The Cardinals surprised the baseball world when they parted ways with manager Mike Shildt on Thursday, and speculation has only grown about the situation in the subsequent days. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak cited “philosophical differences” as the reason for the firing, declining to discuss specifics and instead telling reporters (including The Athletic’s Katie Woo) that “where we felt the team was going, we were struggling to get on the same page. We just decided internally that it would just be best to separate now and then take a fresh look as we enter the new season.”
According to Woo, tensions began to grow between Mozeliak and Shildt around midseason, when the Cardinals were still hanging around the NL Central race but struggling to stay above .500. Other factors contributing to the rift may have included the Cardinals’ lack of major moves at the trade deadline, the front office’s desire to incorporate more analytics into the team’s day-to-day operations, and “growing controversy between Shildt and his coaching staff over his leadership tactics and communication.”
Shildt will release his first public statement about his firing tomorrow, though he did send a text message to Woo discussing some of these reported issues. There is “no merit” to the idea of discord with the coaches, Shildt said, though as for the other factors cited, “There is merit (to those factors) but not the entire picture.”
Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch adds another possible factor to the list, perhaps based around how “The Cardinal Way” has long been a backbone of the organization’s practices. “Internally, there had been concern about the absence and ongoing leak of Cardinals-rooted presences,” Goold writes, with some internal dismay over what one source described as “losing tradition” to other clubs.
This stance does seem curious in regards to a managerial change, however, considering that Shildt was himself a longstanding member of the organization. Shildt was first hired by the Cards as a scout in 2004, and he worked his way up the ladder with various minor league managerial and coaching roles before joining the big league coaching staff in 2017, and then becoming interim manager partway through the 2018 season.
As shocking as Thursday’s firing seemed, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney tweeted that rival officials had heard around the middle of August that Shildt’s job could be in jeopardy. St. Louis was still only one game over .500 (69-68) as late as September 7, and though at that point, the Cardinals caught fire. A team-record 17-game winning streak fueled a 21-4 run over the remainder of the regular season, earning the Cards a berth in the NL wild card game. Late-season surges were a common theme in all of Shildt’s three-plus seasons as manager, beginning when the Cardinals went 41-28 after his hiring in 2018.
Coaches and veteran Cardinals players declined comment to Goold about the Shildt firing, though Yadier Molina did speak to reporters in Puerto Rico yesterday, saying the news “took me by surprise…We had very good communication. We went to the playoffs three times in four years. Maybe there was some problem between him and the management. I can’t give you reasons, but from what I know inside the clubhouse, there wasn’t any kind of problem.”