Demographically, there is a fair amount about Oliver Marmol, who it was first reported by The Athletic‘s Katie Woo and then confirmed by every baseball reporter under the Sun will be announced this morning as the sixty-fifth manager in the history of the St. Louis Cardinals, that is striking. Marmol, upon taking reigns of the Cardinals, will be the youngest manager in Major League Baseball, and barring an even newer and younger hire prior to Opening Day, the thirty-five year-old will be the youngest Major League Basbeall manager since Eric Wedge took over the Cleveland Indians in 2003. Marmol will also be the first manager of color for the St. Louis Cardinals since Mike González, a man whose tenure dates back so far that he was referenced in The Old Man and the Sea.
And yet, by any actually meaningful measure, Oliver Marmol is just about as conventional of a hire as the Cardinals could have mustered. His résumé is about as robust as one could imagine to eminate from a thirty-five year-old–drafted out of the College of Charleston in 2007 in the sixth round of the MLB Draft, two picks before the Boston Red Sox selected a first baseman out of Parkland, Florida’s Stoneman-Douglas High School by the name of Anthony Rizzo, the undersized middle infielder Marmol never rose above high-A, but following the 2010 season, he was hired, at just 24, to be the hitting coach for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals, from which he later ascended to Johnson City Cardinals manager, Palm Beach Cardinals manager, St. Louis Cardinals first base coach, and St. Louis Cardinals bench coach.
There might be a temptation to compare Marmol to the Cardinals’ most recent “young manager” hire–Mike Matheny, who was a relatively tender forty-one years of age when the Cardinals hired him in 2011, but Matheny’s credentials for MLB manager were notoriously thin–he had acted as a special advisor to the Cardinals during Spring Training and managed some Little League teams. Oliver Marmol lacked Mike Matheny’s baseball talent, hence allowing him to get a jump start on what is seemingly his true calling within the sport.
There were a few other conventional names floated. San Diego Padres first base coach and associate manager Skip Schumaker, a former Cardinals player, would certainly outpace Matheny’s credentials while still filling the checkboxes of “41 year-old Guy to Remember”. Another former Cardinal, Richard “Stubby” Clapp, has bounced around the minor leagues as a coach and would be a reasonable selection as well. In terms of even bigger name ex-Cardinals, there is always Mark McGwire, a tenured MLB hitting coach, but who doesn’t seem inclined to take a managerial gig until after his children are grown up. But he’s worth mentioning nevertheless.
Based on my admittedly very limited knowledge of the candidates, I tend to think Oliver Marmol is probably the right choice, but that he is certainly a fine choice. But mostly, I am relieved that the Cardinals opted for an admittedly boring choice. Carlos Beltrán, like McGwire a Hall of Fame-caliber player who will likely have to wait due to the controversy which surrounds his later career, was mentioned as a potential candidate, but unlike A.J. Hinch and Álex Cora, the other men who lost their managerial gigs in the wake of the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal and have since gained (or, in Cora’s case, re-gained) employment, Beltrán’s managerial case prior to his being hired by the New York Mets was always quite sparse. And signing up for the distractions of Beltrán would be perfectly cogent compared to the fan wishcasting of a player-manager (usually Yadier Molina), a position most recently held in Major League Baseball by Pete Rose, who gave himself absurd amounts of post-prime playing time with Cincinnati Reds teams that were a good first baseman away from making the playoffs before he was banned from the sport for life for betting on his own games. Admittedly, holding all of Pete Rose’s misdeeds against future player-manager candidates is unfair to the candidates individually, but he does speak to the risks of such a maneuver.
A fair question to ask, less about Oliver Marmol and more about the process which led to his hiring, is one I posed within an hour of Mike Shildt’s dismissal–why would an internal Cardinals lifer be the optimal solution if the problem with the previous guy was his baseball philosophy, and his philosophy was the result of a lifetime spent in the Cardinals organization? In that regard, it’s a confusing hire, but while I was inclined (and still am inclined) to criticize the dismissal of Mike Shildt, the most successful manager by winning percentage since Johnny Keane managed the club in the 1960s, hiring a candidate who seems similar to Shildt, if you are one who thinks Mike Shildt was a pretty good manager in the first place, is pretty good.
Ultimately, I suspect that hiring Oliver Marmol, who typically goes by “Oli”, is a treading water kind of move, but as somebody who doesn’t think there is a manager in baseball history good enough to have won the Cardinals the 2021 National League Central division, I’m mostly fine with that. It’s going to be a little weird having a manager who very well may be younger than his Opening Day battery of Adam Wainwright (if you’re a true optimist, he’s also younger than Max Scherzer) and Yadier Molina, but if the most important thing in hiring a new manager is that the move adheres to the hippocratic oath and that no harm is done, the Marmol hiring seems to have delivered.