Tyler O’Neill committed a Cardinal sin.
And worse than that, he doubled down on his belief that he didn’t commit one in the first place.
The Cardinals outfielder — to my eye, your eye and the manager’s eye — didn’t give 100% effort when running from second to home on Tuesday. And he was thrown out (if he was safe, it would’ve cut Atlanta’s seventh-inning lead to 4-2 with the 2-3-4 hitters coming up).
On an already murky day outdoors, O’Neill said Wednesday of his baserunning: “No, I definitely didn’t feel like I was going slower.”
He sure looked like he was going slower, especially after he rounded third and looked up toward right field for the ball. And manager Oliver Marmol said multiple times that if O’Neill had run full-speed, O’Neill would’ve been safe.
So, on Wednesday, Marmol made the right call — he didn’t start O’Neill. And while Marmol didn’t admit that Dylan Carlson started because of O’Neill’s Tuesday effort, Marmol later said of a high standard: “You meet it, you play. You don’t meet it, you don’t play.”
O’Neill, however, said Wednesday’s game was an already scheduled day off for him.
O’Neill also said, “These conversations definitely could have been had in-house and not gotten out on the loose like they have.”
This sounds like he’s frustrated that his boss, Marmol, spoke about O’Neill to the media.
Probably not the best thing for the ballplayer to say.
Is this incident worthy of a massive decision, such as trading O’Neill? No. But, is this incident the “window-opening” that could lead to O’Neill’s St. Louis demise? Could happen. We’ll have to see.
Carlson started in center Wednesday and made a pair of impressive catches, one that had him sprinting to track down a ball near the track, the other a diving catch of a ball that, as they say, had double written all over it. Even before all of this, Carlson was the team’s best defensive choice in center. And the former top-hitting prospect for the Cards has taken some good swings thus far in 2023. With five outfielders at one time on the St. Louis roster, the competition for playing time already was fierce.
Marmol did give O’Neill an at-bat in Wednesday’s eighth inning — O’Neill fouled a ball with an incredible exit velocity of 110.8 mph but then flew out to center.
Marmol wouldn’t say to the media whether O’Neill will start in the next game, which is Friday at the Brewers. O’Neill does have six homers at Milwaukee’s stadium — the most he’s hit at any road park. It’s strategically possible, with stud right-hander Brandon Woodruff pitching Friday, Marmol doesn’t start the right-handed-hitting O’Neill and opts for the switch-hitting Carlson. The bigger tell of O’Neill’s status would be if he doesn’t start Saturday against a lefty (Eric Lauer).
As for Marmol, I loved how he handled this. He’s unwavering in his philosophy. He’s not a rah-rah manager — but he’s using his actions to speak loudly to his players.
You want to think that ballplayers don’t need extra motivation, but apparently, as we saw with O’Neill’s play, some do. Well, Marmol established a precedent in early 2023 (just as he had in 2022 with a benching of Harrison Bader) — there is only one way to play.
“Let’s keep it super simple — there’s going to be a style of play that we are known for,” the second-year skipper said. “And it’s going to involve effort, and it’s going to involve being relentless. It’s going to involve being smart. And we’re going to keep guys to that. Because that’s how you sustain being good for a long time. There are a lot of good players in the clubhouse and down below (in Class AAA). And I love competition. And the last thing you want to do when you’re in competition is open up a window.”
Now, while O’Neill didn’t say it, one had to wonder if a player with an injury history on a wet night might’ve purposely slowed his speed to avoid injury.
Asked about a player doing this, Marmol summed it up succulently: “That doesn’t compute for me.”
Marmol is right. If a player is in the lineup, that means that the team has taken all the measures to get the guy out there — and thus the team demands max effort from the guy.
And of Marmol’s philosophy, he said: “I’ll always operate that way. It’s what comes natural to me. There’s a standard — you either do it or you don’t, I don’t see any other way around it. That’s how I do life. … I don’t know how to do it different.”
Time moves fast — and that has nothing to do with baseball’s new pitch clock. Days and plays go by, news cycles spin and just as quickly as O’Neill is the biggest story, his situation could be a non-story.
And, frankly, the Cardinals have a much bigger issue than O’Neill’s baserunning in one specific instance — the starting pitching has extremely underachieved so far. But as for now, the O’Neill situation reminds us that it’s not just the “Cardinal Way,” but “Marmol’s Way.” That’s how you play the game around here — and that how you get to play in the game around here.
The window is now open.
@hochman on Twitter