ST. LOUIS -- With an eye toward 2022 -- and not looking back at ’21 -- the Cardinals on Thursday made the surprise decision to dismiss manager Mike Shildt, with president of baseball operations John Mozeliak citing a “philosophical difference in the direction that our Major League club is going.”
Mozeliak outlined a simmering disconnect between Shildt and the front office -- one that was building over time but “came to a head” over the past week. The staff last met on Friday, but Mozeliak declined to outline the nature of such discussions or of the differences. Instead, the club feels this move was necessary in order to keep the big league team up for contention in 2022 and beyond, coming off their third consecutive postseason appearance under Shildt despite the roller-coaster that this season proved to be.
“Where we are in this point in time, we're not making this decision on a reaction of the season,” Mozeliak said. “This is a decision that as we start to look forward, what do we want it to most look like, and how do we want that to be run? … The decision that both [chairman Bill DeWitt Jr.] and myself and some others came to was -- what we want to do and where we want to go, we needed to go in a different way.”
Shildt -- who worked his way up across 18 years in the organization from a scout to player development to managing in the Minor Leagues and ultimately up to the big league managerial role -- had one more year left on his contract. Mozeliak said the timing of the decision was in part not to come to the decision at a later date “and then [have Shildt] be left hanging later.” Mozelaik added that Shildt was “very shocked.”
“The decision we made has been made, and ultimately we have to stand by that, because that's the decision we decided on,” said Mozeliak, who hired Shildt as a scout in 2003. “These are not easy. Mike Shildt was in the Cardinal organization a long time. … This was not something that we came to quickly, it was not something that we just jumped on to, but I will say that, where we are is what we felt was in the best interest of the organization.”
Now the Cardinals are eyeing a replacement. Mozeliak said that the club has a few internal options in mind that can take over, and after letting the dust settle, he does not foresee the search extending past mid-November. Bench coach Oliver Marmol and first-base coach Stubby Clapp have ascended up the Cardinals’ coaching tree in recent years; the latter has interviewed for managerial jobs in the past.
Mozeliak did not outline any further changes to the Cardinals’ coaching staff for 2022, saying he’s “hopeful [they] will return” on top of re-signing a few on expiring contracts. Asked specifically about hitting coach Jeff Albert, Mozeliak said he will return, and added any tension between Albert and Shildt was not “the sole reason for this decision.”
“People can think on their own, people can make decisions on their own,” Mozeliak said of any sort of philosophical difference. “A lot of this is about creating autonomy, but there are certain things that we would like to see done, and ultimately touching on the point on the continuity of thinking -- it is evolving, it does change over time. But ultimately, we just felt we were at a place where we weren’t going to have a meeting of the minds.”
“One thing you'd want to make sure is everybody's on the same page,” DeWitt said.
Above all, the Cardinals will be looking for consistency, a pride point of an organization that has featured only three managers since 1996. Both Shildt and Mike Matheny were within the organization when they were hired as manager to follow Hall of Famer Tony La Russa. The Cardinals have not appeared in a World Series since 2013, last winning in 2011 -- La Russa’s final season.
Shildt becomes one of just six managers in recent history to be let go following a 90-win season, the last of which were Dusty Baker (Nationals) and Joe Girardi (Yankees) after the 2017 campaign. To hit that threshold this season, Shildt had to navigate through a slew of injuries to his roster and what was cast as a “dark” month of June, which featured a 10-17 record. The club turned it on down the stretch, putting together a franchise-record 17-game win streak in September.
The outgoing skipper was lauded publicly by his clubhouse for how he kept the club level-headed through it all. Shildt meshed a mix of veterans with MVP candidates and burgeoning young stars to guide St. Louis to its 21st winning season since the turn of the century.
“He’s been very crucial. He’s always cool, he’s always collected. It’s because he trusts what he says, what he reads, what he believes -- he trusts it all. He has a lot of confidence in it,” Harrison Bader said when the Cardinals clinched a postseason spot in late September. “Shildty means a lot to me, on and off the field. I've known him for a while. To be doing this with him, it's very special.”
St. Louis’ season ended on a walk-off home run in the National League Wild Card Game against the Dodgers eight days before Shildt was let go. The Cardinals made the playoffs in each of Shildt’s three full seasons, going as far as the NL Championship Series in 2019.
All told, the Cardinals went 252-199 (.559 winning percentage) under Shildt after he took over for Matheny in the second half of the 2018 season. With a 41-28 record as an interim manager, that tag was shed and the position became permanent before the ’19 season.
“It's an amazing accomplishment, given his story,” Mozeliak said.