Mike Matheny 86’d – Jersey Retired. What’s Next?

by JoeYancey

The greatest rivalry of recent years has not been Cards Vs Cubs, but rather pro-Matheny Vs anti-Matheny, which in turn became the greatest point of pain. Supporters of Matheny often pointing to the front office as the issue referencing a poor roster and a good win-loss record. Those wanting Matheny gone pointing to a variety of things, feeling he was not the guy for the job.

It’s important to note Mike Matheny is said by all to be a great person and was a decent player, well-respected and a hard worker. The no-nonsense, straight arrow approach probably seemed ideal at the time of hire. After all Tony Larussa was similar. The difference is Tony had a lot more rope; the sort of rope you carry with championship runs,  years of experience and a great baseball mind. This isn’t to say Matheny wasn’t a great baseball mind, but the fans and media are not kind to first time big league managers, thus something we may never know.

Unfortunately he was not great. He was never accountable. He never took shots for his team. He was constantly pointing to other things and people. How many times have you heard a manager/coach say “that’s on me?” How many times have you heard MM say it?

Mike seemingly did not identify well with his people – the angry Sergeant look was getting old. “I’m just gonna stand here and look serious.” The bit was getting stale. Be human Mike! Talk to the team and the fans. Laugh! Smile! Maybe a prank or a wisecrack! Would it be the worst thing if people liked you?

I have several specific examples regarding his bull-headed management style, but I don’t have the energy to whip them all out. Just know there were countless problems and they were all repeat offenses. Bullpen management, defensive switches, in-game ANYTHING, pinch-hitting, using every pitcher every game… it just never stopped with him.

Mike did not talk. He gave us zero insight regarding his thought process when he made these bonehead decisions. He refused to. YOU ARE OBLIGATED TO – by the fans. You don’t like it? Don’t manage a baseball team. “I felt it the right thing to do,” is not an adequate answer for every situation.

The players didn’t like playing for him, or so the rumor goes. You lose the locker room – you’re done and it starts to get around, quickly. If the players don’t like you, it doesn’t matter. They don’t have to love you, but they can’t hate you.

What do you think happened that “the best baseball town” and a winning culture suddenly saw no one wanting to play here? No different from a bad boss at work. People can like you and respect you, but if the word on the street is you’re tough to play for, most with options aren’t going to be interested. Surely some will take the money (see Dexter Fowler) but what will the effort look like? Will they get better? Guys thrive under managers that push, acknowledge and reward them. The basic fundamentals of the game have suffered tremendously the last 4 seasons, and many view it spite of the man in charge. Collecting checks, giving a worthwhile effort but not the proverbial 110%. Even scarier is talented ball players actually getting worse.

The assault on John Mozeliak and the front office is unwarranted. Jason Heyward takes an offer for less money. David Price never showed for his tour. Mike Stanton told St. Louis to beat it and there are countless others examples of this. I realize these are huge markets but the stigma of MM added to an already competitive recruiting bay. You’re competing with Chicago, Boston and New York. It would be helpful to have a warm guy as the face of the franchise. If money and most things are equal, what pushes a big-time player over the edge and makes them choose a smaller market? Terry Francona maybe, Mike Matheny no. I am not excusing the front office. I agree there are deficiencies in multiple areas, but to say the team is void of talent is remarkably inaccurate.

What’s next?

I’m going to assume likeability will be at the top of the Cardinals’ list. Buy-in from players, specifically the younger ones. Someone that can sit with the players and attempt to relate. The strict regimen pays dividends. Accountability, chain of command and discipline are important, as are fundamentals and basics of the game, but there is a lot to be said about the guy that takes out the trash and washes dishes when orders stack up and you need everyone on deck. You will like AND respect this guy. Players need to know you’re with them, not just waiting to punish them when they fall. Mike Shildt may be that guy.

I think we all assume his duty is the second half and not much beyond. A true ‘players coach’ is what the organization needs right now and there is no indication that Shildt isn’t that guy. Years in the minors, and lesser-than roles at the big league level make for a great success story if he can make the team competitive again. Shildt may be able to parlay this stint to a full time gig. The pressure is low, the expectations are lower. The team can breathe a deep sigh of relief, focus on playing ball and having fun. After all it is a game.

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