ST. LOUIS – As the last-place St. Louis Cardinals fall further behind in the National League standings, one of the biggest mysteries not too far removed from this season is what happened to Mike Shildt?
Around lunchtime Tuesday, Cardinals Twitter brewed up some takes on the season and Shildt ended up trending. Shildt is currently serving as a third base coach for the San Diego Padres. He hopes to manage at the MLB level again soon, but his path leading up to it is quite unusual.
A longtime scout, minor league manager and assistant coach in the Cardinals organization, Shildt took over as manager of the big-league squad in July 2018 when the team parted ways with Mike Matheny. He then managed St. Louis to the postseason in each of his first three full seasons.
Shildt earned NL Manager of the Year honors in 2019 and fared 252-199 (.559 winning percentage) over parts of four seasons. In 2021, Shildt guided the Cardinals to a franchise-record 17-game winning streak in September, lifting a team that performed around .500 for most of the season to a NL Wild Card spot in the final week. He was also a NL Manager of the Year finalist, taking third place.
Despite that remarkable run, Shildt wouldn’t serve as Cardinals skipper much longer. He managed his final game on Oct. 6, 2021, a walkoff loss in a winner-take-all NL Wild Card Game. Shildt was fired eight days later over what Cardinals POBO John Mozeliak called “philosophical differences.”
Days later, Shildt told FOX 2 and others the decision caught him off-guard. He had one year remaining on his first MLB managerial contract. Withholding some tears in a discussion with media members, Shildt said he was “at peace” after the tough situation, but did not elaborate more on why the Cardinals dismissed him.
Shildt, now 58 years old, joined the Padres staff later in the offseason. Ahead of the 2022 season, he provided some new insight to USA Today baseball reporter Bob Nightengale. That included several thought-provoking comments, such as:
“I have a broken heart. It still hurts. It hurts bad. When it first happened, I broke down. I was inconsolable. I got better as time went on. Then I got down here, put on the Padres uniform, and it hit me.”
“I was getting on the phone [on Oct. 14] with the thought it was going to be about a contract extension. I had one more year on my contract. So I was looking at some of the numbers of the last three years, feeling good about them, and then Mo started talking. … [Mozeliak said], ‘Mike, this conversation isn’t going to go the way you think it’s going to go.’’’
“There were just some things that I felt could be better, and I thought I was in a safe place to share them. Clearly, I wasn’t.’’
“I love that organization, gave it everything I had for 18 years. … We get back to the standards of the Cardinals. … And you get removed from it. … It feels like it was stolen away from me.”
The Cardinals promoted Oli Marmol to manager shortly after firing Shildt. Marmol, who served as an assistant coach with Shildt, managed the team to a 93-69 record and an NL Central crown in his first season, though it ended with a two-game Wild Card Round sweep.
St. Louis has had a tough time finding its rhythm since then. The Cardinals lost eight consecutive games from late-April to early-May, currently carry a five-game losing streak and stand at an NL-worst 25-37 record.
Marmol has taken heat for several comments and decisions throughout the season, including his questioning of Tyler O’Neill’s baserunning efforts, the big-league development of young outfielder Jordan Walker and indecisiveness on the role of new Cardinals veteran Willson Contreras.
All of this and more was explained Tuesday by FOX Sports MLB analyst Ben Verlander, who says the Cardinals current standard of play is unacceptable and links some of the team’s downfall to parting ways with Shildt.
“Are you kidding me? He was fired for not being a puppet for the organization down on the field,” claimed Verlander when revisiting the “philosophical differences” comments from Mozeliak.
Shildt, prior to managing St. Louis, also had experience as a manager for Double-A and Triple-A affiliates of the Cardinals, in addition to roles as a third-base coach, hitting coach, bench coach and quality control coach throughout the years. His .559 winning percentage with the Cardinals is ninth best among managers with at least 200 games under the helm and best of any Cardinals manager with at least 400 games in a half-century.
The Shildt-less Cardinals wrap up a road series with the Texas Rangers on Wednesday, then return home Friday for a series with the Cincinnati Reds.