Mirror, mirror on the wall …
Five days removed from the dramatic end to the season, Cardinal fans have plenty of questions to be answered. Of course, there’s the Pujols saga, but just as significant is the new face that will take over for Tony La Russa. None of us know the names who are really on John Mozeliak’s short list, but speculation has run rampant, creating a not-so-short list full of possibilities.
Here at Aaron Miles’ Fastball, we have a favorite choice, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
This manager’s job isn’t for the faint of heart, nor is it a job for someone without an understanding of how baseball is played in St. Louis. Let’s remember who we’re talking about here — these are the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals!
But more than even that, this is a team with exceptional standards and deep tradition. The manager who steps into the dugout at Busch Stadium is taking on the Cardinal heritage of the past and the hopefulness of the future, starting with a strong 2012 team.
So who is the best choice for this high-profile club?
Here are some of the options:
- Joe Pettini (current Cardinals bench coach)
- Terry Pendleton (former Cardinals player, current Atlanta hitting/first base coach)
- Mike Matheny (fan favorite former Cardinal catcher)
- Mark McGwire (Big Mac himself, current Cardinals hitting coach)
- Jim Riggleman (former Washington manager)
- Albert Pujols — yes, for real — (current free agent and, well, you know the rest!)
- Bobby Valentine (former Mets/Rangers manager, current ESPN analyst)
- Ryne Sandberg (minor league manager in the Phillies organization, former — and possibly current — Chicago Cubs managerial candidate)
- Terry Francona (former Red Sox manager … currently jobless)
- Jose Oquendo (former player, current Cardinals third base coach)
- Joe Maddon (current Rays manager)
Yes, the list is that long and longer. Some suggestions are more off the wall than others, but there are, nevertheless, pros and cons.
Pros: They know the team, that’s for sure. And they understand they way things have worked around here with Tony’s system.
Cons: Experience may not be overrated. Mo said it’s not necessary, but again — this 2012 team is one that’s set to win. They need the leadership with an understanding of how to get there.
Pros: He has experience.
Cons: He’s Bobby Valentine, the ESPN analyst. Although, I’m told he’s a better manager than analyst. Hopefully…
Pros: He’s been primed for a manager position for a while now. He’s had success at the minor league level with a strong focus on baseball fundamentals. That, and the Cubs want him. So, naturally, now Cardinals fans do too.
Cons: The entertainment value of picking on the Cubs may be greater than his readiness to take on the Cardinals.
Pros: A Whitey Herzog connection is always a good thing. And he does have experience, having worked the Nationals into a competitive place.
Cons: The guy walked away from his team in the middle of the season. Not cool.
Pros: Again, anyone who played with the Redbirds understands all it means to be a Cardinal. Plus, he’s been on the Cardinals’ short list before, in the event that Tony retired.
Cons: There’s also the potential for him to take over in Boston. And, he didn’t quite lead the Royals to a World Series title …
Pros: It keeps him wearing the Birds on the Bat, and allows for giving him more money. He’s a great baseball mind with the intensity to match TLR’s fire. The player/manager concept has worked before. If anyone can do it now, it’s No. 5!
Cons: Really? I just don’t see this happening … or ending well. Plus, I doubt that’s really what Albert’s looking for.
Pros: Speaking of keeping Albert, many think Oquendo would do it. The players have great respect for him, and say he has all sorts of baseball knowledge. There wouldn’t be a dramatic shift in philosophy, since he’s worked with Tony for so long. Plus, much of the staff would likely stay on board. There’s obviously good chemistry right now, so this wouldn’t ruffle too many feathers.
Cons: He’s never managed before. And the players — while they know him and like him — already ignore his instructions at third base. There is a slight sense that he would be the guy at the top of the food chain, but not really in charge. Liking the guy and trusting him to call the shots are two different things.
Pros: He’s the most proven of the candidates. He won twice with Boston, and is used to managing superstar players. Managing for the Cardinals isn’t a job for someone still testing the managerial waters, and he is a proven competitor. And hey, he’d appreciate the Cardinals’ “No alcohol in the clubhouse” policy!
Cons: He may come with a higher price tag that the Cardinals would like to spend. Also, he may not quite be the “breath of fresh air” many fans would like to see.
Pros: First, he’s the overwhelming AMF favorite! He has personality galore, but he also has an understanding of Cardinal Nation. He did, after all, grow up as a Cardinals fan. He’s done wonders with a bare-bones budget in Tampa Bay. He works well in bringing up young players. But he also has enough “old-school” in his blood to satisfy the traditionalist. Following in the enormous shoes of Tony La Russa requires a high level of creativity — a willingness to take risks. Maddon may not play the bullpen game as well as TLR, but he doesn’t hesitate to change it up and take a chance.
Cons: The obvious one — he’s under contract for one more year. The Cardinals will have to receive permission from the Rays to talk to the skipper and some wonder why they would ever do that, or what they would require in return.
So, we wait. Wait and watch, and we continue to ask our own mirror on the wall. And now, we ask you: Who’s the best new Cardinals manager of them all?
Tara is a St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball and a contributor to Around the Horn. Follow her on Twitter @tarawellman.