After the final out was recorded in the Cardinals’ 40th loss of the season Saturday, it took manager Mike Matheny around 16 minutes to make his way to the podium and address the assembled media. The wait seemed longer than usual, but not uncommonly long–surely not even the longest this season.
Nobody should feel compelled to care about this; there are undoubtedly more pressing issues at hand–for the Cardinals, and for the world in general–than how long media members have to wait to hear the manager of a baseball team answer questions about a baseball game.
It’s a little inside baseball, but since Saturday was a national broadcast, there was no Fox Sports Midwest camera capturing Matheny postgame. Nor was there one in the clubhouse recording the players. In the social media age, these interview sessions are typically quite accessible for fans. But on a night like Saturday, to learn the grisly details of what the Cardinals thought about their latest loss, you have to listen for their quotes to surface on local radio, or read them.
It’s about time the power of the pen gets a win, eh?
With that extended dive into the inner-workings of a media postgame out of the way, here’s the point: Because Matheny took a while to show, even the most thorough cleanser and dawdling dresser had ample time to duck out before those waiting in the interview room could arrive to ask about the loss. Lance Lynn waited, as is customary for that night’s starter. A few others appeared in the room at least briefly–Aledmys Diaz, Tommy Pham, José Martinez. It was a light crowd.
In the sake of fairness, I don’t have the manager’s postgame schedule handy; if he squeezed in a quick Sudoku puzzle to give guys a chance to avoid talking after another rough game, I wouldn’t know about it. Matheny often meets with John Mozeliak after games; it’s conceivable, even probable, that he was held up for a few minutes by such a meeting Saturday.
On most other nights and in any other season, none of this is remotely relevant. In a year where the Cardinals’ record on this date is the worst since 2007–when the franchise last finished a season below .500–these are the details that should go under the microscope.
To lift Saturday’s disappearance by the majority of the team out of context would be unfair; it can’t be uncommon for a team in any sport to have nights where guys just want to go home after a bad game. It’s human nature. But when a season skids for as long as this one has, when does the call to action arrive? And who should be there to give it?
It’s the same sentiment echoed by Jim Edmonds on a Cardinals television broadcast three weeks ago: It doesn’t seem like this team has that guy willing to be a vocal leader–to step up and rally the troops.
Jim Edmonds absolutely nailed his analysis of the kind of leadership the Cardinals need right now. Have to love his honesty and candor. pic.twitter.com/Z3gPfV2WNL— Brenden Schaeffer (@bschaeffer12) June 5, 2017
It turns out this clubhouse couldn’t be magically fixed by a one-off day trip to an escape room in February. Winning is a cure-all to questions of chemistry, but the Cardinals are desperate for some force of nature to alter this team’s inertia; who will supply it?
The 2017 Cardinals were expected to be competitive. Though the standings show them just five games out of first in the NL Central, competitive is not among the first ten adjectives someone not employed by the team would use to describe it so far this season. Like his players, Matheny is not the inertia-shattering type. Publicly, he’s even keeled, preaching patience in grinding out the tough times.
In general, that’s a fine philosophy. But at some point, you run out of time in a season to make up for poor play. Last year, that point didn’t arrive until the season’s final day–Matheny didn’t have to face the music daily about his yearlong insistence that his club would turn the corner. They were in the race until the race was over–but they lost it.
There’s a lot of symmetry between this season and last–starting with the tone of the manager after losses. In that regard, Matheny will not be the force that jolts awake the slumbering Cardinals.
Instead, as he did all last year, Matheny expressed Saturday his desire for his team to stay the course.
“We had a game last night that was kind of in our pocket, right?” Matheny said. “It feels different today if you finish that one off. Today, it was them jumping on our starter and not being able to jump on theirs. I think we’ve got to try not to get stuck or buy into the fact that there’s more to it than that. Keep playing the game and don’t draw any wholesale conclusions by any short run of games.”
As I made my way to my car leaving Busch, on a whim, I asked a small group of fans at the crosswalk for their thoughts on the team. One woman mustered an exasperated “I do love my Cardinals,” as though I needed convincing. A man in the group explained that he believes the Cardinals miss the influence of Jose Oquendo, and then softened his voice.
“I don’t mean it as an indictment on him,” he said. “But Matheny has lost this team.”
If you wanted to hear from the manager after the game Saturday night, you weren’t going to be the one to find it.