By Rob Rains
Anybody who expects Mike Shildt to suddenly change because the interim tag was dropped from his title as the Cardinals’ manager on Tuesday need only one story to realize that probably is not going to happen.
Shildt said he expects to show up next year driving the same car he has had since 2010, when he bought a used 2006 Toyota Tundra. It had about 65,000 miles on it then, about 150,000 now.
As long as it is running fine, Shildt said, he sees no reason to change – which is also the philosophy shared by Bill DeWitt and John Mozeliak about why they want Shildt to remain as the Cardinals’ manager, giving him a contract that runs through the 2020 season.
Just 46 days and 38 games after he was named the interim manager when Mike Matheny was fired on July 14, Shildt received the news about his new deal in a telephone call from Mozeliak, the team’s president of baseball operations.
After making a few phone calls of his own, including first to longtime friend and Cardinal mentor Mark DeJohn, then to his mother and a few others so they could hear the news before it was released publicly, Shildt went back to what he has done since getting the job – preparing for the next game.
It’s what he did when he began managing in rookie ball in 2009, what he did during his years at Double A Springfield and Triple A Memphis, an 8-year audition that led to his promotion to the major-league coaching staff last year and his ascension to becoming the 50th manager in franchise history.
The knowledge that Shildt had directed the turnaround of the team’s performance the last six weeks, going 26-12 before Tuesday night’s game against the Pirates, was “everything we could have hoped for,” DeWitt said and made it an easy decision to drop the interim part of Shildt’s title now rather than wait until the end of the season and perhaps consider other candidates.
“We’re convinced he will do a great job as a full-time manager.” DeWitt said.
Mozeliak did some “due diligence” on what the managerial market might look like at the end of the season, but as he watched Shildt the last six weeks, he thought he already had the team’s next full-time manager in place.
“For us, we just felt like we could not do better,” Mozeliak said. “Mike has shown clearly the relationship he has with our players and coaching staff as well as the front office and ownership, it just made this a very seamless transition and one that we didn’t agonize too much over because we had a lot of confidence in him taking it over.”
Mozeliak thought back to the day in 2003 when he hired Shildt as an area scout for North Carolina, his entry to the organization that saw him then become a coach, a manager and a big-league coach, gradually working his way up through the ranks.
“To see the journey that he has been on is quite remarkable,” Mozeliak said. “You think about people that begin their career in this game. Shildty came to me a couple of years into his scouting career and asked if we would entertain putting him in uniform. My first thought was ‘hmm, I’m not sure that’s a great idea.’ He challenged me, be pushed for it.
“When you think back over that time, how much he has grown, how much he has learned … He’s had great mentors in this game, relying on people like George Kissell, Tony LaRussa and Mark DeJohn. All of these people helped shape him. It’s an enormous amount of pride of having someone come up through your organization and rise to this level; it’s something that I just think is remarkable and special.”
Mozeliak said Shildt had the universal endorsement of the team’s coaches and players, which also influenced the timing of removing the interim tag as the Cardinals head into September pushing toward a playoff spot.
“It made sense to do it now because everything is going well but more importantly the momentum behind our players and our staff,” Mozeliak said. “It’s a tremendous story but I hope the next chapter is even better.”
While Mozeliak had identified Shildt as a managerial candidate years ago, Shildt said it wasn’t until after he managed in the Arizona Fall League after the 2014 season and then was promoted to Triple A Memphis that he really gave the idea any thought, calling it “fleeting” and then getting back to his day to day responsibilities.
A baseball lifer whose first job in the game as a youngster was returning balls hit out of the stadium in Charlotte, where his mother worked in the team’s front office, Shildt said he has tried to prove himself every day he has been in baseball, no matter what the job title was at the time.
“How we go about and compete, that doesn’t change.” Shildt said. “Day to day it’s about giving the best effort and getting the players to give their best effort on the field and putting a product together that Cardinals fans can be proud of.
“It’s about taking care of business on a daily basis.”
Shildt’s years in the organization certainly were a factor in the decision, Mozeliak said.
“Having the knowledge of our system is very valuable,” Mozeliak said “To have someone who has learned from a lot of people we speak highly of in the past obviously is a strength of Mike’s. When you are starting from scratch and just learning to do the job that he’s ended up doing, it’s quite impressive on how he went about doing it.
“You always hear people talk about leadership and who’s good at it and why. Shildty is someone who listens more than he speaks. He’s someone who observes more than acts. He’s someone who understands the nuances of this game.
“We don’t have to spend time having our new manager learning what the product is all about. He knows that and he also knows the weaknesses of that and where we need to improve.”
Mozeliak said Shildt never approached him about removing the interim part of his title or asking when the two could talk about that decision.
“When I called him yesterday I think he was probably as surprised as anyone and I was surprised because I thought maybe he would expect it,” Mozeliak said. “It’s really to his point that he understands the day to day, he understands what the job is. I don’t think how he approached today would have been any different had we not made this move.”
At the time Shildt was named the interim manager. the Cardinals also promoted Pop Warner, Mark Budaska and George Greet from roles in the minor leagues to the coaching staff. Mozeliak said a decision on whether they will return next year will be made after the season but praised their efforts since the promotions.
“Clearly everybody that’s up here right now is making a positive impact,” Mozeliak said. “I can’t imagine making any radical changes.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains