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Mike Matheny and the Cardinals

Lately, I’ve been hearing some pretty harsh criticism directed towards manager Mike Matheny. His team’s losing, and he’s been catching a lot of flack because of it. I want to briefly defend him, and examine where he stands as a manager a year and a half into his career.

First, let us recognize our position as fans. Now, just like every other good fan, I criticize the professional umps for blowing calls that I couldn’t make, yell at players for failing to do what I can’t, and I definitely critique managers for the stupid decisions I’m not qualified to make. That’s because I’m a good fan and an aspiring writer. It’s my job. I certainly don’t want to claim any sort of moral superiority.

But it’s easy to look back at a decision and say it was wrong (thanks to good ol’ hindsight); it’s much harder to make that choice in the heat of the moment with a game on the line. When Pete Kozma doesn’t come up with a big hit in the tenth, it’s easy to say that Jay’s sac bunt was a bad idea. But if it works and Kelly scores the winning run, Matheny’s a genius. And, truth be told, there’s good reason to give him the benefit of the doubt.

To begin with, we’re fans and he’s a professional. I stopped playing baseball at about 15. I tell myself it was because the sport got too expensive and I couldn’t afford it, but in reality I wasn’t good enough to cut it. Even if I had the skill (and we all know I had the skill), I didn’t have the dedication and desire that professionals need to get to that higher level. Matheny did. Because he did, he knows more about the game of baseball than I ever will. Sure, reading articles on Fangraphs helps us all understand the game a little bit better, and we can study baseball to no end, but he lives in the game. He’s been surrounded for years by the best in the business, he’s had access to a world that we only get glimpses of.

Beyond that, Matheny has handled himself well as a manger to this point. Thus far in his short career, he has an 156-124 record, good for a .557 winning percentage. That puts him at seventh among all Cardinals managers since 1900 with at least 250 games at the helm. Granted, we aren’t dealing with a full career at this point, and Matheny took over a pretty good team, but his current winning percentage is better than that of Whitey Herzog, Red Shoendienst, and Tony La Russa — three of the Cardinal greats. Especially for a young manager, he has been quite impressive. In Herzog’s first 380 games as a manger, he boasted a 180-190 record; Shoendienst was little better with a 163-160 record in his first two seasons; and even LaRussa was 120-147 in his early years. So, as far as managers go, Matheny’s off to a pretty decent start. I certainly do not wish to imply that Matheny deserves a spot with the all-time greats at this point, but, as my father always said, “a good beginning is more than half the whole.” Although it can feel like he’s managing our beloved Cardinals into the ground at times, perhaps he’s not as awful as you think.

We’ll see how he does down the stretch, and how well he handles himself in the years to come, but if he stays on the same track, he could become one of the best managers the Cardinals have ever seen. Until he appears to be off that track, I’m going to put a little more faith in him.

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  • Moveguy

    You know you lose all credibility in the first sentence by calling him the head coach right? Those guys are in the NFL, in MLB they are called managers. Thus everything else in the article should be assumed to be off as well.

    • Ovadia

      You’re right! I fixed it. That was a stupid mistake on my part, and while I understand if you disagree with my article, at least forgive me for being a moron. You will note that I did not make the same egregious error in the rest of the article. Maybe only the first sentence was off.

      • Moveguy

        Since I see you are an aspiring journalist, here is a point to remember. I did not read the rest of the story because as soon as I saw that in the opening line, I was like this guy is an NFL person just trying to put up an article about something he knows very little about.

        When I second guess a manager, it is not about the results. When a situation comes up, I already determine in my mind what I would do if I were in his position. That does not make me right and him wrong, but it is obviously a difference in opinion and as fans we are entitled to voice those. I don’t judge if his idea worked or did not work. He can only pull the trigger, the players have to produce.

        Now I have my subscription to MLB TV and watch the Cards 3-4 times a week, so I think I see them enough to give an informed opinion. I would say Matheny on a scale of 1-10 would be about a 6 so far. But what do you expect from a guy who had never managed, except teenage boys. He has improved from last year where he was like a 4. Here is a good example, last year if his team would win the first two games of a series, he would play a bunch of backups in game 3 and basically just give the game away. This year he has changed that policy which shows he can learn from it. However this year he was slow in changing around the end of the bullpen and gave away to many games trying find out if certain pitchers were going to pull out of it. Mike has to learn that games in April and May count just as much as games in Aug and September.

        You also state that he inherited a pretty good team. Really he took over the defending WS champions with the best and deepest farm system in MLB. So those 2 things alone eliminate the conversation about his W/L record. Yes he lost AP, but that has worked out better for him since they then had the money to go get Beltran.

        Do I think Mike has earned the right to be manager a couple of more years? Absolutely. Does he have plenty of room to continue to grow? Absolutely. But we as fans have the right to discuss his philosophies and decisions as the manager of our team.

        • Ovadia

          Certainly so. As I said, this was not meant to appear as some sort of moral superiority on my part, I just wanted to point out some of the good, instead of some of the bad. I critique Matheny as well, and I critique Craig and Beltran too, I just also wanted to point out some of his merits.

          He’s been catching a lot more criticism lately, and the reason for that is the fan’s general frustration at a losing team. While I get that, and losing last night frustrates me as well, it’s not always the most logical thing to attack a player or manager just because the team is losing. So, in the hope of inspiring some optimism instead of pure negativity, I thought I would put him in a better light. Your final paragraph nails it. I’ve just recently heard some calls to retire him completely, and I don’t think that those are justified.

          In conclusion: critique and discuss away! Just don’t hate him too much just yet.

          • Moveguy

            My hate was for TLR. I was thrilled to hear he was retiring! I can be critical of Matheny at times, but sure don’t hate him. All teams go through slumps during 162 game seasons. The good teams pull out of it and get back on the horse. It is time to get back on the horse if they are a good team. Part of that will come from the Manager shaking things up to help pull them out of the funk. So far for the most part Matheny seems content running the same guys out and same lineup out. Yes some of this slump can be contributed to Yadi being out. That affects all three phases of our game, hitting, pitching and defense.

            It is about time they pull out of the funk and start to get going again. This team CAN contend for the WS this year, but they have to get hot again. We will see…

  • BobBoards

    As a loonnnnggggggg time sports fan I take pride in nit-picking the teams I love. Probably there are all kinds of Freudian reasons for that, but in the final analysis I don’t seem to be in the minority. Still, as Greene rightly points out teams of people much more talented and knowledgeable than most fans ever will be take the field every day to settle the issue of winner and loser under real conditions. It’s easy to sit in the stands and say coulda, shoulda, woulda, but we’ve seen what the likes of Bubba really can do from T-ball on up and it ain’t pretty. So, it’s more than a bit refreshing to hear a fan admit that he doesn’t know better than the pros and then to go to make a good case for thinking that our “manager” may be a cut above some of the game’s past greats.

  • Rose Nation

    well Bob you are correct, he was probably a good T Ball coach, that was his expericence level so far, however this is the National League.

  • T Lace

    I think one aspect of being a manager that often gets forgotten is ego-management. People often overlook the fact that yes, there is such a thing as team chemistry in baseball, and you need a good clubhouse vibe to get it. The manager has a direct hand in that.

    And here’s why I wouldn’t just throw out Matheny’s success based on the fact that he inherited a good baseball team: remember the Miami Marlins of 2012? Or how about the Blue Jays of this year? Or perhaps the New York Yankees and the Phillies as well? All of these teams spent massive amounts of money to get “talented baseball teams,” yet pure talent clearly is not enough to put up great numbers. I think it’s too easy to assume that Matheny winning with a good team has nothing to do with Matheny – where I think that recent history has shown how being a “good team” does not guarantee success. All sorts of pieces have to be clicking, even the manager.