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Mozeliak defends Cardinals' clubhouse culture

MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- Following a succession of stories that portrayed the Cardinals' clubhouse as contentious and disconnected, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak defended the clubhouse culture on Friday, saying that he believes players still find the organization as "a very desirable place to be."

Meanwhile, Jordan Hicks and Bud Norris, two players at the center of one of those stories, both said Friday that indications of tension between them were overstated.

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ST. LOUIS -- Following a succession of stories that portrayed the Cardinals' clubhouse as contentious and disconnected, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak defended the clubhouse culture on Friday, saying that he believes players still find the organization as "a very desirable place to be."

Meanwhile, Jordan Hicks and Bud Norris, two players at the center of one of those stories, both said Friday that indications of tension between them were overstated.

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The comments came one day after the relationship between veteran Norris and Hicks was detailed in a story on The Athletic website. The headline referenced Norris' "divisive old-school approach," and Norris was described in the story as "mercilessly riding" his 21-year-old fellow reliever. That language generated questions about whether Hicks was being mistreated, a concern that Mozeliak immediately looked into by reaching out to players and staff.

"My very first reaction when I read this was, of course from an internal standpoint, we need to take a look at it and find out what's going on," Mozeliak said. "In doing so, I felt a lot better after asking questions and speaking with everybody involved. I don't think there's anything happening here that's not happening elsewhere, and, more importantly, after speaking with Jordan, I think he's appreciative of some of the veteran players showing interest in him and helping him grow in this game."

This incident came one week after The Athletic reported that manager Mike Matheny and outfielder Dexter Fowler had hardly spoken this season.

"I feel like culture is one of those topics that when everything is going great, you have a great culture. When they're not going great, it becomes questioned," Mozeliak said. "And I feel like when you look at how you look at the word 'culture' and what that means as far as, 'Are players happy here? Do they feel like this is a place they want to be?' Most of them would tell you yes. Are we perfect? No.

"I do think St. Louis is still a very attractive place to be. We still draw well. We still have a great dynamic in terms of a place to play as a home field. But there are some things that you always want to make sure you're refining to get right. The fact that I'm having to sit here talking about culture means it has become a topic and one we have to address. When we look at it from that standpoint, I don't want to come across as defensive or trying to defend everything we try to do because far be it from us to say that we're a perfect situation. But I still think we're a very desirable place to be."

Matheny echoed that stance, adding: "We take a lot of pride in how [relationships] look without going out and getting on a megaphone with what we're doing in there to help each other better."

He went on to describe any implication of friction between Norris and Hicks as "inaccurate," and said that both players reached out to him on Thursday to express that the article misrepresented their relationship. Norris and Hicks reiterated that on Friday while speaking to reporters before the club opened a three-game homestand.

Hicks, in particular, sought to clarify why, when asked by the author of the original story whether Norris' treatment would later benefit him, he replied, "I have no idea. No comment." That answer, unintentionally, left much up to interpretation.

"I think it just got blown out of proportion," Hicks said of the reaction. "I think it can be taken the wrong way, but it wasn't meant in any bad way. But I've been saying I think it's all the best intentions what he's put me through. Like it's nothing bad. It's for the growth of my career. He's been great and one of the best in the bullpen that have been giving me advice."

Hicks and Norris also exchanged texts and spoke over the phone on Thursday in order to defuse any tension.

"I have a unique relationship with him, he knows that," Norris said. "I love him and am genuinely [interested] in him as a person and what he wants to be on the field and off the field. I'm sorry it came to this, to say the least."

Matheny not only defended Norris' approach with Hicks, but also applauded the 10-year veteran for wanting to invest his time in a younger teammate.

"There's no bullying," Matheny said. "It's a guy trying to help another guy. It's so opposite than what's being portrayed. I don't know what else to say other than it's inaccurate. It's the opposite, I mean that couldn't be any more inaccurate if it's the opposite, right? What we see is a guy that's working very hard and going out of his way when it would be very easy to just sit and mind his own business and do nothing for this kid. He's trying to help him.

"Jordan has done a phenomenal job as a 21-year-old in this with where he is right now and everything that has been thrown on him. And Bud has done a fantastic job as well all the way across the board, not only with how he is performing, but how he is going out there trying to help people."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

St. Louis Cardinals, Jordan Hicks, Bud Norris