When I was growing up, the St. Louis Cardinals were an organization which prided itself in fundamentals, defense, team effort, and winning. You never heard a peep of dysfunction from the organization, and most importantly, they won. A lot.
“The Cardinal Way” was the gold standard of midwestern baseball. Every little leaguer for miles grew up learning the skills that would have made him a fantastic St. Louis Cardinal. “The Cardinal Way” was the fundamental source of pride for St. Louis baseball fans and the fundamental source of envy for fans of other teams across the country.
However, the modern day “Cardinal Way” is not the same as the one I grew up with. The current Cardinals are horrible defenders. They are fundamentally-lacking. They are third in their division and have been worse than the Cincinnati Reds over the past month and a half or so. And, more than anything, it seems that they have become one of the game’s most dysfunctional organizations.
“I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and question [dexter fowler’s] effort and energy level. And those are things I can’t defend. I try to create opportunities for him, but not if it’s at the expense of other players who are hustling and playing hard.” – John Mozeliak, Cardinals president of baseball operations
On a podcast with Cardinals broadcaster Dan McLaughlin, Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak did not hold back when asked about struggling outfielder Dexter Fowler. I’m not going to get into the argument that this comment was made based on the merits of race, because I don’t believe there is sufficient information to levy such a big accusation onto Mozeliak.
Instead, I’m going to dive into the argument about how this is quite literally the dumbest thing Mozeliak could have done in this scenario. Because it absolutely was.
It is not a secret that Fowler, an instrumental piece to the Cubs’ 2016 World Series championship, isn’t living up to the expectations that came with his contract. This year, Fowler is hitting at a clip that would make Mickie Mendoza proud, his defense has been anything but stellar, and his advanced metrics make it seem like he doesn’t deserve a major league roster spot.
None of this, however, is the biggest problem in this scenario. If you ask Fowler about his play this season, I’m fairly certain he would admit to you just that. He hasn’t been a good baseball player this season, that isn’t a controversial statement.
However, me saying that as an outside eye to a public platform is a lot different than the organization’s lead baseball decision maker. I’m allowed to publically critique Dexter Fowler, even though he is a personal favorite player of mine, because I didn’t sign him to an $84 million contract.
Mozeliak’s comments are not only an indictment on his own personal decision-making skills, but a warning to potential free agents.
For better or worse, St. Louis’s fanbase has a reputation around the league for their rash, short-leash mentality. Every year is World Series or bust, and every loss should get someone either traded, cut, or fired.
John Mozeliak’s comments are fairly straightforward when looked at through this lens. Mozeliak has sided with the team’s fans over his team’s players. By publically calling out a struggling player, Mozeliak is giving that segment of Cardinals fandom the satisfaction they seek on almost a daily basis.
Mozeliak is actively trying to push the argument that Dexter Fowler, the player who seemingly no one within the league has anything bad to say about, has suddenly stopped caring about baseball.
Mozeliak’s comments weren’t an attack on Fowler’s on-field production, but that would have been more reasonable. At the end of the day, hitting a baseball is probably the hardest thing to do in sports, and everyone is going to struggle at some point.
Mozeliak is actively attacking Dexter Fowler’s drive and desire to play the game of baseball. I’m obviously not privy to the inside information that Mozeliak is, but having followed Fowler throughout his major league career, I find this incredibly hard to believe. And even if it were to be true, why would you come out and admit to your fans that your big-money free agency signing didn’t care about them, if not to try and save face?
By throwing Dexter Fowler under the bus, Mozeliak has effectively halted any chances the Cardinals had of signing another big name. Why would a player give his loyalty to the Cardinals organization if he knows the organization won’t give their loyalty back to him?
Mozeliak’s comment perfectly exemplifies the constant thin ice that executives walk on every day. One comment can set you back miles, or in this case, probably years. Mozeliak realized that he had messed up, and tried playing it off as if those comments were directed towards the team as a whole.
Mozeliak says he has spoken to Fowler about the comments, and he has offered some clarification: It's not just Fowler about whom — and to whom he — was speaking. It was the entire #stlcards team: 'Time to get this right.' https://t.co/UK1YQPnHNa #MLB #Cardinals
— Derrick S. Goold (@dgoold) July 2, 2018
In the best interest of the organizational future, especially with the loaded free agency class available this offseason, it’s irresponsible for Cardinals fans to let Mozeliak off the hook for this. He wasn’t talking to the team when he referred to “him” in a rant about low effort. He was calling out the team’s second-highest paid player.
“My effort has always been there,” says Dexter Fowler, reacting to John Mozeliak’s comments publicly for the first time. “That’s out of the question. These guys in here know. They’re the ones texting me, saying it’s bull****. I’m playing as hard as I can.” #STLCards
— Joe Trezza (@JoeTrezz) July 5, 2018
These comments seemed to have already created a rift within the locker room, with the players not appreciating an executive personally attacking a player during a struggle. This is the epitome of dysfunction; dysfunction which would have been seemingly unfathomable coming from this organization a decade ago.
Quite honestly, I don’t see how Mozeliak has left the Cardinals a choice: I think he has to be fired. Keeping Mozeliak, and virtually burying any chance you had at replenishing your team through free agency would be a massive disservice to the fans who, despite being incredibly loud, care as much as any fanbase in the league.
I do not see a possible scenario in which, after John Mozeliak’s comments about his big free agency acquisition, the Cardinals can both keep Mozeliak at the helm and push closer to a World Series title.
There’s been a collection of Cardinal fans calling for a house cleaning for years, and while the organization has been reluctant, I don’t see how they can continue to sit on their hands after this. Mozeliak’s comments crossed so far over the line, actively hurt the organization in future dealings, and has to have a corresponding consequence.