St. Louis Cardinals: Mike Matheny deserves your respect

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While putting together an outstanding record as St. Louis Cardinals manager, Mike Matheny still catches hate. Why?

How many times have you heard this during a St. Louis Cardinals season, “Any manager could win with this team”? For manager Mike Matheny, entering his fifth season at the helm, the constant second guessing and riddling of indecision is nothing new. Since he hasn’t won a World Series, Matheny is deemed useless by many fans. Why? All managers and coaches get flack and are ripped apart by their fanbase throughout a season, but the Matheny hate goes overboard far too often. That’s an honest claim right.

It’s quite hilarious to think that 2015’s team could have endured with “any” manager. There are far too many people taking Fantasy Baseball too seriously and letting it go to their heads. A team berated by injuries and an offense that couldn’t score enough runs on most nights needed Matheny in 2015 more than anytime. He was the manager of the year in my opinion, not the feel good story, Joe Maddon.

Unlike the last manager, Tony La Russa, Matheny didn’t come here with an established pedigree. He didn’t have the offensive juggernaut Albert Pujols or the pitching tandem of Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter in the same season.  Matheny has earned his stripes on the field with an assortment of first basemen and rightfielders.  He was given an unique opportunity by General Manager John Mozeliak four years ago, a chance to jump into the Majors without any minor league managerial experience. Something that has become a thing across the league. If you looked at social media and read some of the Matheny criticisms, you’d think the Cards were hanging below the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers in the win column. They are not.

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How about this? Matheny is the only manager in the history of the game to lead his team to the playoffs in his first four seasons on the job. Most fanbases would appreciate that. Playoffs and advancement. The 2015 National League Division Series was the first time Matheny’s team didn’t advance past the first round. Yeah, Jose Oquendo and Derek Lilliquist could do that. What’s so special about making the playoffs if you are a St. Louis Cardinals manager? Don’t ask Joe Torre that question.

Matheny has been given a few great teams, but he hasn’t been given a truly dynamic offense. He’s not at good everything but has found a way to succeed with the team given to him. The man has a tendency to overwork a bullpen and an impulse to stick with less than satisfactory players and lean on favorites. Still, a man doesn’t win 100 games in a season without doing something right. It seems like Matheny has this managing thing handled. Even La Russa didn’t win a World Series in St. Louis until he had been managing for a decade in the city.

What started in 2008 as a spring training advisory position in spring training has grown into something unique, maddening and compelling. Nothing is smooth with this team. Matheny’s natural leadership skills he collected as a first class catcher from 1994-2006 serve him well in the dugout but that doesn’t make his limitations invisible. The man has plenty to learn and with the fat cut from the roster(No Jon Jay or Tony Cruz) in 2016, we may really see what he can do with a decent bench, stacked pitching staff and some fresh blood at the plate.

What if he wins again? Wins big. What if Matheny leads his team to the promise land and hoists a World Series trophy? I am convinced this fanbase would still find something wrong? “Oh, well, anybody could have done it?!” Please. Matheny is the right manager for this team. Always has been. If you still don’t think Mo knows, look no further than the man he appointed years before the job became vacant.

It’s okay to question Matheny’s tactical moves. It’s okay to be occasionally driven nuts by the man. I’ve written my fair share of criticizing articles challenging his system and his on field maneuvers. It’s not okay to think he is unfit for the job or think ANYBODY could do the job. That’s not just wrong. It’s illogical. A Hall of Fame coach once said you are what your record says you are. That was Bill Parcells. Mike Matheny is 375-273(.579) with a playoff record of 21-21. Hopefully, in 2016 and beyond, he pushes that playoff record further but still it’s a lot better mark than most managers.

I like Matheny for reasons that aren’t found on a stat sheet. He didn’t hesitate to hand over his jersey number to Jason Heyward before the 2015 season. He doesn’t hesitate to stand up for his players on and off the field. There’s a special feeling inside a fan when a manager doesn’t just go out and discuss something with the umpire but truly digs in for his players. He is unwavering in his loyalty to his players. There’s never a doubt this guy has full control of this clubhouse. How many St. Louis coaches had the opportunity to say that?

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After the 2014 season, many Cards fans wanted Mozeliak to drop Matheny like a bad habit and hire Maddon. There was a campaign for it. While Maddon was intriguing, he wouldn’t have done a better job with this club in 2015. You think Joe would have done better without Adam Wainwright, a half measure of Jaime Garcia, a one armed Lance Lynn and a feeble offense? Please, go to the casino with that mind. They will love you. I found that idea of replacing a manager and hoping for better results to be humorous.

I’m not here to tell you Matheny is perfect. No manager is. I am here to tell you he deserves your respect for what he has been able to do in his first four years as managers of the St. Louis Cardinals. He may give long winded speeches to the media and be flawed, but he’s done a great job here so far all things considered.

Who am I kidding though? Anybody could do it….right?

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