Handicapping the New Cards Manager Candidates

Riggleman (UL), Oquendo, Pendleton and Girardi

If Tony La Russa doesn't return for a 13th season as the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, how might his potential replacements be considered?

I need to state right up front several important points. First of all, the future plans of the current manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, Tony La Russa, have not yet been revealed. Therefore, this effort to consider his replacement is premature by its very definition.

However, this is intended to be a fun and interesting exercise, an event that in reality began in earnest across The Cardinal Nation weeks ago. It is not intended to be disrespectful to La Russa. But, let's face it. Many of the directional concerns that plagued deposed general manager Walt Jocketty will surely rub La Russa, as well.

Second, the filling of the newly-opened general manager position should be completed before the manager job is settled. Doing it in reverse would limit even more of the power of the new GM beyond the organizational dynamics already in place.

Given that very important point, I am writing this article under the assumption that the general manager candidate most known will get the job – assistant general manager John Mozeliak. While a very good and qualified candidate, if not the leading one, Mo's crowning here is designed simply to try to take the GM factor out of the equation.

Plus, to be honest, it is a lot more straight-forward to handicap manager candidates than GM ones. After all, who had ever even heard of Walt Jocketty back in 1994, for example? I have to admit that I scratched my head when he was announced, fearing a continuation of the spendthrift policies of the Anheuser-Busch regime.

If a different GM gets the Cardinals job instead of Mo, this analysis could change – perhaps substantially.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand.

Our first job is to define the desired characteristics of the new skipper. Then, we will prioritize them by importance. Finally, we will stack up a list of potential candidates against them and see what it tells us.

I selected six categories, two weighted high, two medium and two low. They are as follows:

Criteria Importance
Player development experience (Plyr Dev) high (3)
Fit in with the organization (Org fit) high (3)
MLB experience - manager (MLB mgr) medium (2)
PR aspect – fan acceptance (PR) medium (2)
MLB experience - player (MLB Plyr) low (1)
Minority considerations (Min) low (1)

Player development experience – high. Even though the field manager's job is to "win today", think back to Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr.'s comments in the Jocketty dismissal press conference. Building from within is the new favored approach versus the old game of trading prospects for veterans.

As the Cardinals roster begins to evolve (read that as getting younger), having a manager who can relate to youngsters and can help them through their growing pains should be even more important going forward. Many Cardinals fans saw this as a major long-term limitation of the Tony La Russa regime.

Fit in with the organization – also high. I don't imagine any one is going to argue with this selection as high importance. On the positive side, we just saw what 12 years of strong manager – general manager teaming can deliver. On the other hand, bringing in a La Russa clone into the same kind of environment that his boss Jocketty railed against would seem to set up failure.

All things equal, I think a manager with ties to the organization would be preferred. There are a number of candidates who meet this criterion beyond the obvious - La Russa's faithful lieutenant, third base coach Jose Oquendo.

MLB experience – manager – medium. Given all the recent organizational turmoil, I think the Cardinals are going to prefer some gray hair in their manager's chair. This isn't the time or the place to find out if a first-timer has what it takes.

The veteran nature of the current roster needs to be considered. Team leaders like Scott Rolen, Jason Isringhausen, Jim Edmonds and Albert Pujols may not react well to the next wunderkind being dropped into their midst.

PR aspect – fan acceptance – medium. We all saw the stress and strain Tony La Russa experienced in his job, and it only increased when the going got tough. A calm hand, one that can deal with the demands of the fans and press as well as his internal organization would be a plus. A diplomat-type, something La Russa could never be called, would seem to fit the bill.

Tony La Russa had no St. Louis ties which contributed to some of his difficulties – at least with some fans and press. This was especially pronounced in his earlier years.

MLB experience – player – low. You can look at this two ways. One is that a veteran club may not react well to a manager who "never played the game". Remember the rookie manager up in Toronto ten years back, Tim Johnson, who concocted a phony Vietnam war hero story to try to gain credibility?

On the other side of the coin, think about this. How many MLB stars have become successful Major League managers in the last 50 years? Usually, it seems like the marginal players like La Russa, Bobby Cox and Tommy Lasorda are the ones who excel in the skipper's chair.

The only exceptions in recent times that come to mind are Frank Robinson, who lasted a long time but has a career losing record with some bad teams and Joe Torre. Those who know Torre's history are familiar with the fact that he was fired from the manager's job in three strong organizations – the Cardinals, Braves and Mets – before establishing his legacy with the Yankees.

Minority considerations – low. Here I am talking about both the manager himself and his ability to relate to minorities. Not to say this is unimportant, but all in all, I think it is rightfully lower-ranked than many of the other factors mentioned.

MLB will ensure minority candidates will be considered for the job as a matter of practice. With Oquendo (Hispanic) and perhaps Atlanta Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton and/or Ozzie Smith (Black) among our potential candidates, no abnormal stretching should be required here.

La Russa's Spanish-speaking skills were certainly a plus given the make-up of the Cardinals roster, where there are more Hispanics than Blacks, and it is Oquendo's native tongue. However, this can also be addressed by making good coaching choices to fill out one's staff. This practice seems relatively common across the game.

Let's talk the good stuff – names. But we have to get through one more step first.

Who's out

Rather start with than the names considered, I will discuss the ones left off. Neither of the minor league managers at the top of the system – Chris Maloney (Memphis) and Ron "Pop" Warner (Springfield) have any big-league coaching experience, unless you count Warner's 2000 stint as the Cards' batting practice pitcher. Maloney has been recognized for his player development prowess, but either one of the two is too much of a stretch this time around. It would be great to see one or both on the staff of the new Cardinals skipper, though.

I didn't include MLB managers currently under employment elsewhere like Torre or Jim Leyland in Detroit, who just signed a new contract for two more seasons. While Leyland is highly-respected and knows the Cardinals well, he has quit MLB manager jobs mid-stream more than once. He might be too close to La Russa personally and philosophically to fit as Tony's replacement, anyway, I suspect.

Andy Van Slyke has the plus of being a beloved former Cardinals player and has apprenticed under Leyland. But, he has just two years as a Major League coach and seems to be the last among his peers to decide each season whether or not he is coming back for the next. At this point, I see Van Slyke as sort of a poor man's Girardi, so didn't rate him separately.

Finally, Whitey Herzog was a great manager in his day. That day is forever past and the clock will not be turned back. Time to move on.

Who's in

Now, let's stack up some names against the criteria. Again, remember that this is one man's opinion. Your mileage may vary.

Plyr Org MLB MLB
Dev (3) Fit (3) Mgr (2) PR (2) Plyr (1) Min (1)
Jose Oquendo med (2) high (3) low (1) med (2) high (3) high (3)
Terry Pendleton low (1) med (2) low (1) med (2) high (3) med (2)
Ozzie Smith low (1) med (2) low (1) med (2) med (2) med (2)
Jim Riggleman high (3) high (3) med (2) med (2) low (1) low (1)
Joe Girardi low (1) low (1) med (2) high (3) high (3) low (1)

We'll take them by category again.

Player development experience. Other than a one-month stint as Team Puerto Rico's manager in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, Oquendo's only regular-season vocation since 1998 has been nine seasons as a Major League coach. That was preceded by one year as an instructor and one as a short-season manager in the late ‘90s. However, in his defense, I have seen Jose on the back fields working with minor league infielders in Spring Training, an abnormal sight for a Major League coach.

Terry Pendleton's resume is even more limited as his entire professional coaching career consists of six seasons at the big-league level with Atlanta. Joe Girardi has never tasted adversity in the role, having just two years as a coach/manager, both in the Majors. Ozzie has none.

Only Jim Riggleman has a broad portfolio in this area after serving as the Cardinals minor league field coordinator for the last three years. He is also a former director of player development for the organization and has worked for the Dodgers and Indians.

Fit within the organization. I worry a bit about Oquendo being so close to La Russa, which could be positive or negative. Still, he (21 seasons in a Cardinals uniform) and Riggleman (17 years with the organization) get the nod over former players Pendleton, Smith and Girardi.

Girardi seems too volatile for the job. Given his brashness at times, I may be giving Ozzie the benefit of the doubt here. I think at different times, Riggleman has worked for Jocketty, Mozeliak and Jeff Luhnow, seemingly effectively, which to me is an added plus.

None are career Cardinals, though Ozzie is close. The Wizard hasn't worked for any other organization for a long time, but he was absent from the club for the duration of his 12-year estrangement from La Russa. Ownership is surely aware of that behavior. Pendleton was a member of championship Cardinals teams under Herzog while Girardi stopped by the Arch for a cup-of-coffee season at the end of his playing career.

MLB experience – manager. With a long resume that includes two years coaching under Herzog, Riggleman later managed both the Padres and Cubs for a total of almost seven seasons. His MLB career record is a losing one (.448), but he gained valuable experience in the chair. He was last in the bigs as the Dodgers' bench coach from 2001-2004.

Girardi had one very successful season leading the Florida Marlins. However, off the field, he had significant problems with ownership, leading to his dismissal. The other three are unproven at the MLB level as the head man.

PR aspect – fan acceptance. Many may think that Oquendo should be on top here, but I sometimes think of him as the Cardinals' back-up quarterback. You know, the guy that has never been on the field, yet is the most popular guy around. It may be unfair to him because I have had more opportunity to observe him first-hand than the others, but don't see Oquendo at ease with the public part of the job at all and that concerns me.

This was the hardest category to score for the others. His broadcasting experience only adds to Girardi's smoothness, as he ranks highest here despite being a Chicagoan. Riggleman knows the ropes and Pendleton should be fine as long as he isn't an umpire-whiner like Cox. Ozzie's persona seems a bit self-centered despite him being revered as an ex-player.

MLB experience - player. As players, Ozzie was the best of the lot by a considerable margin. That doesn't make him leadership material, though. Think back again to that short list of great players as great managers.

Like Torre, Pendleton had MVP and Gold Glove Award success on the field, but not Hall-of-Fame greatness as a player. Oquendo might best fit the La Russa mold while Girardi gets extra consideration for being a catcher. Riggleman never reached the Majors as a player.

Minority considerations. This is straightforward. Three candidates are and two are not. However, I give Oquendo the nod based on his relationship with the most important Cardinals player – Albert Pujols. One thing we know is that this is Pujols' team and will continue to be.

The final score

Again, three points were given to a "high", two to a "medium" and one for a "low" score, both in the criteria and the prospective manager's ranking. The two are multiplied to come up with a score for each cell and totaled for each candidate.

 

Plyr

Org

MLB

 

MLB

 

 

 

Dev 

Fit 

Mgr

PR

Plyr

Min

Total

Jose Oquendo

6

9

2

4

3

3

27

Terry Pendleton

3

6

2

4

3

2

20

Ozzie Smith

3

6

2

4

2

2

19

Jim Riggleman

9

9

4

4

1

1

28

Joe Girardi

3

3

4

6

3

1

20

In this ranking, a bit surprisingly, the front-runner in the court of public opinion, Oquendo, finished second by a nose. The leader is Jim Riggleman, though a change in any cell could shift the balance. Pendleton and Girardi are tied for a distant third with Smith bringing up the rear.

This isn't a prediction as much as a somewhat objectively-intended analysis of the thought process that might go into the selection of the next manager of the St. Louis Cardinals – if Tony La Russa doesn't return for his 13th season in 2008, that is.

Disagree? OK, I am fine with that. Want to share your opinions? Stop by our message board today to weigh in on this subject or any other topic related to the Cardinals system, whether the Majors or minor leagues.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

© 2007 stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed.

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