While I am sure no St. Louis Cardinal fan was shocked by the announcement from the organization about longtime LaRussa counterpart Dave Duncan last week. Duncan needs to be with his wife. I am not sure how anyone could fault the man for making a decision such as this. As a true fan and a human being I completely understand that even for guys at this level there is more to life than baseball. However I will miss his control and tutelage of the pitching staff. While I wish Coach Duncan and his family all the best we now have to chart a course without him at the helm of the pitching staff.
At first I was worried and concerned about how this staff could possibly handle Duncan stepping away. Pitchers are often a fragile lot. Duncan has excelled at teaching, managing, and developing the careers of many of these guys. He is a trusted confidant, mentor, and champion of their abilities. I always loved watching him trot to the mound to have a discussion with “his guy”. I always got the feeling that they felt reassured and supported when Dunc came to the mound. Pitchers are usually very temperamental and superstitious group. They are prone to melt downs and if they lose their confidence it can be a long season for everyone. Duncan had the ability to work with these guys and push them to rise to their potential and often exceed it. We were fortunate enough to watch him pull reclamation projects off the scrap heap and coach them to turn in brilliant seasons. Kent Bottenfield anyone? One might even go as far as saying that Chris Carpenter owes his career to Ole Dunc as well.
With that being said, over the past few days I have come to believe that the Cardinals will be okay. Here’s why. Derek Lilliquist is an adequate substitute. He proved that during the stretch run while Duncan was with his wife when she was initially diagnosed. The quick installment of him as the new pitching coach was a necessary and a quality decision. This is another thing Mozeliak had some foresight to have in place should the situation arise. The staff trusts Lilliquist. Any guy who was allowed to be on Duncan’s staff as a bullpen coach is good enough for me. He also has the option of picking up the phone any time to talk to Duncan (as this is a leave of absence). Duncan wants to give him the ability to run the staff. He will, however, still watch over and if asked will offer up the wisdom of his years intense detailed stats on EVERY major leaguer.
Yadier Molina is the second reason we will survive without Duncan. Yadi has been instrumental in carrying out Duncan and LaRussa’s marching orders over the years. The amount of detail and study that Duncan requires of his pitchers and catchers is incredible. There are hours of film, pictures and the stats compiled over the years to fit every situation imaginable (and some never heard of or seen before). Yadi has earned the trust of his staff. He works with them. He protects them. Most of all he makes them look the best they can. Duncan’s philosophy has no doubt rubbed off on him. I believe this is his time to shine and take his game to the next level. His continued work ethic is crucial to the team’s success.
Finally, the manager is yet another reason the Birds can survive without Duncan. Matheny was Duncan’s prodigy as a catcher. He understood the system and process like no other catcher Duncan had over the years. I believe that Matheny owes his career to Duncan and his personal work ethic. He was a multiple (3 in St. Louis) Gold Glove winner. He understands the system that Duncan has in place. I would think he knows it even better than LaRussa did after all of those years together. His first hand knowledge of the intricacies of Duncan’s madness can only serve himself and Lilliquist well.
While I initially thought that Matheny’s success was reliant upon Dave Duncan’s continuance as pitching coach I have come to realize he may be all right without him in that role. I don’t say that lightly because Duncan has been crucial to Tony LaRussa’s success over the years. Cardinal Nation has been extremely fortunate to have Coach Duncan around and to watch him work his magic. Lilliquist, Molina, and Matheny all have to pitch in to make this machine work now. They can’t rely on Duncan’s ability and experience in the dugout or pen every day. They can only rely on each other and their lessons learned from the Master. While I hope to see Duncan back in uniform this season I am secure in the belief that we can make it without him even if he decides to hang it up forever. I wish him and his family all the best. I hope his wife has a remarkable recovery and a sense of normalcy returns to their family life. I can only imagine how he is wreaking havoc with the medical staff with his countless binders of documents tracking their individual performance and his wife’s speed of recovery. Hope to see you soon Coach!