Cards introduce Shildt, address skipper change

Mozeliak believes club can still contend for postseason berth

July 15th, 2018

ST. LOUIS -- Speaking publicly for the first time since dismissing manager Mike Matheny on Saturday night, principal owner Bill DeWitt Jr. and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak characterized the decision to make an in-season managerial change as an opportunity for the Cardinals to hit the reset button before the start of the second half.
Rather than postpone staffing changes until the fall, Mozeliak said, the Cardinals wanted to apply a shakeup now to see if it could spark a stagnant club that management still believes has the pieces to contend for a postseason berth.
"We want to try to find a way to salvage this season, and we think there's a chance to do that," Mozeliak said. "Change felt inevitable. We could have waited until after the season ended, but we feel like there's enough talent and enough energy in that room that maybe we could change course."
Discussions about a potential change in clubhouse leadership began during the Cardinals' last road trip, and a decision to relieve Matheny, as well as hitting coaches John Mabry and Bill Mueller, was finalized on Friday. It was determined the news would be delivered to all three on Saturday so that interim manager Mike Shildt would have the opportunity to address his club and begin the redirection before everyone scattered for the All-Star break.
DeWitt and Mozeliak met with Matheny, Mabry and Mueller individually following Saturday night's 8-2 loss to the Reds. Mozeliak described Matheny as "gracious" and "professional" during their conversation.
"To get to this point is very difficult because it's personalized," said Mozeliak, who hired Matheny following the 2011 season. "If it was simply a black-and-white business decision, I think we could all agree that change was needed. But there is that human element that you can't ignore. The last few days have been tough."
So, too, has been watching the Cardinals' deteriorating level of play, and that is what ultimately nudged the organization in the direction of firing a manager for the first time since 1995. Though Matheny's clubs finished with winning records in each of his six full seasons and were above .500 (47-46) at the time of his dismissal, there were internal concerns about an eroding on-field product.
"In some places 'winning' is just a winning record, or even .500 is acceptable," DeWitt said. "Players have a nice season and go home, and get back to their families and so forth. But not in this city. Not with this franchise. Not with this history. And not with our great fans.
"We believe in this team. We believe in the talent, and the type of character our players represent. We feel this is a new start, a fresh start, and an opportunity for them to do a whole lot better."
After winning the National League pennant in 2013, the Cardinals were bounced in the NL Championship Series in 2014 and the NL Division Series in '15. With win totals of 86 and 83, respectively, the Cardinals missed the postseason each of the last two years.
The organization hasn't missed the playoffs in three straight seasons since 1997-99.
"I don't feel our trending line is taking us [in a positive] direction anymore," Mozeliak said. "Even if it's just slowly decaying, you're going to wake up and at some point find yourself in a bad spot. The point is, we just felt like we couldn't wait any longer."
Mozeliak added that recent reports citing tension within the clubhouse was "not something that was necessarily pushing us in this direction in any more expedited manner."
Because the news was delivered to the staff after the clubhouse had emptied on Saturday, most players learned of the changes via text, television or social media.
"When you see that happen, it's because us, as players, we're not doing our job," said , whose relationship with Matheny goes back to their time as teammates. "I hate saying that, but we're not doing our job and the blame is on us."
"What happened today was a wake up call for all of us, knowing that this game is a finite game for all of us," added . "At some point, it's going to be over for all of us, and if you don't play like you're supposed to be playing, then bad things happen. People get moved and managers get fired, and hitting coaches get fired, and people get traded, and people get released and all kinds of bad stuff. What we can control is going out and playing the game and playing the brand of ball that we should be playing. If we do that, then things will fall into place."
Making such seismic changes midseason is highly unusual for this organization. Since leading the purchase of the franchise in 1996, DeWitt has prioritized continuity in leadership positions. During that span, the organization has had two changes in general managers (both internal promotions) and, before Saturday, one managerial change. That was prompted by Tony La Russa's retirement.
What DeWitt has seen building, however, necessitated more urgent action.
"Continuity is desirable, but when it's not working and you feel like a change needs to be made, you need to act," DeWitt said. "Continuity isn't in and of itself the goal; the goal is to have success. What I really value is consistent winning."
Shildt, who was in his first season as bench coach, has the opportunity to alter that trajectory as he finishes out the season as interim manager. Triple-A hitting coach Mark Budaska and Minor League offensive strategist George Greer will join the big league staff on Thursday to serve as hitting coaches.
While the Cardinals haven't named a replacement bench coach, Greer and third-base coach Jose Oquendo are expected to handle some of those dugout responsibilities. Shildt, who managed eight seasons in the Cards' Minor League system, is the first Major League manager since Dave Trembley (2007-10) to rise to that post without having played professionally.
Over the break, Shildt plans to reach out individually to everyone on the roster to outline expectations. He spoke to the club in full before Sunday's 6-4 win over the Reds in the series finale.
"The biggest thing is about being more consistent and appreciating what we do well," Shildt said. "There's been a lot that's rightfully been written and talked about in every circle around this team about what isn't right and what needs to be improved -- and we get that. But there are a lot of things that are positive, and I think we need to get back to that mindset, and we need to get back to more consistency in areas of the game."