ST. LOUIS — It took a little more than a month for Mike Shildt to convince the Cardinals they didn't need to look long or all that far for their next manager.
In a news conference Tuesday afternoon at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals formally announced they are removing the interim tag from Shildt's title and introduced him as the manager of the Cardinals, complete with a new three-year contract. That deal includes the remainder of this season and then the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
"Enormous amount of pride of having someone coming up through your organization and rise to this level is special," said John Mozeliak, Cardinals president of baseball operations. "Why now? It made sense to do it now. Everything is going well, and more importantly momentum is building behind our players. Having Mike Shildt as manager is a tremendous story. I hope the next chapter is even better."
Shildt, 50, has led the Cardinals back into the postseason race since taking over as manager with one game remaining before the All-Star break. In the 38 games since, the Cardinals have gone 26-12 and leapfrogged seven other teams to move to the top of the National League wild-card standings. The Cardinals have won nine consecutive series, and they have seen improvement in all phases of the game.
Shildt inherited a third-place team that was one game better than .500, and at the same time the Cardinals announced that they would conduct a search at the end of the season for their next manager. Shildt got a chance to state his case and turned to the team into a contender.
"This is not something I take lightly," Shildt said. "I'm very grateful for my family. I grew up in a clubhouse around baseball. I got my ABCs of baseball at an early age. ... I have been given a lot of credit for what's happened in the past six weeks. I appreciate it, but I cannot accept it."
He credited the players.
The Cardinals have the most wins in the National League since Shildt took over, and they reached Monday's off day one win shy of the most in the NL.
During a recent interview, Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. suggested that it would be hard to think of a "more impressive" turn than the one Shildt piloted.
"He deserves a lot of credit because he’s putting players in positions to succeed. It’s worked," DeWitt said. "I’m not being critical of the prior regime because they’ve been here a number of years. We said at the time a fresh voice can inject new life into a club and that’s what has happened in my view."
Concerned about what they termed as the "erosion" of performance this season, the Cardinals fired manager Mike Matheny and hitting coaches John Mabry and Bill Mueller on July 14. Shildt was handed the keys to a roster that was also quickly overhauled. The result has been the most dramatic turnaround in baseball this season and the club that has the most wins (19) in August.
Shildt is a product of the organization.
A North Carolina native who grew up around the Baltimore Orioles organization -- his father proposed at an Orioles' game -- Shildt joined the Cardinals in 2004 as an area scout. He let the front office know that he would like a chance to coach at some point, and even suggested to then-general manager John Mozeliak that if it didn't work out he would return to teaching and coaching baseball in Charlotte, N.C.
It worked out.
In three of Shildt's first four seasons as manager he won league titles. His third consecutive league championship came in 2012 with the Class AA Springfield affiliate that boasted some of the Cardinals' top prospects, such as Carlos Martinez, Kolten Wong, Oscar Taveras, and Trevor Rosenthal. Shildt's team also won Appalachian League titles for Johnson City and again in 2011, a team that featured Carson Kelly. He moved up like the players did as named Class AAA Memphis' manager for the 2015 and 2016 season.
In his minor-league career, his teams went 471-432.
Within the organization and for those who had to manage against him, Shildt developed a reputation for being fundamentally sound and aggressive with his strategy. Former manager Tony La Russa, who got to know Shildt first as the minor-league spring training coordinator, remarked how inquisitive Shildt was a young coach and manager, and how the questions he stayed around to ask showed "a sincerity."
He was a sponge.
"He was different, you could tell," La Russa told The Post-Dispatch this past week. "He had this understanding, this quick understanding of things. When you look at Mike Shildt, you see the effectiveness needed for a manager, and you see the instruction he's received from (field coordinator) Mark DeJohn and from (farm director) Gary LaRocque, and you see how that's really what's been given him -- experience. He's made the most of the opportunity."
Shildt, one of the few managers in major-league history who never had an inning or an at-bat as a pro ballplayer, joined the major-league staff for the 2017 season. He first served as the quality control coach, and midway through the season -- during a staff shakeup -- was moved to third-base coach. He was named bench coach entering the 2018 season.
This story will be updated.