Photo Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

In a stunning development Thursday afternoon, the St. Louis Cardinals fired manager Mike Shildt. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak cited “philosophical differences” in explaining the decision, which comes after St. Louis finished with a 90-72 record and qualified for the National League’s second Wild Card playoff spot.

Shildt just finished his third season as Cardinals manager, during which his team surged to a 46-26 record in the second half of the 2021 campaign. That included a 17-game winning streak which put significant distance between St. Louis and their closest competitors for the second Wild Card bid, Cincinnati and Philadelphia.

In the NL Wild Card playoff, the Cardinals lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers, 3-1, on a walk-off home run from Chris Taylor. Though St. Louis had difficulty scoring runs and perhaps Alex Reyes wasn’t the ideal pitcher to use in a tied ballgame during the ninth inning, it’s difficult to imagine that the outcome of the game had anything to do with determining Shildt’s job status.

Yet Mozeliak apparently felt such urgency to dismiss Shildt now that he and team owner Bill DeWitt Jr. asked Major League Baseball permission to make the move on the same day as the decisive Game 5 between the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. MLB typically prefers postseason games to receive full attention and transactions to be announced during off-days.

Trying to make sense of a move that doesn’t make sense, it’s possible that Mozeliak wanted Shildt to make changes on his coaching staff. And if Shildt wasn’t willing to make those changes, perhaps the general manager wanted to find a new field manager who would bring in different coaches.

Pitching coach Mike Maddux did good work with the Cardinals pitching staff (which compiled a 4.01 team ERA), dealing with Reyes’ struggles at closer and injuries to top starters Jack Flaherty and Carlos Martinez. Maybe hitting coach Jeff Albert (and assistant Jobel Jimenez) was being scrutinized by Mozeliak after St. Louis posted a .244 team batting average and .725 OPS, placing them in the middle of the National League. Yadier Molina and Nolan Arenado didn’t hit to their usual standards (though Arenado led the team with 34 home runs), while Matt Carpenter and Paul DeJong significantly declined.

Shildt was also likely pursuing a contract extension with one season remaining on his deal. No manager or coach wants to go into a season as a proverbial lame-duck with an expiring contract. Perhaps the skipper was seeking a firm commitment — which was completely justified, considering his record — and the team didn’t want to meet those terms, at least without some conditions.

The Cardinals were expected to contend in the NL Central with the decline of the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates seemingly uninterested in competing. Perhaps the expectation in the St. Louis front office was to keep pace with the Milwaukee Brewers, who finished five games ahead of the Cardinals with outstanding pitching. The Reds contended for a Wild Card playoff spot until the Cardinals distanced themselves by going 22-7 in September. St. Louis finished seven games ahead of Cincinnati in the division.

The immediate question becomes who replaces Shildt in the Cardinals dugout. St. Louis has traditionally hired from within the organization, which could mean bench coach Oliver Marmol and first-base coach Stubby Clapp will be considered. Clapp has minor-league managerial experience with the Astros and Cardinals, and interviewed for the Pittsburgh Pirates opening two years ago. Former Cardinals players Jose Oquendo and Skip Schumacher will likely have support as well.

Shildt was a surprising hire himself after taking over as interim manager when Mike Matheny was fired midway through the 2018 season. But the Cardinals went 41-28 under Shildt and it’s probable that such success made bringing in another manager — perhaps a veteran like Joe Girardi, Mike Scioscia, or Buck Showalter, or longtime coach such as Sandy Alomar Jr. or Joe Espada — difficult to justify.

Giving Shildt the permanent job was also a nice reward for a guy who had worked in the organization for nearly 20 years, beginning as an associate scout and part-time coach, managing the Cardinals’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates, then advancing to the major-league coaching staff as a third-base coach, then bench coach.

Shildt finishes his Cardinals tenure with a 255-199 record, one division title, three postseason berths, and the 2019 NL Manager of the Year Award. He becomes the third MLB manager to be fired since the 2021 regular season ended. The San Diego Padres dismissed Jayce Tingler, while Luis Rojas was fired by the New York Mets. Considering his success, Shildt could be a candidate for another major-league opening soon.

But for the Cardinals, maybe revisiting an Espada or Alomar Jr. will be the way to go. And if they want a veteran skipper to oversee a playoff contender, Ron Washington, John Farrell, and Brad Ausmus are among the names available. Perhaps this is the job that could bring Bruce Bochy out of retirement.

About Ian Casselberry

Ian is a writer, editor, and podcaster. You can find his work at Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He's written for Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation.