By now, Cardinals’ fans are well aware of the very public feud between All-Star Catcher Yadier Molina and manager Mike Matheny. A quick recap: a writer from the Post-Dispatch quoted Matheny talking about Molina, interpreting that Matheny was calling Molina tired. On Friday, Molina took to Instagram to explain in detail (and with no shortage of sass) that he was not tired and that this information was incorrect. There was little question that Molina’s comments were aimed at Matheny, as was confirmed when the Cardinals’ owner, as well as the manager and president, were all called upon to comment on them. Most recently, Molina has posted a picture of former Cardinals’ third base coach Jose Oquendo, explaining how much he missed the Cardinals’ “secret weapon.” This series of events has been the talk of the town, and is evidence of deeper problems in the clubhouse.
In St. Louis, it is rare for athletes to feud with coaches, and it is rarer for these feuds to become public knowledge, but it is not unheard of. Most recently, several St. Louis Blues players were known to have issues with Ken Hitchcock, notable among them Alex Steen, who Hitchcock refused to even acknowledge in one video from the Winter Classic. The growth of Molina’s discontent shortly after the arrival of top prospect Carson Kelly, his heir apparent, is eerily reminiscent of the feud between Ozzie Smith and Tony La Russa, when the former was less than thrilled to concede playing time to Royce Clayton. Other players to feud with TLR include Ron Gant, Jeff Brantley, and Scott Rolen. It’s not a total anomaly, but Molina’s situation is a major problem for the Cardinals’ clubhouse, and it is indicative of huge issues on both sides of the aisle.
Let’s start with Molina: his actions were decidedly over the line, immature, and poorly planned. As the face of the franchise, an All-Star, and an all time Cardinals great, Molina ought to be setting an example for his teammates. And if he has an issue with the manager, he should address it with the manager, then the general manager, then the president, then the owner, well before he ever takes it to social media.
Moreover, if Molina truly wants what is best for the Cardinals, the organization he has been with his entire career, the team with which he went to four World Series and won two, the team that recently gave him an entirely sentimental three year, sixty-million dollar contract extension, he needs to understand his place. Going forward, Molina’s proper place is as a veteran leader, slowly giving playing time to Kelly, the future catcher of the club, and mentoring him along the way. As a matter of fact, this was Matheny’s place when Molina made it to the Major Leagues, and Matheny accepted it gladly. Yadi should put his pride aside and recognize that at 35, he can’t catch 140 games forever, and it’s time to build for the future of this franchise that he supposedly loves so much.
But Molina is not the only person in the wrong here. Matheny deserves blame as well, perhaps not for Molina’s comments, and definitely not for the decision to sit him (as these decisions should certainly be the manager’s right), but for enabling the environment where this could happen.
The same weekend that Molina’s comments were so loudly criticized by the organization as an inappropriately public airing of private grievances, Mike Matheny made some comments that received less press coverage. Instead of singling out a player, though, Matheny took aim at his teams’ fans. Here are the bulk of Matheny’s comments:
“Just the general baseball fans, it’s a shame when they make up their mind and make strong statements about where our club’s going to go, because they don’t get to be really an active part of when something really cool happens. I think about how many people must have done that in ’11. They’re just so bitter — this team, this, that or the other. And kind of had their mind set. So when everything started to go well, did they truly get to enjoy what happened from there on out? I think that’s part of the excitement of the entire season. Stick it out, ride it out. You never know what you’re going to see… I shift it back to my perpetual optimism. Regardless of what happens, this team is going to play.”
Though not covered to the level of Molina’s Instagram posts, Matheny’s comments are wildly inappropriate and borderline delusional. It is beyond out-of-line for the manager of a sub-.500 team to complain about the loyalty of his fans, fans that have made his mid-market team second in attendance to only the Los Angeles Dodgers (which is an absurd accomplishment, when you really think about it). It is arrogant and immature to an extreme.
Matheny may have a valid point. There may be Cardinals fans who are bitter. There may be Cardinals fans who are entitled. There may be Cardinals fans who are too critical; who expect too much. In fact, there almost certainly are Cardinals fans who fit into all those categories. There are a lot of Cardinals fans, and some of them, maybe many of them, are bound to be bad eggs. But even if Matheny’s point is valid, he is by no means the person who ought to make it.
But this isn’t new for the Cardinals’ skipper. Whining and complaining are a regular tool for Matheny, including regularly complaining about the media for portraying his team in anything less than a perfect light (here’s just one example). Matheny’s primary tool for defending his players is deflecting blame to fans and media. This is a regular occurrence for him.
The reality is that Mike’s team has delivered a poor product this year, and he ought to be able to recognize that, and understand the fan’s discontent. This is the first time the Cardinals have been this close to a losing season since 2007. Moreover, his team finished 17.5 games back in the division last year, and were plagued by the same defensive inconsistencies and lack of fundamentals that have caused them to struggle this year. While the players may wear some, perhaps even most of that blame the only people who can be held accountable for the performance of all the players simultaneously are the coaches and the front office. Matheny should be willing and able to accept that, but he isn’t, and he has never been.
The point is not to saddle Matheny for all of the club’s problems, necessarily. The point is to show that the Cardinals have a double standard. They cannot in one moment insist that players keep issues in house, and then in the very same weekend allow their manager to put his fans on blast in the local papers. This is hypocrisy in the extreme. And the reality is, unfair as it might be, this would be a different story if the comments had been made by a different player. If anyone’s voice should be respected, if anyone has earned the right to be honest about his opinion of this franchise, it is certainly Yadier Molina. And though he should have known better, and though he should not have dealt with his concerns publicly, how can he possibly be held to a higher standard than his manager?
There are major problems on the horizon for the St. Louis Cardinals. Molina’s comments, and the fact that they were liked by numerous Cardinals’ players, portray a fractured clubhouse, much like the locker room that led the Blues to struggle at the start of this last season. The Blues were forced to make a major move, firing an all time great hockey coach in Ken Hitchcock. If the Cardinals’ clubhouse is indeed tearing apart, the team may have to look at a similarly decisive action, no matter how much the front office may love and respect Mike Matheny. If he has lost his players, he cannot hope to be a successful manager.
Hopefully that isn’t the case. But whatever the case may be, both Matheny and Molina, as the team’s two primary leaders, need to mature, and fast. They need to come to an agreement with one another, and they need to stop deflecting and complaining about their problems publicly. But Matheny must be the one to do this first. Players should not be expected to be more mature than their manager, and Matheny’s comments over the weekend betray an immaturity ill-suited for the Major Leagues. Fans are allowed to complain about their team, and they do not need to be satisfied with a losing record. If Matheny, Molina, or anyone else has a problem with doing what it takes to change that, then perhaps their time in St. Louis should come to an end.