By Rob Rains
As John Mozeliak watched Oli Marmol rise through the ranks in the Cardinals system over the last decade, he expected a day to come when Marmol would become a manager in the major leagues.
That was always Marmol’s goal too – but two weeks ago, neither of them would have predicted that Monday would be the day when it actually happened.
The sudden turn of events that resulted in Mike Shildt being fired 11 days ago changed that timeline, however, and resulted in Marmol being introduced as the Cardinals’ manager, promoted from his previous job as the team’s bench coach.
Marmol is the third manager hired by Mozeliak in the last 10 years since Tony La Russa retired after the Cardinals won the 2011 World Series, following Mike Matheny and Shildt, both of whom were later fired by Mozeliak.
The exact reasons behind Shildt’s sudden departure after three successful seasons as the Cardinals’ manager, including a franchise-record 17 game winning streak in September and a spot in the wild-card playoff game, still remain vague, but one of the themes of a nearly hour-long zoom press conference on Monday seemed to revolve around the topic of communication – between the front office and the manager, and between the manager, his staff and the players.
Shildt and Marmol have been closely aligned for more than a decade, and Marmol said one of the conversations he needed to have before accepting the managing job was with Shildt, whom he mentioned along with Gary LaRocque, the Cardinals’ director of player development, and former field coordinator Mark DeJohn as among his biggest mentors in the game.
Marmol admitted he had “mixed emotions” about getting the job the way it happened, but once he talked with Shildt, he has been able to focus his attention on his new position.
Marmol dismissed the idea that he was hired to simply be a yes man for Mozeliak, the president of baseball operations, and other front office departments including the analytics and baseball development staff.
“I think at times there is a misunderstanding as to the newer managers you read about and what that looks like when it comes to just saying yes to the front office,” Marmol said. “It’s a matter of being collaborative with the resources that are at hand. It’s a matter of being collaborative with the departments that are continuing to grow within each organization.
“When you look at what that can look like if there is true synergy between the front office, the baseball development department and your on-field staff there is an opportunity to do a couple things. It’s being able to understand why you are acquiring certain players, how to best use those players … there’s just so many different facets to it, and then understanding as well how to implement some feedback to make sure there is accountability to your decision making. There is just so much information at hand.”
One of Marmol’s first duties will be to assemble a coaching staff. Many of the team’s current coaches are expected to return, but the team will need to hire a bench coach to replace Marmol. It’s also possible that if Shildt gets a new job he could take some of the coaches off his staff with him. Mozeliak said there were both internal and external candidates to become the bench coach, and that he hopes the decisions on the staff will be completed in the next couple of weeks.
Marmol, 35, will become the youngest manager in the major leagues but being nearly the same age or younger than many of his players isn’t anything new for Marmol.
When he first became a manager in the Cardinals’ farm system, at rookie level Johnson City in 2012, Marmol was just 25 years old, at the time the youngest manager in affiliated professional baseball.
In taking over the major-league team, he will become the youngest manager in the majors on opening day since Eric Wedge with the Indians in 2003 and the youngest manager in the history of the Cardinals since 34-year-old Marty Marion took over the team in 1951.
Marmol is younger than eight players who appeared in at least one game for the Cardinals this season.
“I’ve never thought of my age as something that had an impact one way or the other, positive or negative, when it comes down to leadership,” Marmol said. “If the player knows that you care, if the player knows that you are prepared and that you have your thoughts organized when you approach them and you can make the club better, they listen to you.
“If you’re not prepared and they know that you don’t care, that you are more worried about yourself and you can’t make them better, they don’t listen to you. For me age isn’t an impediment. It’s a matter of preparation, organization, making sure that you are intentional that every time you have a conversation with one of them that you know exactly how you want them to experience that conversation and walk out of the room knowing. If you do that well you earn their respect. It takes a while to earn that and you can lose it pretty quickly.”
Even before he got into managing, Marmol was used to being around older people – and credits much of his success to advice he received even as he was growing up.
“Growing up I had three older brothers,” Marmol said in an interview several years ago. “My wife one time asked me why most of my friends were older. I always found it interesting to look at other people’s lives and learn from them.
“A lot of things I learned came from my brothers. There were a lot of things I learned not to do, just observing what works and what doesn’t work, and how to implement it in my own life. I don’t talk much. I do a lot of observing, figuring out the best ways to go about doing things whether in life or just in this job.”
Marmol spent five years managing in the Cardinals’ farm system, including two years at State College, Pa., and two years with the Class A Palm Beach Cardinals in 2015-2016 before he was promoted to the major-league staff as the first base coach in 2017. He took over as the bench coach when Shildt was named to replace Matheny as manager in July 2018.
Marmol was an infielder at the College of Charleston (S.C.) and was drafted by the Cardinals in the sixth round in 2007. Shildt was an area scout at the time and was responsible for signing Marmol, who then spent four years playing in the Cardinals’ system. He was a career .203 hitter and never advanced past then low-A Palm Beach.
“That’s when I realized that my passion aligned more with influencing the people around me and not so much as a player,” Marmol said on Monday. “I never had the itch to play again once I hung it up but I was pretty convinced that this was something I definitely wanted to do.”
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Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports