here, and you don’t fire coach a whole lot when you’re doing a great job of winning.”

The Cardinals also promoted from within by hiring Brandon Allen as assistant hitting coach. Allen, who worked previously with Triple-A Memphis, helped Gold Glover Brendan Donovan and top rookies Nolan Gorman and Juan Yepez reach the MLB level and have success this past season. Julio Rangel, previously a member of the Red Sox's coaching staff, was named assistant pitching coach/bullpen coach.

Assistant coach Willie McGee, first-base coach Stubby Clapp, third-base coach Ron “Pop” Warner, run-production coach Patrick Elkins and bullpen catchers Jamie Pogue and Kleininger Teran will return for the 2023 season.

Albert, the coach charged with revamping the teaching tactics throughout the Cardinals' farm system and bringing more of an analytical approach to hitting, decided not to return following the season -- and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak cited Albert’s belief that too much of the blame for hitting struggles was heaped upon him. Maddux, 61, the Cards' pitching coach since the 2018 season, cited a desire to back out of coaching, but Mozeliak said he could still work in an advisory role with the club.

Said Marmol of the staff now in place for the 2023 season: “Continuity is important because you don’t want to go into Spring Training with a ton of new faces and a long learning curve of everybody learning themselves, their positions and their roles. Turner [Ward] has done this a long time, and we get the continuity of promoting Dusty [Blake], and the trust he’s built with guys plays well.”

Holliday was so respected by fans and his peers that when he was inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame in August, now retired slugger Albert Pujols, Wainwright, Marmol and Schumaker left behind their preparation for that night’s game against the Braves to attend the ceremony. Drafted by the Rockies, Holliday actually made his MLB debut in St. Louis on April 16, 2004 -- a day he said “began my love affair with St. Louis” and started thoughts where he “dreamed of being a Cardinal.”

That became a reality in 2009, when he joined the Cardinals on July 24 -- the same night he was traded from Oakland to St. Louis. That night in Philadelphia, he hit behind Pujols in the lineup wearing size 14 pitching shoes borrowed from Todd Wellemeyer, batting gloves given to him by Yadier Molina and a bat borrowed from Pujols. The result: a four-hit night in a Cards victory.

During his time with the Cardinals as a player, Holliday had 102 game-winning RBIs and 156 home runs. Arguably, his most memorable moment with the franchise came in his second-to-last at-bat in 2016 -- one that came when it was clear he would be leaving the franchise after suffering from injuries for most of the previous season. With a tear in his eyes before he even reached the batter’s box because of the roars given to him by the Busch Stadium III crowd, Holliday homered to the opposite field and was mobbed by teammates before he even made it back into the dugout.

“I feel like at that moment, God gave me a gift,” Holliday said back in August during his Cardinals Hall of Fame induction speech. “It was a gift of wrapping up my time in St. Louis. As it cleared the right-field fence, I was overcome with this emotion and joy and thankfulness. I felt like I was given that day as a gift from God to wrap up my time in St. Louis as a Cardinal.”