Jose Oquendo, thought by many to be the heir-apparent to 16-year manager Tony La Russa, learned that was not the case when first-time coach Mike Matheny was named instead of him to succeed La Russa and become the 49th manager in the history of the St. Louis Cardinals.
One of five candidates interviewed but not selected, Oquendo was faced with a major career decision this week as a result. Should he remain with the organization that has been his only home in 15 years of coaching as well as his final ten years as a player or should he move on?
To their credit, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak and Matheny made it clear during Monday’s managerial press conference that they hoped Oquendo would return in 2012.
The Puerto Rican native’s experience as third base coach and infield instructor, not to mention his Spanish-language skills, had clear value to the organization. So would be his continuity on Matheny’s new staff as the team’s second longest-serving coach after pitching master Dave Duncan.
Just after his interview with the Cardinals search committee last week, Oquendo said the following to the Post-Dispatch.
“This is home, If nothing works out, hopefully, I can stay around and coach here. Hopefully, they like what I’ve done in the past.
“Sometimes, a new (manager) might want to bring in a new guy to coach. I’ll have to wait and see what decision they make. If I’m not back, then I have to find another way to bring in income.”
Job security seemed an important objective.
By taking this approach, Oquendo may have given the Cardinals the easy way out. They did not have to name him manager to continue to benefit from his contributions. They could hire another manager and have the best of both worlds, which is of course precisely what they did.
Further, while Oquendo appeared happy to take the top job had it been offered, he did not create the impression that he was particularly aggressive in pursuing it and was overly concerned if he did not get it.
“If it’s not going to be me, I’m not going to be saying, ‘Why not? Why not me?’ If it happens, it happens,” he told the Post-Dispatch.
Oquendo, 48, lives in St. Louis County with his wife, four children and granddaughter and is apparently comfortable there. After a quarter of a century of work with the Cardinals, setting deep roots in the community is understandable, but it may not be the best career move to remain.
Though Oquendo had also been considered for managerial openings in San Diego, Seattle and with the New York Mets in recent years, he has reportedly never been offered the top uniformed job.
If he was primarily focused on becoming a major league manager, this would have been the time to thank the Cardinals for the good times and move on to another MLB staff to better position himself for a future managerial shot elsewhere.
By remaining, I think Oquendo has explicitly limited his future MLB managerial opportunities and indicated he is content playing a supporting, rather than a lead role.
After all, since the organization that knows him best chose not to give him the top job, would another club now seriously consider hiring him off the Cardinals staff? Previously, Oquendo had the mystique of being perceived by some as the one chosen and specially groomed to follow La Russa. Any benefit that provided him is now gone.
Of course, as long as Oquendo is comfortable with the ramifications of this week’s decisions made by the Cardinals and himself, the club should be the winner over the long haul.