Francona Should Be the Choice

I didn’t realize this until putting some thought into it, but the Cardinals haven’t had a real, authentic search for a manager in 35 years, which is amazing.

Of course, the Cardinals are conducting a real search now, and we’ll get to that in a moment. But before that, some history.

When Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty, under orders from team president Mark Lamping, fired Joe Torre in 1995, he installed Mike Jorgensen as the interim skipper. Jocketty had spent seven years with Tony La Russa in Oakland, and when the A’s were sold and cutting payroll, La Russa’s contract ended, and he came to St. Louis. There wasn’t a real search for a new manager. La Russa was Jocketty’s guy all along, and when it became apparent that Bill DeWitt’s group was going to purchase the franchise from Anheuser-Busch, he took the job. There weren’t a bunch of interviews or finalists; it was just Jocketty hiring La Russa.

The hire before that was made by Dal Maxvill in 1990. When Whitey Herzog resigned in July of that year, almost immediately we knew that Torre would be the guy. Maxvill and Torre had played together here for four seasons, and Maxvill was Torre’s third-base coach with the Braves in the early ‘80s. While Maxvill performed some cursory interviews in the three weeks before naming Torre, it was clear to everyone that he was the guy. In fact, Herzog left on July 6, and Torre had to do two things. He had to give the Angels time to find a replacement analyst as he left their TV booth, and he had a 50th birthday party in Las Vegas (attended by Maxvill) on July 18. On Aug. 1, Torre was named manager.

Herzog was named manager of the Cardinals between games of a doubleheader in Montreal on June 8 of 1980. Ken Boyer was fired following the opener, after Herzog had made a visit to Gussie Busch at Grant’s farm earlier that morning. Busch made up his mind that the New Athens, Ill., native, fired by the Royals after the previous season, was the guy for the job. Before the season was over, Herzog also took over as general manager when John Claiborne was fired. Whitey named Red Schoendienst manager for the rest of the season, but took the reigns again for 1981.

Boyer came aboard during the 1978 season. The longtime Cardinal was beloved by the Redbird fan base, and was managing at Triple-A Rochester in April of 1978 when the Cardinals fired Vern Rapp 17 games into the season. Even though he had never managed in the majors before, Boyer’s personality and presence were a known commodity. He was well liked by Busch and general manager Bing Devine, and wanted the job badly. After firing Rapp, Cardinals coach Jack Krol took over for two games before Boyer took the reins. There wasn’t a search, just an affirmation.

So that takes us back to 1976, after Schoendienst was let go by the Redbirds. The Cardinals actually interviewed Boyer then, in addition to several other candidates and a longtime Reds and Expos minor league manager: Rapp. Rapp had spent time in the Cardinals organization, and was a native St. Louisan. Because of his winning minor-league history and ties to St. Louis, the Cardinals allowed him to win the job, although he only held it for one season and one month.

It’s interesting to note that of the five managerial hires the Cardinals have made over the last 35 years, the two unsuccessful managers had never had a big-league job, and the three that turned out well had previous experience. Rapp managed again in the majors, and didn’t last a whole season in Cincinnati, and Boyer was diagnosed with cancer soon after losing his job and never managed again before his death in 1982.

Herzog, who went to three World Series and won one with the Cardinals; Torre, who went on to outstanding success with the Yankees after leaving here, and LaRussa all had major-league managing success before coming to St. Louis.

Based on the last 35 years, that makes Terry Francona the logical choice among those named by Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch as candidates. If you know how to win, you know how to win. We know that about Francona. While we respect Jose Oquendo, Chris Maloney, Mike Matheny, Joe McEwing and Ryne Sandberg, we just don’t know how they’ll do at this level with a veteran, championship team.

Cardinals history says go with the guy who’s done it before. And I agree with respecting history. Go with the known commodity. Go with Francona.