Descalso brings relatability to Cards’ bench

December 14th, 2023

This story was excerpted from John Denton’s Cardinals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

To fully understand how well journeyman infielder can relate to both the most ardent, old-school baseball men and young, fun-loving baseball players, consider this hilarious moment from inside the Cardinals’ clubhouse before Game 7 of the 2011 World Series.

A night earlier, in what proved to be an epic Game 6 against the Rangers, Descalso came off the bench and helped spark several late rallies -- capped, of course, by the MVP heroics of David Freese -- with two hits and a run as the Cardinals won, 10-9, to force a winner-take-all Game 7.

Veteran manager Tony La Russa was never one to joke around much before games, and that was especially the case before Game 7, considering the stakes. That’s when Descalso sprang into action to try to lighten the mood before a game the Redbirds would ultimately win, 6-2, for the franchise’s 11th World Series crown.

“During that World Series in 2011, I hadn’t started any games, but in Game 6, I came off the bench and had two hits,” remembered Descalso, who appeared in five of the seven games in that World Series, last week during the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn. “This was back when Tony would post the lineup on the wall in the clubhouse with a piece of tape. So I see Tony coming in with the lineup, and I tap [former teammate] Jon Jay on the leg and I go, ‘Hey, watch this!’

“Right after Tony puts the lineup up, I run over and run my finger up and down the lineup, knowing I’m not going to be in there, but I’m trying to get a rise out of Tony. Right as Tony is about to walk out, I go, ‘Tony, I get two hits last night and I can’t get into the lineup? Aren’t we trying to win?’ Before games, Tony was always very serious and locked in, but I actually got, like, a quarter of a smile out of him, which was a big deal. My teammates were laughing, and at least I got Tony to smile.”

Descalso, now 37, is hoping to use his likeable relatability to bridge the gap between the players and the coaching staff as the Cardinals’ new bench coach under manager Oliver Marmol. A 2011 World Series winner, a 2013 National League pennant winner in St. Louis and a 10-year MLB player, Descalso will be the fourth bench coach -- and third former Cards second baseman -- to serve in that role in three seasons after Skip Schumaker left to manage the Marlins, Matt Holliday left because of family concerns and Joe McEwing was moved to a consultant’s role following one season.

The friendship between Marmol and Descalso dates back to 2007, when the two were drafted by the Cardinals. They later formed a double-play tandem in the club’s Minor League system. Predominantly a second baseman at the time, Descalso was a third-round pick out of UC Davis, while Marmol was selected 90 picks later as a shortstop from the College of Charleston.

As Descalso worked his way through the system until 2010, when he reached St. Louis -- where he would spend the next five seasons and appear in 529 games -- Marmol ventured into coaching. Now they will partner again to try to get the Cards back on track following last season’s 71-91 letdown.

“Descalso is a winner, bottom line, and he knows what it looks like to win,” Marmol said. “He holds guys accountable. This game’s about people, and he’s extremely relational. He had good relationships with [Willson] Contreras, Nolan [Arenado] and [Paul Goldschmidt], and he has instant credibility when he steps into that clubhouse. The reality is, I think one day he’s going to manage. He’s a great communicator. He’s very organized and he leads well.”

Descalso played with Contreras while with the Cubs, and he spent two years as teammates with Goldschmidt and Arenado in Arizona and Colorado, respectively. He’ll also be guiding veteran pitcher Lance Lynn, a teammate from the 2011 team that won the World Series. Descalso has already talked with several of the cornerstone players, including the 36-year-old Lynn.

“Lance is a big personality, and sometimes I think you need guys like that in a clubhouse, because he’ll keep it light,” said Descalso, who worked for the National League-champion D-backs last season in an advisory role.

In addition to helping to keep things light, Descalso thinks he’ll be able to relate to players because of the way he had to scrap and claw as an under-the-radar player who won at the highest levels over his career.

“As a player, I was never satisfied, and I was always trying to get better,”  Descalso said. “Obviously, there’s going to be a learning curve for me as a first-time bench coach, but there are a lot of good people around me, I have a great relationship with Oli, who had this position before, and I’ll embrace this challenge. I’ll use every day to try and get us better and to try and win that night.”