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Ben Frederickson: Matt Holliday, like Skip Schumaker, could grow from Cardinals bench coach into MLB manager

Ben Frederickson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in Baseball

SAN DIEGO — Skip Schumaker, sitting behind the microphone during his first Winter Meetings appearance as the manager of the Miami Marlins, stopped and considered how his Cardinals reunion helped secure this opportunity.

“I learned a lot,” Schumaker said about his one-and-done season as Cardinals manager Oli Marmol’s bench coach. “I learned a lot about not micromanaging. Oli was not a micromanager. He let the coaches that he hired coach. I didn't know Oli on a personal level until he hired me. I knew right away that if you're going to spend the most time with somebody, you've got to really like them and be on the same page. And Oli and I were on the same page. My weaknesses were his strengths, and vice versa. I think that's why it worked so well. But the (not) micromanaging was probably the number one thing that I took away. It was like, we hired you to coach. Coach. Do it well, and we'll see what happens. And that's what Oli did. That's what I took away from most of it.”

Two seasons ago, Schumaker was calling this city home as first base coach of the Padres. Last season he rejoined the Cardinals as first-year manager Marmol’s right-hand man. And now he was back here in San Diego, putting his stamp on the Marlins as they aim to become more competitive in the loaded National League East.

His club needs offense, but cites compelling and cost-controlled pitching as a strength. A new schedule that features more games outside of the division should help. Schumaker’s first on-field action as manager will include Grapefruit League games against the Cardinals at the two teams' shared Roger Dean Stadium. He admitted Monday that he’s never been through the Marlins' entrance to the complex.

“It’s going to be fun,” Schumaker said about facing the Cardinals. “A lot of those guys, they're all friends. They're all buddies of mine. We had such a good run. Was a fun season last year. Life-long friends. And so a healthy trash talk is a good trash talk. And we'll have a lot of fun in spring training.”

Schumaker spent the longest stretch of his 11-season playing career (eight seasons) with the Cardinals, a run that included contributing to a World Series championship in 2011. That experience as a player was used daily in his work as a coach. But it was his return to the Cardinals for just one season that helped finalize his preparation to join the small club of former players who have received a chance to manage. The Cardinals hoped he would be in St. Louis for at least two years instead of one, but his name was hot and managerial job offers are rare enough it’s unwise to pass on one when it comes.

The springboard Schumaker used is becoming a popular one.

Before former Cardinals manager Mike Shildt replaced former Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, Shildt’s climb to the top of the organization that started as a scout reached its penultimate stop when he became Matheny’s bench coach.

Before Marmol became the man the Cardinals front office turned to during a turbulent time after its controversial firing of Shildt, Marmol had proved to the Cardinals through his work as bench coach that he was ready for the chance to manage sooner rather than later.

 

Marmol, who could have resisted pursuing a beloved former player to serve as a hire that could be viewed as one peering over his shoulder, pushed for Schumaker to join him on the Cardinals bench after Schumaker was considered for the manager’s job along with Marmol. And Marmol took the same approach in his pursuit of another beloved former Cardinal for the open bench coach role when Schumaker accepted the Marlins' offer. Marmol knows what we all know, that new Cards bench coach Matt Holliday brings been-there, done-that experience to a staff that needed some more of it. He also knows what some people don’t, that Holliday breaks the mold of a former player who just wants to view the game how it was when he played. He is an advanced and technical student of baseball and has worked to stay on its cutting edge since he stepped away as a player. It’s long been a running joke among former Cardinals with baseball-playing kids, for example, that they would like to send their sons to the Holliday house for the best shot at development.

No one should be surprised if at some Winter Meetings in the near future, former Cardinals bench coach Matt Holliday is sitting down to do his first Winter Meetings meeting with the media.

Schumaker agrees.

“I think he's going to be terrible,” Schumaker joked with a big grin. “There's no way he's going to replace me. No, he's great. I love Matt. He's going to be amazing at it. He could have been a big league bench coach or manager years ago if he wanted to be. And what a great spot for him to be in. Obviously, he has a really good team that he — just like I got on, too, last year — inherited that type of team. But Matt's only going to make them better. He made me better as a player. He's going to make every one of those guys better. So it was a great hire by Oli."

Even if there could be some growing pains.

“I think the challenge will be just, like, bullpen matchups and that kind of thing, when Oli gets kicked out,” Schumaker said, breaking out his grin again. “Because he’s going to get kicked out. And the game gets fast. But Matt's going to be fine. He's a pro.”

And perhaps another Cardinals bench coach turned manager before too long.

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