The Cardinals fired former National League manager of the year Mike Shildt over organizational differences just one week after St. Louis lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers on a walk-off homer in the wild-card game.
Cardinals president John Mozeliak said the firing was “something that popped up recently,” but he refused to expand on what he called “philosophical differences” between Shildt, the coaching staff and the front office.
“All I can say is where we felt the team was going, we were struggling to get on the same page,” Mozeliak said. “With him having one year remaining on his contract, we could have gone into 2022 having that over him and we just decided that internally it would be best to separate now and take a fresh look as we head into a new season.”
It is exceptionally rare for clubs to fire managers the same day as a playoff game – the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants played the decisive game in their divisional series late Thursday. But Mozeliak and Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. decided that it was important enough to seek permission from Major League Baseball to make the move immediately.
Mozeliak declined to discuss possible replacements, but he did say there are plenty of internal candidates. He said the coaches who remain under contract are expected to return next season.
“As I said before, 2021 was a real success and something that for all of us that were part of the organization, we take tremendous pride in,” Mozeliak said. “Any time you go on a 17-game winning streak and actually create history for your organization, it’s something you take enormous pride in. A lot of times these decisions aren’t based just on the season, more to the point it’s directionally where we want to go.”
Mozeliak met with Shildt and the rest of the coaching staff Friday, but the two did not meet again until Mozeliak informed Shildt of his firing. When asked about the manager’s response, Mozeliak replied: “He was very shocked.”
“I’m not going to get into who I spoke with or the details of how I got to this decision,” Mozeliak said.
Mozeliak actually hired Shildt as a scout in 2003, beginning his long rise through the closely knit organization. Shildt soon switched to player development and worked his way through various levels of the minor league system.
He was chosen to replace current Royals manager Mike Matheny on an interim basis in August 2018, then took over the permanent job the following season. The Cardinals won 91 games that season, earning Shildt the NL manager of the year, and advanced to the NL Championship Series before getting swept by the Nationals.
The Cardinals went 30-28 during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, losing to the Padres in a first-round series, before riding that franchise-record 17-game streak to reach the wild-card game again this season.
Shildt’s record of 255-199 gave him a winning percentage better than such luminaries as Branch Rickey and Tony La Russa.
“I think Mo said it well: This is based on differences between Mo and his group and the manager, and you know, it didn’t have anything to do with this year,” DeWitt said. “I value continuity, but I value continuity if we’re continuing to head in the right direction. This is a decision that everyone bought into and that’s kind of how it played out.”
Indeed, the Cardinals are considered one of the most stable clubs in baseball. Whether Miller Huggins and Rickey in their early days, Red Shoendienst and Whitey Herzog during the 1970s and `80s, or La Russa in more recent years, the club has always prioritized continuity within its management structure.
It helps that they have had so much success over the years.
Since the hiring of La Russa in 1996, the Cardinals have made the playoffs 16 times with four trips to the World Series and two championships, driving their total to 11 in all – behind only the Yankees for the most in big league history.
Now, it will be up to someone else in the manager’s office to carry that prosperity forward.
“You know, there’s reasons behind what we do,” Mozeliak said. “What direction we’re trying to go with is something we tend to keep private anyway, but just the overall health of this club – we feel very optimistic as we look at 2022, and we just felt like the leadership downstairs needed to be on the same page.”