On Sunday we learned that Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny and outfielder Dexter Fowler “barely speak.” Haven’t really spoken for months, in fact. We don’t know much beyond the details of that — maybe Fowler is more at fault, maybe Matheny, maybe a combination — but it’s certainly the case that the clubhouse dynamic in St. Louis is less-than-perfect in some respect.
In light of that, it’s bizarre to see the story that came down over at The Athletic about the Cardinals’ clubhouse today. It’s by Mark Saxon, the same guy who reported the Fowler-Matheny business, and he wants to tell us all about how great the bullpen leadership dynamic is, with the veteran Bud Norris kindly mentoring young fireballer Jordan Hicks into a mature major leaguer.
Haha, just kidding. It’s a shockingly non-critical story of what, reading between the lines, sounds like a pretty unpleasant dynamic:
The 33-year-old Norris has been mercilessly riding 21-year old rookie Jordan Hicks since spring training, reminding him to be at meetings on time and publicly calling him out when he is lagging in any of the details a visitor might not notice, but other players do.
Let’s be clear at the outset: veterans are in charge in a clubhouse and rookies are not. Especially rookies who, like Hicks, has had some issues with things like being on time for meetings and stuff. On a basic level, there is nothing wrong with this. Every player will tell you that there is a process of becoming a major leaguer and part of that process comes from learning how to carry oneself on and off the field, primarily at the feet of veterans who provide either a good example, good leadership or both.
Except I’m not sure what “mercilessly riding” means and Saxon doesn’t describe it. He also uses the term “badgering” and talks about teaching young players in “the harshest way possible” and doesn’t elaborate there either. Matheny is quoted as saying that he does not think Hicks much cares for the treatment, but again, no suggestion of what the treatment is, exactly, that he does not care for and there is no suggestion that Matheny has any sympathy for Hicks’ concerns.
And Hicks doesn’t seem too cool with it all, it should be noted:
Hicks, the hardest throwing right-handed pitcher in baseball, isn’t a fan of the treatment. Asked if he thinks it will one day pay dividends in his career, he said, “I have no idea. No comment.”
That’s not a passage describing someone responding well to thoughtful mentorship or even tough love. That’s the description of someone who thinks Norris is being a jackass but is smart enough not to give quotes to a reporter about it lest he catch even more flak.
Adding to that is Matheny’s money quote, which sounds like every old guy who thinks the world started going to hell exactly the moment he stopped being young. Or, as one of my Twitter followers said, like an old fraternity member coming back on alumni day and lamenting that no one is allowed to haze the freshman anymore:
Matheny sees Norris’ actions as an effort to carry on the dying tradition of teaching younger players in the harshest possible ways. Matheny himself faced that on the Milwaukee Brewers when he broke in as a young catcher 24 years ago.
“I think the game has progressively gotten a little softer,” Matheny said. “Man, it had some teeth not that long ago.”
Teeth. Badgering. Merciless. Harshest way possible. All this in service of a veteran — a veteran who is on record with some pretty damn intemperate comments when it comes to respecting his fellow ballplayers — who seems to be making one of the organization’s brightest young stars miserable.
I wonder why, given Hicks’ comments, there is not more pushback in the article about whether what Norris is doing — and what Matheny is clearly sanctioning — is unreasonable or out of step with the typically mentoring veterans give rookies. I wonder why, given who wrote the story, given what it covers, and given its timing, Dexter Fowler’s name is not brought up once in the article. You’d think that might be relevant given that both topics cover matters of clubhouse chemistry and Matheny’s role in fostering it.
I don’t know what’s going on in the Cardinals clubhouse but, given what we’re being told and how it’s being told, I don’t think this story paints the picture Matheny, Norris, and perhaps the author thought it would.