photo: Jose Oquendo and Tony La Russa (Scott Rovak/USA TODAY Sports)
With all the recent focus on the St. Louis Cardinals seeking a new manager who will align with the organization’s philosophical direction, Lou Roesch reminds us that the new man would be well served by some old school skills, too.
The St. Louis Cardinals are in the midst of a managerial search, a process both uncommon and stressful for diehard fans. By accounts, the list may be narrowed down to four or five candidates, with several current Cardinals coaches possibly in the lead.
The new manager clearly needs to better align with the organization’s philosophical direction than did ousted skipper Mike Shildt. However, along with the new wave of managerial tools that must be in his box, the next manager would also be well served if he utilizes time-tested skills developed by a quartet of successful old school managers.
One thing about the Cardinals about which fans can rest easy is that the front office is diligent and thorough. There is no rush to hire which explains why managers in the organization exceed the average lifespan of most Major League managers. MLB managers as a whole come and go more often than not in less time than it takes to develop a player in the minor leagues. The longevity of a manager in Major League Baseball is currently 3.7 years, also very close to Shildt’s tenure.
Over the last 25 years, the Cardinals have been the exception to the rule, hiring just three managers. They seem to have a sense of hiring the right person at the right time. Prior to Shildt’s three plus seasons was Mike Matheny 5 ½ seasons at the helm. Tony La Russa was in the chair for 16 seasons.
In fact, since Whitey Herzog arrived at Busch Stadium in 1980, the Cardinals have had just seven managers and only Mike Jorgensen, who finished out the 1995 season for Joe Torre, lasted less than three seasons.
Compare that to the Pittsburgh Pirates. They have held managerial searches six times in the last 20 years alone. There seems little doubt that with their track record, the Cardinals front office will uncover another long-term manager. Rather than try to guess who St. Louis might hire by name, the better question might be this: “What characteristics should the next manager have in his arsenal?”
Here is my wish list.
First, I would like him to have the genius of Whitey Herzog. “Whitey Ball” as it was known was really a throwback to the Deadball Era of baseball. Before the longball became the thing that “chicks dig,” the strategy of baseball was to be fundamentally sound. You had to be able to run, throw and hit ’em where they ain’t. Herzog had the uncanny ability to not only accentuate his player’s strengths but to know the opportune moment to use those skills. His Cardinals teams were known for their ability to hit the ball into the gaps, excellence on the basepaths and clean fielding. That kind of approach is needed in the next manager.
Second, I want the combined brilliance of Earl Weaver and Sparky Anderson. Both were minds who knew how to create advantages both in the batter’s box and on the mound.
Weaver, a St. Louis native and seven-year Cardinals minor leaguer, is credited with bringing pitching match-ups to the forefront of baseball. Prior to this, starters hurled nine innings on a regular basis. Seldom was there a call to the bullpen back in the day. It was pitch and pitch well or pitch and get knocked around. The mindset of a strong bullpen and the beginning of sabermetrics began with Weaver. The legendary Orioles manager had cards on every pitcher on his team and what they did against certain hitters as well as how his players performed against opposing pitchers. It was the beginning of the way we know modern baseball. He is also credited with the use of the radar gun to determine if his pitchers were beginning to lose it. Like Weaver, the next manager needs the foresight to find the next edge, whatever it may be.
The future Cardinals manager should also have Anderson’s uncanny ability to pull a pitcher at just the right moment. Though Sparky’s success began with Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine, he interned as a manager in the Cardinals farm system. Not many will remember “Captain Hook” removing a pitcher one pitch too late. After all, with relievers like Rob Dibble, Norm Charlton and Randy Myers in the bullpen, the decisions weren’t as difficult to make.
Like the current Cardinals, Anderson did not have great starting pitching. There wasn’t a Bob Gibson or a Sandy Koufax or a Randy Johnson in the Big Red Machine’s rotation that he could count on. Although today’s Cardinals hurlers include some good arms, they have no GREAT ones. However, they do have some pretty good options in the pen. The next manager needs to have the finesse of Sparky when it comes to managing a pitching staff.
Finally, I want the next Cardinals skipper to have the strategizing ability of Tony La Russa – relentless and intellectually risky. La Russa had these talents and its why his legacy can be measured in the Win column. Few are willing to take the risk of being different. For example, who thought it was a smart, tactical move to bat the pitcher eighth instead of the traditional ninth spot? La Russa did. Whoever thought that Dennis Eckersley would go from being a pretty good starter to being a lights out Hall of Fame closer? La Russa did. The next head man in the dugout in St. Louis needs to able to make these kinds of decisions.
Whoever John Mozeliak and his search team settle upon, he must be smart and intellectually risky in addition to being able to motivate, inspire and get the most out of each player. La Russa had some great players in St. Louis, and he melded those personalities into a single mission; Win and win now. Like La Russa, the next St. Louis manager has some great players to work with and it is time to create that “win and win now” attitude one more time.
La Russa wasn’t afraid to take a chance on a player. Albert Pujols was one – having been drafted in the middle rounds and with limited minor league experience. But Albert did everything in 2001 spring training that La Russa asked and then some, allowing the Cardinals manager to take a chance. The calculated risk paid off in the emergence of one of the greatest players to ever wear the Birds on the Bat. The next manager needs to be willing to do the same – provide the moment for a younger player to take the place of an aging veteran without a second thought.
It’s never easy trying to locate the right man for the right job at the right moment, but the Cardinals are one of the teams that consistently are able to do just that. Finding a manager who checks all the boxes on this old-school wish list while possessing the new tools the organization desires won’t be easy, but if anyone can do it, it’s the St. Louis Cardinals.
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