Why Is Shildt Gone?

Wild speculation about what could have caused such a breach

First off, sorry for the lack of posts down the stretch. Life got busy plus they weren’t winning when I was writing series previews and, baseball being baseball, you hate to tamper with what’s working.

As everyone knows, the Cardinals out of the blue fired manager Mike Shildt on Thursday, citing “philosophical differences”. However, you don’t get rid of a man that has been in the organization for 18 years, steeped in The Cardinal Way to the point that he codified it, with a winning record and three straight playoff appearances because you like chocolate and he likes strawberry. Whatever these differences are, they were extreme and sudden.

We don’t have much idea what those differences were, however. Shildt was classy enough (as expected) to not go scorched earth on the organization in his remarks Monday, limiting himself to just thanking most everyone he’d ever come into contact with while wearing a Cardinal uniform. There have been, as Paul Simon would say, “hints and allegations” but nothing very concrete.

So why is Mike Shildt now home in North Carolina answering phone calls instead of making arrangements for Jupiter?

Let’s do some speculating. And, to be clear, that’s all this is, me pondering out loud (if beating on a keyboard counts as out loud) about what might have come about.

First off, we know that, thanks to Ben Fredrickson’s question in the press conference on Thursday, at least a portion of the reasoning behind the move was the tension between Shildt and hitting coach Jeff Albert. As I wrote in my post yesterday at the main site, the fact that Albert is in charge of an entire organization’s hitting philosophy, not just a coach on the major league staff, makes it much harder to uproot him. If it did come down to the two of them, and I don’t believe it truly did but for argument’s sake, it would be easier to find a manager to plug in than to undo a philosophy.

It could have come down to Shildt saying “me or him” but I think, if that was the case, Shildt wouldn’t have been completely shocked at his firing as all accounts indicate he was. If you put that out there, you have to know there’s at least a chance they’ll take you up on it. Disappointed, yes, maybe even somewhat surprised, but not shocked. So whatever this issue was, it wasn’t any sort of ultimatum from the manager that led to the final decision.

There has been speculation that Shildt, believing that Albert’s approach was not working, encouraged the players to ignore those teachings, ignore those analytics, and just be themselves down the stretch. That sort of insubordination would fit with the quickness of the firing as well as the lack of pleasantries in the final press release. It could also fit in with Shildt’s comments about putting the organization even ahead of his own career.

Part of me thinks that any differences between Shildt and Albert, before they rose to this sort of level, would have come to John Mozeliak’s attention much earlier than a few months ago, when it seems like this rift truly started. Then again, in 2019 Shildt is new in the job and perhaps didn’t want to ruffle any feathers, along with also maybe giving it some time to grow on him. 2020, there were way more important and pressing things to discuss than any coaching situation. Which would leave us 2021.

This is probably the most likely explanation, though I still don’t fully see Shildt being that active in sabotaging the plan of the front office. Mozeliak said in the press conference that information had come to him recently, which made it sound like some sort of documented proof of whatever the issue was. Perhaps a player talked about it with Mo before they went home for the winter, perhaps a coach couldn’t countenance this obstruction any more.

There’s also been talk about losing traditions and the like, which would seem to come from the Shildt side of things. We saw the Chris Carpenter to the Angels news soon after that, which tends to lend some credence to the idea that Shildt saw the traditions of the institution crumbling. However, I can’t see that being an issue that was worth removing the manager for. Even if Shildt went off on one of his profanity-laden tirades at Mo over it, it seems like that’s something both sides step back away from and let cool down.

Of course, if there were other issues already on the “change managers” side of the scale, a rant might have been the last thing to tip it. There was more than one factor that went into this decision and a out-and-out blowup might have been enough for Mo and company to say, “You know what, we don’t need this.”

There’s also the possibility that Shildt suggested an extension and the Cardinals, perhaps already eyeing Ollie Marmol, would have rather played it out and seen how things went in 2022. Though, again, if Shildt had a problem with that then he wouldn’t have been very shocked to see his contract terminated since he knew they already had someone in mind. It could be that he thought they had come to an understanding to let him serve out the last year of his contract, I guess, but I’m not sure how much I like this idea. It might, if you want to read into things, be why he was so effusive in his praise of Marmol in his statement, subtly giving him permission for the job. Then again, it’s not like he doesn’t have Marmol’s number and there doesn’t seem to be any reason to believe there was a rift between those two.

I also wonder if Shildt raised some human relations issues that may have rubbed the front office the wrong way. While perhaps not unjustified, the club was fairly punitive in releasing Daniel Ponce de Leon in the middle of the winning streak just to bring up a marginal reliever who didn’t actually pitch before being sent back down. (All respect to Brandon Waddell, Patron Pitcher TNG.) The club also soured on Kwang Hyun Kim, it seemed like, and his movement from the rotation to the bullpen was not done adeptly and seemed to cause some irritation and frustration. Whether that was on Shildt’s part or the front office is unknown, but I don’t think it is out of the realm of possibility that Mozeliak and company dictated that move and left Shildt to implement it.

What I can’t shake is the lack of, civility is probably the wrong word, maybe courtesy, in the press release. There were glowing remarks made when Mike Matheny was fired, all about his dedication to the organization, etc. Yet when Shildt, a career Cardinal man, is let go there is no acknowledgement of his service, no appreciate for what he had done as a member of the organization. It’s no wonder Jeff Passan had to ask the question we all were asking, whether this was a baseball decision or not. Mozeliak affirmed that it was, but frankly some sort of terrible revelation about Shildt (while very, very out of character) is about the only way that press release seems appropriate.

There are other possibilities, of course. Maybe Shildt protested about a lack of spending planned for the coming offseason, but he’s also been someone that appreciates the minor leagues and knows what the players coming up can do. I don’t think that would be a fireable discussion. Shildt’s always been at least comfortable with analytics and even if he had a disagreement with how they were being used, I can’t believe it would come to such a place where the front office would think to fire him, at least not without it being apparent to Shildt that could happen.

I imagine that, as we see who the new manager is and as the media continues to dig on this story, we’ll get a better picture of what may have really happened. I’m not sure all the pieces are out there right now. I still think there’s something more that needs to be discovered to make how this happened make sense. I look forward to seeing what the researching and reporting comes up with!