The St. Louis Cardinals returned home on Friday from a nine-game road trip, and awaiting them at Busch Stadium were a series of questions about clubhouse culture that were spurred by a recent report.
The Athletic’s Mark Saxon wrote on Wednesday that Cardinals closer Bud Norris has been “mercilessly riding” 21-year-old fireballer Jordan Hicks. Hicks dismissed questions about Norris with a “no comment” that set off a firestorm of both local and national controversy, especially as Hicks’s dismissal was contrasted with manager Mike Matheny’s flippancy.
Hicks, Norris, Matheny, and Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak all addressed the comments on Friday afternoon, and to a man, they presented a united front which sought to downplay any underlying implication of a problematic environment.
“I have no problem with anything that any vet wants me to do,” Hicks said. “I have not been hazed or anything like that. There’s not any torment or anything like that.”
Said Norris, “he holds me accountable, the group holds him accountable, and that’s why we have team unity in this clubhouse.”
“I love him. I’m genuinely passionate about who he is as a person and what he wants to be on the field and off the field.”
Mozeliak said he spoke to all involved and asked questions of each person, and after doing so, “[he] felt a lot better.”
“More importantly,” said Mozeliak, “after speaking with Jordan, I think he’s appreciative of some of the veteran players showing interest in him and helping him grow in this game.”
Matheny was perhaps the most animated of the four, engaging reporters in the dugout in a long conversation about the nature of the accusations and the implication that there was a negative connotation to Norris’s actions. Matheny called that inference “inaccurate” and “totally opposite.”
Matheny also strongly defended the model of player leadership, saying, “this is how it should always happen. Those conversations always going back and forth, once again, if the motive’s right, to help people and to help our club.”
The conversation around Norris and Hicks, however, spurred a larger discussion about the culture of the Cardinals clubhouse. With the team sitting in third place in the National League Central and slowly drifting out of the wild card race, additional room opens up for questions.
Mozeliak acknowledged as much, saying, “I feel like culture’s one of those topics, when everything’s going great, you have a good culture. When things are not going great it becomes a question.”
“Are players happy here? Do they feel like this is a place they want to be? Most of them would tell you yes. Are we perfect? No.”
Matheny described policing among the players as an “integral part” of the organizational culture. “Players are happy to use their experience to figure out ways to help the other guys,” he said.
Mozeliak and Matheny both pushed back against any accusation of bullying. Mozeliak, perhaps echoing the criticism faced by the club during the Tyler Dunnington situation in 2016, said, “I think when you start using words like harassment or bullying, every single one of us looks at that differently. The alarm goes up and that’s certainly a concern.”
Rather than hoping for Norris to choose different tactics in dealing with Hicks, Matheny seemed to double down on his belief that the clubhouse was being run properly. “There are less guys trying to help young players now than ever before,” he said, “and what we’re going through now is probably part of the reason.”
“My fear is that Bud will do what too many players do with a lot of experience,” said Matheny. “They just sit on that and keep it to themselves and they don’t try to help other players.”
Instead, Matheny said that both Hicks and Norris came to him expressing bewilderment over the controversy.
“I think it’s a shame this has happened,” Matheny said, “but it’s also a great opportunity to try to reinforce what we think is right.”
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