St. Louis Cardinals: An open letter to Mike Matheny

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 27: Aledmys Diaz
ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 27: Aledmys Diaz /

Dear Mike: People say that you are over-credited when things go right with the St. Louis Cardinals, and over-blamed when things go wrong.

I disagree with those people. I think you’re blamed just right when things go wrong. And for the St. Louis Cardinals, they’re going pretty darn wrong just about now. And you should be blamed for a bunch of it.

The final straw was in Trevor Rosenthal failing to cover first base in a painful 3-2 loss Thursday to the Mets, as Jose Reyes slid into first allowing the winning run to score.

That’s the stuff of the first week of spring training, Mike. That may have been on Trevor on the field, but it had your markings all over it.

You can say the players have to stand up and accept responsibility, and I’m sure Rosie will.

(Just please, please, please, let no one try to claim he didn’t cover because he thought it was a foul ball. I will subject myself to serious personal harm if I have to hear that.)

But really, it starts with you.  Not on everything, of course. For instance, while you can control who’s going to pitch in which situations, I forgive you there, because your entire line of finishers has been abysmal.

And you can’t control at all whether hitters smoke or slump, though there are real questions about whether John Mabry is the best solution on helping out our erratic batters.

But in fundamentals, across the board, from thoughtless fielding to mindless baserunning, your team — emphasis on “your” — doesn’t come out to play with the right attitude and focus each day, not even close.

They fail to take bases when they shouldn’t and vice versa, and all we hear is that you want them to be “aggressive.” Then why are other teams aggressive but NOT aggressively dumb?

They get picked off base from pitchers who they are seemingly looking in the eye.

And today, they violate a rule that every little league pitcher known to mankind has heard over and again — when the ball is hit to the right side, immediately run to first.

This was literally a game-losing decision committed by one of your longtime players on a play that should be so internalized that the pitcher doesn’t even have to think. He shouldn’t think. He shouldn’t wonder. He should act.

Over and again, Mike, there is uncertainty. There is no uniform approach, no pride in fundamentals, no commonality of purpose. You have some great starting pitchers and a bunch of capable hitters who occasionally hit capably.

And it’s your job to manage them to a better whole than the sum of their parts should be. To elevate them to something special, to create a synthesis that rises above their individual stats. That’s not your team.

You speak a lot about leadership and loyalty, Mike, but you misunderstand loyalty. Loyalty is not a primary ethic. Loyalty is something you do to reward people you think highly of when they are doing something that is worthy of reward.

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You sometimes get the first part of that standard right, Mike. Though even there, I feel you do play favorites and inconsistently reward high performance.

But you just seem to plain forget about the second. There is no consequence on your teams for a lack of focus, intensity and desire on the field.

Tomorrow, you should have your pitchers out on the field, doing cover first drills. You should make Rosie know that the whole pitching staff is doing that because of what he did. He should feel bad and the rest of the pitchers should expect him to feel bad.

It’s nice that you prefer the carrot approach, Mike. I do too. But sometimes in leadership, the stick is needed. Sometimes it’s expected; players wonder why they’re getting away with murder on the field. And I feel like, even if you tell them in private that they’re messing up, it’s not sinking in.

So show us some self-criticism, Mike. If you want to do it loudly like Earl Weaver, be my guest. If you want to do it with a  seething intensity like Tony La Russa, have it.

Next: Diaz move shows confusion

But for heaven sake, Mike, the worst thing you can do at this point is nothing.