Magic Mike (Matheny)

by JoeYancey

So why do some seem to hate Mike? Good question, and worth asking… I personally do not hate anyone, Mike being one of them, but the uncertainty is there, and I assume always will be. To answer this question with any level of intelligence, we probably need to take a moment and examine the average fan.

Sports fans are a tricky thing. My years on this earth have taught me a few things regarding sports fans. They fully expect good teams to win every year, bad teams to lose every year, and no team that is not their team to be relevant. Fair assessment, less the latter. Even when including the latter, it’s not sensible, logical, rational and definitely not possible. No one can win every year. It’s just not how it works. Parity is wonderful and great for the game, any game, but it’s fickle and should not be expected.

The St. Louis Cardinals are considered a world class organization, which they are, an organization that embodies a high level of professionalism, a winning attitude, and at times, perfection. I’ve watched them closely for many years. As adults, we know perfection isn’t a real thing…  St. Louis Cardinals fans are demanding and the expectations are high. This is part of the issue with the “Matheny Project”. Forgive me calling it a project, but it really is, and it possibly has failed. I understand the severity of that indictment, and I am not one to take irrational sides, nor do I claim it justified or warranted, but we are still unsure of what we have here, thus a “project.”

Mike’s winning percentage, consistent postseason presence, catching background and many years of MLB experience would in theory make him an ideal candidate to lead a big league club, however there seems to be a wide base of hatred regarding his management style, lack of management experience and sheer presence. So why do we hate Mike? I’m not sure you can answer that in a sentence or even a paragraph. One thing is clear, the hate is definitely there, locally. I have no clue how broad it is, but I’ve spent time in Chicago, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Kansas City; conversed with fans from all over and the reviews are mixed across the board, most outsiders believing he does a good job. The things referenced above would indicate a man who is fit for the position. The partially disgruntled, insubordinate fan base would indicate the opposite.

Pro-Mathenyers say…

  • Long-time Cardinal. Knows the “Cardinal Way” Preaches and leads like a Cardinal
  • Catching background, enhanced knowledge of the game, widely considered the most logical choice of position players to evolve to a managerial role.
  • First manager in MLB history to lead team to 4 consecutive playoff appearances in first 4 seasons
  • 3 consecutive appearances in the National League Championship Series
  • Puts a lot of trust into his veteran players, openly embraces their leadership and allows them to lead.

Anti-Mathenyers say…

  • Bad in-game situational manager
  • Notoriously poor bull management
  • Lacks charisma, brick wall
  • One of the least candid managers in the game
  • Takes chances and when they fail, never fully explains the thought process
  • Minimal to no justification for managing against basic logic
  • Poor planning, and then indirectly blaming player execution when fails
  • Doesn’t ride the hot hand of younger players, prefers struggling veterans
  • Seemingly lost and confused at times
  • Not Tony Larussa

It is tough to argue Matheny’s successes. He puts the team in a position to win every year, but the mob is growing and patience is dwindling. Are Cardinals fans asking too much? Are we spoiled? Do we bundle our frustrations with the front office and point them at Mike? I think most fans are unreasonable, illogical and selfish. This isn’t a knock on fans, as much as it is the way sports are marketed to the fan. The “we,” “us,” “our,” perpetuates a team that we in some way own or are a part of, which we are not. This also gives fans a position to speak out, point fingers and place blame for below average performance, and rejoice with our team for above average performance.

Older school Cardinals’ fans are particularly hard on players, and softer on managers. The fans of my generation are the exact opposite. Every move Matheny makes in a pivotal spot is scrutinized, not just talked about, but heavy scrutiny. During crunch time, the burying end of pennant races and playoffs it’s considerably worse. Is this fair? Probably not, but that’s the job. One thing that burns britches is Mike’s outright refusal to explain and justify most of his decisions, seemingly a “because I felt like it” approach. Bernie Miklasz from 101 ESPN said it in no uncertain terms, “Mike Matheny is convinced that everything he does is right, and makes sure to surround himself with people who are unfailingly quick to reinforce that belief.”

While I am no position to say what is best for a baseball team, my leadership training in some way always embodied involvement from others, proper delegation, maintaining an open line of communication with those close to me right or wrong; learning from those things and growing.

The appearance is to not hurt Mike’s feelings, thus creating distance between the ranks and it being the one-man-band, with a few guys hanging out, as opposed to a cohesive unit of leadership bettering the team, and working towards winning a championship. Brick walls don’t talk. The appearance of a hardened leader that will go to war with you is nice, but when you lose the battle, some insight into what the heck you were thinking would be nice. I use the word appearance because I am not on the inside, but the militant, steadfast General look doesn’t seem to be paying dividends. Would it be the worst thing to laugh, smile, crack a joke, pull a prank and maybe have a little fun on and off the field? But that may be asking too much. I don’t know if Joe Madden is a great manager, but I know his guys loving playing for him, and they have fun.

The in-game play, bullpen management, situational hitting and defensive subs are all subjective, since those do occasionally work. The glowing issue is the bullpen management which seemingly never works and gets worse by the season. There aren’t a ton of managers that can self-claim bullpen aficionados, but there are also aren’t a ton that are downright awful at it. It’s one thing to underperform in an area, it’s another to continue to do the same thing over and over, with no change in sight. This would indicate pure stubbornness. There are countless examples of this, starters dying on the mound with a warmed pen, horrific base running, the wrong guys in the wrong spots, intentional walks that no one can understand, sacrifice bunts and the lineups. Ahhhh the lineups. It’s difficult to understand the process, and as I sit here in no position to say what’s right, I do know if you do something consistently and it doesn’t work, you change it.

Questions:

Why Randy Choate continues to pitch in the NLCS against S.F? Why does Matt Adams play left field? Why doesn’t Shelby Miller make the postseason roster? Why does Matheny always reference “young players” as some blanket statement to explain poor performance? Why does Matt Holliday stay in left late in games with large leads exposing his defensive retardation? Why does Michael Wacha continue to face David Ortiz in the World Series? Why are veterans playing every day and they are virtually deceased come playoff time? Why did Broxton and Rosenthal continue to take the hill when they were clearly ineffective? Why did Kolten Wong have a legitimate beef with lack of playing time and the Cardinals were put in a position to keep a guy when they had no clue what the actually had with him because he doesn’t play? Just how good do young guys have to play to get some clock on this roster? Why do lineup changes happen on 1-2 games of success or lack of? Why is there so much favoritism? Why do many players not want to play in St. Louis, because they do not want to play for him?

St. Louis fans can remember Tony Larussa batting the pitcher 8th day in and day out, producing minimal positive results, and even then a very stubborn Larussa eventually backed off. St. Louis fans can also recall every single pitching decision being openly discussed with Dave Duncan. This is the support system, open line of communication and willingness to recognize other opinions that Matheny appears to lack.

These questions may have great answers, but the fans are rarely given a glimpse at what is happening in Mike’s head or what the decision-making process is/was. It is unlikely he changes who he is, develops charisma overnight or openly starts addressing it. I know many fan bases would kill for the regular season success the Cardinals have had since 2012, but the “Best Fans in Baseball” are getting restless.  I am not calling for his head, I am not asking for action … Simply bringing to the table it’s already at. Salute.

Rights to Arch City Media

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