photo: Mike Shildt and media (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)
Our countdown of the St. Louis Cardinals top 10 stories of 2018 continues with the second half of the big story on July 15 – the naming of Mike Shildt as the acting manager of the Cardinals, replacing fired Mike Matheny. At the time, the third-place Cards were one game above .500, closer to last place than first in the National League Central Division.
The Matheny story is yet to come in this series, with the focus here on his bench coach promoted into the job for which he had been groomed over the prior 15 years. Just in his prior year and a half on the major league staff, Shildt had moved from quality control coach to third base coach to bench coach and then, to the top spot.
The 50-year old native of North Carolina scouted and coached prior to managing eight seasons in the Cardinals farm system. His clubs won championships in 2010 and 2011 with Johnson City of the rookie Appalachian League and in 2012 with Springfield of the Texas League (Double-A) before he managed Memphis of the Pacific Coast League (Triple-A) in 2015 and 2016. He was the 2010 winner of the George Kissell Award, the organization’s highest player development honor.
As the interim manager, Shildt was being paid on a pro-rated basis of a $700,000 per year salary, according to a USA TODAY report.
Whether it was the addition of Shildt and hitting coaches George Greer and Mark Budaska, the subtraction of the others who were fired and traded or a pleasant coincidence, the Cardinals players almost immediately responded with their best baseball of the season.
On August 28, with the Cardinals’ record under Shildt at 26-12 and the club leading the National League wild card race, the team removed the interim tag, giving him a two-year contract through 2020.
I was surprised, not by the act, but its timing. I wrote at the time that I could think of no significant reason to make the decision then versus waiting until after the season concluded. It wasn’t as if there was any fear of flight – Shildt certainly wasn’t going anywhere.
The speed in making the call after just 38 games and a month remaining in the season also seemed quite a contrast with how the same decision makers handled Matheny. They seemed slow to move on from the 6 1/2-year skipper, sticking with him longer than many felt was appropriate.
Even if there was a halo effect from the first Shildt announcement, it did not follow from the second. From the time of the extension through the end of the regular season, the Cardinals fell back to earth with a thud, missing out on the division crown and the two wild cards entirely.
From the August 28 announcement on, the team limped home with a 15-16 record.
Having said that, one cannot specifically pin the September swoon on the manager any more than he should be given full credit for the July-August burst. Extending Shildt into the permanent job would have almost certainly been a done deal after the season, anyway.
Looking ahead, Shildt and his staff, including new coaches Jeff Albert and Stubby Clapp, but without guru Jose Oquendo, will have invested a full winter and spring preparing for a 2019 season that will be all their own.
The Cardinal Nation’s top 10 stories of the year countdown
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