Mike Matheny’s first Spring Training as the skipper of the St. Louis Cardinals is just around the corner. My thoughts often turn to music or random movie quotes at the drop of a dime. When I began to think about my topic for this post I thought about what Training Camp for the Cardinals would look like this year. Mostly because I am hoping to be able to attend a game or two if my travel schedule allows. I was at my nephew’s birthday party this weekend and my brother in law and sister in law had some Sinatra playing for background music and it I suddenly realized that some of the lyrics were very fitting. More on that later. LaRussa’s training camps have become somewhat legendary for how they were structured and conducted. The question of how Matheny’s camp will look has intrigued me since his announcement as Manager.
This is Matheny’s first chance to make his mark. Matheny has an interesting mix of athletes to deal with heading into camp, many of which who are set in their ways. I am interested to see how he handles the veterans and sets the tone for the youngsters. Will his camp be difficult and taxing or will it be more laid back and light to maintain the health of the old guys? While I am a Tony LaRussa fan, I have made no bones about my love of Whitey Herzog. I was really pleased to hear that Matheny has reached out to The White Rat and invited him to camp to sit on the bench and offer advice. Matheny has apparently expressed an interest in Herzog’s charts that he based his defensive decisions on. Being passionate about the Whitey years I remember that Herzog may have been more detailed than Dave Duncan and Tony LaRussa’s charts and graphs. The major difference is this was a pre-computer era. It was all hand written and color coded. Since there really isn’t a chance that any of the charts have anyone who is currently playing in the major leagues it has to be all about how he positioned his defense according to the data he recorded. Whitey knew where batters hit his pitchers. He credited the number of double plays Ozzie and Tommy Herr turned to this data and where he had them play. Terry Pendleton enters this mix also. I loved Terry Pendleton, mostly because I was built like him. He wasn’t the most talented of major leaguers but he hustled and always seemed to be in the right spot. Most of which I hoped my coaches would say about me.
I really have no concern about the pitching and catching taking place in Jupiter. With Matheny being a former catcher and working in Duncan’s system he will be able to handle this aspect with ease. I am more concerned about the position players and how they will approach that. I am assuming that reports of Matheny reaching out to Ozzie (who has been out of the fold for too long) will be beneficial in this area. Matheny has proven that he is not dumb or naïve. He will work hard to prepare this team for championship defense. Matheny will not be perfect this year. I don’t think we can expect that. However, my hope is that he limits his abiity to screw things up. I have heard many times over the years that a Manager can account for anywhere from 20-30 wins or losses throughout the course of the season based on personnel moves and game decisions. If what he has done as he has prepared for this season is any indication we will see a well prepared manager and coaching staff on a daily basis.
I am sure that over the course of this upcoming season Matheny will be able to quote Ole’ Blue Eyes. Hopefully for the joy and not the sorrow.
My hope as a fan is that there are more times that he gets it right than he gets it wrong. If I could give him any advice (if he’s reading), it would be simple. Continue to surround yourself with great baseball men and listen to their counsel. Make your decisions and stick to them without hesitation.