On Thursday afternoon the St. Louis Cardinals announced that they had fired their manager Mike Shildt. He had just led the Cardinals to a playoff appearance, a 17-game winning streak down the stretch to blow past the rest of the National League wild card contenders in September as they finished 90-72. The Cincinnati Reds were one of those teams that the Cardinals flew past down the stretch as they collapsed and finished 83-79 on the year.
Unlike the Cardinals, the Reds didn’t make the playoffs. And unlike the Cardinals, the Reds are choosing to stick with their manager. With less than two weeks remaining in the season it was announced that the team was extending David Bell for two years.
On the surface a lot of people will read this (and have) as the Cardinals having a “this isn’t good enough” ideology and the Reds having a “simply competing for a while during the season is good enough” ideology. And if this particular writer is being honest, it makes sense to take that stance. There’s a whole lot of circumstantial evidence that backs that up over the last two decades.
With that said, that same particular writer doesn’t think that’s what is happening here – in either situation. Here’s what St. Louis Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak had to say about why Mike Shildt was fired with a year remaining on his contract:
“After a successful 2021 season, we have determined that we have a philosophical difference in the direction our major league club is going. We have decided, at this time, that it is best for us to end our partnership with Mike Shildt,” Mozeliak said on Thursday afternoon.
That has a very different feeling from what the Reds were saying about David Bell when he was extended three weeks ago. Here’s what Cincinnati General Manager Nick Krall said at the time:
“We’ve got a guy in the spot who knows how to run a major league clubhouse and dugout, and we feel he’s the right guy moving forward.”
From my seat, 43,000 feet and change from Great American Ball Park, it seems pretty clear that despite better results on the field in one organization than in the other, that the Cardinals don’t like what their manager is doing and that the Cincinnati Reds front office does like what their manager is doing.
The Cardinals front office seems to believe in their players and believe that another manager will get more from them. And they don’t believe that they can talk Mike Shildt into doing what they believe will get those better results.
“I could tell you to jump out of your car right now and you may choose not to,” said Mozeliak when asked why the front office couldn’t dictate to Shildt the philosophy the organization wanted him to move towards.
Whatever the philosophy is that the Cardinals front office has, it seems very clear that Mike Shildt has a different one. One that the two sides simply couldn’t overcome even though the team performed quite well under Shildt, who went 252-199 (.559) in parts of four seasons with the Cardinals.
The Reds have not had that kind of success under David Bell. His best winning percentage with the Reds was .517 during the 2020 season. That was the lowest winning percentage that Mike Shildt had in any of his 4 seasons with the Cardinals. But it also seems quite clear that the front office and David Bell are on the same page when it comes to what the plan from the top down happens to be.
The big question that should be asked in St. Louis right now is why it took parts of four seasons for the Cardinals front office to realize that their philosophy was so different from that of their manager’s philosophy. How did they go so long without that understanding?
On one hand it may suggest that there’s some problems going on in St. Louis. There were rumors within the last month that the team may be up for sale (the ownership group has since publicly denied this). Now they have fired their manager who just took them to the playoffs on the back of an incredible late-season run who has never had a losing record and still had a year left on his contract.
On the flip side, despite those things and at least some disconnect between the front office and the field management, the Cardinals have been very good. Cincinnati has been solid under David Bell. The 2021 season saw the team finish above .500 for the second year in a row. And that came in a season that saw plenty go wrong in terms of player injuries as Tejay Antone, Lucas Sims, Michael Lorenzen, Joey Votto, Mike Moustakas, Nick Senzel, and Jesse Winker all missed time – and some of them significant time with injuries. With some better luck in the health department perhaps things could have gone a little bit differently. And perhaps that is a bit of where the Reds front office is coming from with regards to Bell and the on-field record mattering a little bit less.