Cardinals fans aren’t as patient as their reputation suggests, and team president of baseball operations John Mozeliak admitted to me last winter he was feeling more pressure than in past years.
“I definitely feel it a little more than (I) might normally,” he said. “I always say about St. Louis, it’s a Midwest city, but they demand winning.”
The Cardinals didn’t meet that demand in the first half of 2018, and after Saturday’s loss to the Reds left them one game over .500, Mozeliak finally made the decision to pull the plug on manager Mike Matheny and two of his coaches.
Matheny, hitting coach John Mabry and assistant hitting coach Bill Mueller were canned in a late-night sacking that shook the baseball world. Bench coach Mike Shildt replaced Matheny, who took over with departing manager Tony La Russa’s blessing in 2011 and took the Cardinals to four consecutive postseasons — though none since 2015.
Mozeliak said in a news release he “felt a change in leadership was necessary” and thanked Matheny for “many fond memories of our years working together.”
Presumably those fond memories didn’t include the recent controversies in which Mozeliak questioned Dexter Fowler’s work ethic and Matheny admitted he used reliever Bud Norris to police the clubhouse and report back to him.
Fair or not, the impression of clubhouse chaos spread like wildfire in the last few weeks, culminating in Matheny’s dismissal.
The latest episode involving Norris and Matheny brought to mind the favorite saying of former Cubs pitcher Carlos Villanueva: “Snitches get stitches.” The Athletic reported that Norris gave Matheny details on which players were not living up to the team’s standards of decor.
“I get regular updates,” Matheny told reporter Mark Saxon. “But that’s good. I invited him into that. We need leadership with each subculture of the team, including the bullpen, and he’s keeping an eye. He’s a stickler for what we established early on.”
The article focused on Norris’ badgering of rookie reliever Jordan Hicks, who clearly was not thrilled with being singled out.
You might remember Norris from his 2015 criticism of non-American players playing the game with a flair when he pitched for the Padres.
“If you’re going to come into our country and make our American dollars, you need to respect a game that has been here for more than 100 years, and I think sometimes that can be misconstrued,” Norris said. “There are some players who have antics, who have done things over the years that we don’t necessarily agree with.”
Matheny apparently enjoyed having Norris as a one-man police force and complained “the game has progressively gotten a little softer” over the years.
“Man, it had some teeth not that long ago,” Matheny said.
Contrast that attitude with the Cubs clubhouse, in which manager Joe Maddon promotes a culture of inclusiveness in which rookies and veterans are treated the same.
Whether Norris’ info-gathering is appropriate or not, the Cardinals surely didn’t need another controversy after Mozeliak’s recent questioning of Fowler’s “energy and effort.” Fowler, in Chicago last week to play the White Sox, admitted playing under Maddon provided a more “laid-back” atmosphere than in St. Louis.
The combination of controversy and losing took its toll. When Cardinals first baseman Matt Carpenter said in May that this might be the best team he had played on, Matheny said: “I couldn’t agree more. I’m glad he’s thinking that, and I hope every single one of those guys is thinking that. Because this could be one of the best teams I’ve ever been around.”
If that was the case, something was missing. Mozeliak’s move suggests it was the right leader.
The Cardinals will have many options, though former Yankees manager Joe Girardi — once a Cardinals player and a friend of Mozeliak — seems like the logical choice and already was being mentioned on Twitter.
Man of the hour: Every All-Star Game seems to focus on one individual, such as David Ortiz in 2016 in San Diego or Aaron Judge last year in Miami. This year’s spotlight in Washington figures to be on the Nationals’ Bryce Harper, who everyone suspects is leaving for greener pastures at the end of the season.
Several reporters queried Harper last year on whether he would fit in with the teams they cover, and it should only multiply next week.
“Every day people are picking apart his words,” Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle told the Washington Post. “People are trying to interpret them to fit a narrative they already have in their mind — or they’re trying to think, ‘Did he just drop a hint as to free agency?’ Even though he does play with that fire and that intensity, he’s a pretty quiet person.”
Actually, Harper asked for the speculation by trolling the media with his Instagram account, hinting he would play alongside the Cubs’ Kris Bryant someday. Naturally, the post went viral.
Teammate Ryan Zimmerman told the Post that Harper is “sort of the first of the newer generation” and can’t be blamed for being misunderstood.
“Whether you like it or not, you’re put out there since age 12,” Zimmerman said. “You don’t have much choice with all the media and social media.”
No one knew who Harper was when he was 12, except perhaps someone watching him play on traveling teams from his hometown in Las Vegas. This attempt by his teammates to make him seem like an innocent victim of the media is off base.
Harper invites speculation and no doubt will add to it this week.
End of the streak: Entering the final weekend of the first half, only nine players had played in every game.
Unfortunately for Alcides Escobar, he was not one of them.
The Royals shortstop had the longest active consecutive-games streak at 421 until manager Ned Yost decided to give him a day off last week.
Last year when I spoke to Escobar about the streak, he said he was happy to be the current leader and wanted to play “as many games as I can.” But Yost looked at his sub-.200 average and assumed a day of rest was best. The last time Escobar had missed a game was Sept. 25, 2015, and that was only because Yost rested all of his starters the day after the Royals clinched the division.
The new leader? Padres infielder Freddy Galvis, who was at 259 entering the weekend series against the Cubs.
Most players no longer value playing in all 162 games, and managers think it’s counterproductive.
Former Cubs great Billy Williams, who once played in 1,117 consecutive games — at the time the National League record — told me last year players never wanted to come out of the lineup back in the day.
“You had eight teams in the league, and when you first come to the big leagues, you’re concerned about being ‘Wally Pipped,’ so you play every day,” Williams said. “That’s something I tell my grandson: ‘Don’t be no Wally Pipp. Don’t let nobody take your job.’”
Lou Gehrig replaced the Yankees’ Pipp at first base in 1925 to begin his legendary 2,130-game streak. While Cal Ripken Jr. eventually broke the record, being “Wally Pipped” remains part of the baseball lexicon.
Yankees: With Greg Bird’s grand slam Wednesday, they broke Mariners’ 1999 record of 151 home runs before the break. Yankees entered weekend with 157 homers.
Chris Sale: After striking out 12 vs. Rangers in his 200th career start, Red Sox left-hander has MLB-record 1,628 as a starter at 200 mark. Pedro Martinez ranks second with 1,600.
Blake Treinen: Acquired from Nationals last summer in Sean Doolittle deal, A’s closer led all relievers with 0.98 ERA in 36 appearances.
Yoshihisa Hirano: After allowing one run in 29 games for an 0.36 ERA, Diamondbacks reliever yields four runs in a third of an inning in 19-2 loss to Rockies.
Jason Hammel: Former Cubs starter hits hard times with Royals. Demoted to bullpen on rebuilding club with 2-11 record and 6.21 ERA.
Marlins: Crowd of 5,265 for Brewers game Wednesday was smallest ever at Marlins Park, which opened in 2012. CEO Derek Jeter has his work cut out for him.
The Orioles’ Buck Showalter on Wednesday became the 22nd person to manage 3,000 major-league games. The top five active managers (through Thursday):
Bruce Bochy, 3,803
Mike Scioscia, 3,010
Buck Showalter, 3,001
Terry Francona, 2,844
Clint Hurdle, 2,386
Blue Jays infielder Yangervis Solarte had grounded into 18 double plays entering the weekend. Jim Rice holds the single-season record of 36, set in 1984. Rice is also second with 35 in ’85. The career leader is Albert Pujols with 372, followed by Cal Ripken Jr. (350) and Ivan Rodriguez (337).