This is definitely the the early frontrunner for Quote of the Year honors by a St. Louis Cardinal. And the nomination goes to: third base coach Jose Oquendo.
Speaking of the opening day lineup that had Jose Martinez at first base and Matt Carpenter at third base, Oquendo served up a scoop of news.
“He’s our everyday guy,” Oquendo told Rick Hummel of the Post-Dispatch, referring to Martinez. “Once in a while, he’s going to get rest and we’ll use ‘Carp’ out there (first base). But, for the most part, it looks like Martinez is going to be there every day.”
Did you catch that?
Oquendo announced the lineup change. Or rather, the alignment change.
Manager Oquendo let the press know what was going on with his club.
Martinez playing first, Carpenter transferring across the diamond to start at third, and Jedd Gyorko going from third base to a super-utility role.
It’s a fantastic quote for several reasons:
— Manager Mike Matheny hadn’t told anyone of the apparent decision to put Martinez at first base. Please note that I used the word apparent there. Unless Matheny confirms this, we can’t know for sure. And it isn’t Matheny’s style to announce something like this, anyway. Even if this particular decision has been made, Matheny wouldn’t want to offend Gyorko. So instead of speaking candidly and explaining why he’s going with Martinez at first base and making the corresponding moves, Matheny would try to finesse it. He would attempt to convince the media that no decision has been made, and that he has all the respect in the world for Gyorko … and the skipper would make sure to mix something in there about the media creating distractions … even though the team’s third base coach started all of this.
— Usually the manager announces these things. I mean, this is a pretty big deal because it involves three players, a position change, and what appears to be a benching of sorts. Maybe Matheny was planning to brief the reporters on this soon.
— Or maybe Oquendo went rogue. And if Manager Oquendo — er, Coach Oquendo — went rogue, then I certainly understand why. Oquendo played and coached for Whitey Herzog. He coached for Tony La Russa. Herzog and La Russa are tough, confident men that say what’s on their mind. They are outspoken and fearless and don’t care about ticking people off. They’ll tell you what they really think, they speak the truth, and if it’s politically incorrect they don’t give a damn. Oquendo is like that.
–– The quote is also revealing in another way, and I’ll make sure to clean up my language here: Jose Oquendo does not give 22 clucks, let alone one cluck, if the manager gets miffed about this. If Oquendo put a something out there by speaking truthfully, even if it’s something that Matheny would like to keep quiet for now … well, as a I said, Oquendo doesn’t give one cluck about that. He’s an honest man who has been around too long — and done so much excellent work for the Cardinals over the decades — to worry about currying favor with the manager.
Remember, Oquendo left Matheny’s staff before the 2016 season because, in part, he felt he no longer had the necessary autonomy to do his job the way he wanted to do it. Oquendo is one of the greatest and most revered teachers and instructors in the history of this franchise. And the only way you can teach and instruct players to polish fundamentals is to get out on the field and work. Yeah, even if it’s hot outside… even if everybody is tired.
And when the Oquendo wasn’t granted proper managerial approval to do his job the right way, two things happened: (1) Oquendo departed and went to Florida to work with the organization’s prospects, figuring he could at least do something of value for the future Cardinals; (2) the big-league club fell apart back in St. Louis, slip-sliding away in the the fundamentals of the game during the 2016 and 2017 seasons without Oquendo there to supervise, run drills, teach, reinforce.
This is why president of baseball operations John Mozeliak all but begged Oquendo to return to Matheny’s staff for 2018. This is why Matheny all but pleaded for Oquendo to come back.
Oquendo got the autonomy he wanted.
So yeah, if Oquendo wants to tell Rick Hummel that Jose Martinez will be the everyday first baseman … then he’s going to tell Rick Hummel that Jose Martinez will be the every day first baseman. And Oquendo will say whatever he wants to say …. because he does not give a cluck.
This is the result of reaching a stage of your coaching career when the value of your work is appreciated more than ever, and the manager knows he needs you to be here in the worst way, and the fans and the media respect you for being a special man, and a special Cardinal.
Oquendo is at a place in his career and life when job security doesn’t matter … if he got fired tomorrow, then it’s fine, onto the next thing, and the other 29 MLB teams would be trying to recruit him anyway. Or maybe Oquendo would just ease his way back to Florida, play more golf, maybe help out by coaching the prospects again … and wait a few years until he’s selected for induction into the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame.
Jose Oquendo has 100 percent freedom, and I imagine he really enjoys that feeling.
So if Jose Martinez is the first baseman now, that would be news … even if it is unconfirmed at the moment.
Even if this turns out to be fake news — or just a simple misunderstanding — the real news is this: Jose Oquendo does not give a cluck. He alone will decide what he wants to talk about. He alone will decide what he chooses to reveal.
When it comes to Jose Oquendo, Jose Oquendo is the boss.
Jose Oquendo is Manager Oquendo.
It is truly a beautiful thing.
Thanks for reading …