Cards make Marmol MLB's youngest skipper

35-year-old familiar with St. Louis' winning ways looks to bring a ‘seamless transition’

October 25th, 2021

Three consecutive years “hitting a buck-ninety” in the Minors told Oliver Marmol that playing might not be his long-term future. Listening to the baseball and leadership wisdom of Tony La Russa in Spring Trainings past showed him that coaching might be an avenue to advance in baseball. An opening at manager for the Cardinals -- the only organization he’s known -- has presented that opportunity in its fullest form.

Marmol -- better known as “Oli” -- was named the 51st manager in Cardinals history on Monday, the organization announced in a 50-minute Zoom press conference, promoting an individual groomed for such a role for years and bringing about a swift end to a managerial search that opened with the sudden dismissal of Mike Shildt on Oct. 14 due to “philosophical differences” between him and the front office.

Marmol, who will be 35 years and 273 days old on Opening Day, is the youngest manager since Eric Wedge, who was 35 years and 64 days old when he began managing Cleveland in 2003. Marmol is younger than a pair of Cardinal legends on his roster.

“I really felt like Oli was going to be a Major League manager at some point. I did not think it was necessarily going to be in 2022,” said president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, who acknowledged that he flew back from the Cardinals’ postseason exit on Oct. 7 not expecting a managerial change. “Ultimately, our comfort level of keeping that continuity and really building on what we have going … we felt like we're in a really good place directionally with where we were headed. We felt Oli could really be that seamless transition to where we're trying to get.”

In choosing Marmol, the Cardinals passed on a few other individuals who appeared as prime candidates for the various managerial openings around baseball. Current first-base coach Stubby Clapp, 48, has been interviewed by other organizations for their openings in the past and would have been a more seasoned option. Skip Schumaker, a World Series champion as a Cardinal and the Padres’ associate manager, was thought to be another possibility.

But in tabbing Marmol, the Cardinals are putting faith in an individual they have groomed for years. Marmol was the Cards’ sixth-round selection in the 2007 MLB Draft before quickly turning in his playing days for the role of a coach and quickly ascending up the system. He knows the organization’s winning ways firsthand and will look to put his own stamp on continuing them.

"It's not so much different as much as how do we build upon the success [that] this organization has had, because we've won here,” Marmol said. “It's moreso building upon that, and for me, that comes with a heavy emphasis on integrating departments."

Marmol was scouted by Shildt when the latter was a young scout for the organization. The two held a close bond, with Marmol serving as Shildt’s bench coach over the past three seasons. Marmol, like Shildt, will have held no MLB-playing past nor MLB managerial experience before assuming his first gig atop a clubhouse. But he did manage the Cardinals’ Low-A team, the Palm Beach Cardinals, and the Johnson City Cardinals, which was the franchise’s Rookie-level team until 2021, throughout his years in the organization.

Shildt paid Marmol particular respect during his public statement upon departing the organization, saying that Marmol “has my deepest and most trusted respect.”

Marmol will now inherit Shildt’s clubhouse -- one that has made the postseason each of the past three seasons -- with young stars, perennial MVP candidates and wily veterans, including the last go for Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina -- both of whom are older than their new manager.

As the youngest manager in the Majors, Marmol acknowledges the gap he’ll have to bridge but does not feel it will be a limiting factor. Such youth may be addressed with the hiring of a new bench coach, Mozeliak acknowledged, with internal candidates having expressed interest and external options also being evaluated. The Cards hope to have a mostly unchanged coaching staff set in stone by the end of the World Series.

“I've never thought of my age as something that has an impact one way or another, positive or negative,” said Marmol, who’s been in touch with players like Molina, Nolan Arenado, Wainwright and Paul Goldschmidt since his hiring. “When it comes down to leadership and just overall having the respect of that clubhouse, a couple things come to mind. If the player knows that you care, the player knows that you're prepared and you have your thoughts organized when you approach them, and you can make them better, they listen to you. ... Age isn’t an impediment there; it's just a matter of preparation and organization."

Part of bridging that divide can be attributed to Marmol’s background. A native of Florida and a native Spanish speaker with Dominican heritage, Marmol is the first full-time manager of color to lead the Cardinals and the second in any capacity. On a wider scale, he becomes the fourth current manager in the big leagues of Latin American heritage.

"Some of the neighborhoods we lived in early on in Miami, these opportunities don't come across the table to the majority of the people that grew up like that," Marmol said. “For them to be able to identify and see someone of color in a position of leadership -- especially for a franchise, a winning franchise, one with the history that the St. Louis Cardinals [have] -- is extremely meaningful.”

Most importantly, Marmol will take over a clubhouse that has nothing short of championship aspirations for 2022.

“The expectations for the organization have always been the same: It’s to win a World Series,” Marmol said. “This year, in 2022, is no different. We will prepare in a way to take our shot at a championship, and anything less than that will be a disappointment.”