St. Louis Cardinals: An unapologetic defense of Mike Matheny
St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has been castigated by fans for years. Is it fair? Or has criticism of Matheny just become a ‘echo chamber?’
That’s right, this is a defense of Mike Matheny. But before you dismiss this piece, hear me out. I assert that the criticism of Mike Matheny has evolved into a ‘echo chamber.’ Therefore, a complete and fair evaluation of the St. Louis Cardinals manager by fans isn’t being considered.
Matheny’s six-year-plus record in St. Louis is 544-428 (.560), with four playoff appearances, one NL Pennant, and three Central Division Championships. Historically speaking, this compares very well to other Cardinal managers of the past.
Nevertheless, St. Louis Cardinals managers of the past have not be subjected to the same criticisms that Matheny has faced after missing the postseason two years in a row. Let’s compare Matheny’s record to the three previous Cardinals field managers: Whitey Herzog, Joe Torre, and Tony La Russa.
The beloved Whitey Herzog is remembered for bringing winning baseball to St. Louis after the Cardinals spent the decade of 70s in baseball wilderness. Whiteyball will never be forgotten by the fans who remember his tenure at St. Louis from 1980 to 1990.
The Hall of Fame manager took the Cardinals to the post season three years during his tenure, compared to Matheny’s four. That included one world series championship (1982), three NL pennants (’82, ’85, ’87), and three division championships (’82, ’85, ’87). Herzog’s record in St. Louis was 822-728 and a winning percentage (.530) that is notably lower than Matheny’s (.560).
Also you would think that Mike Matheny is the only Cardinals manager in history to miss the playoffs two years in a row. However, Herzog missed the postseason in consecutive years of ’83 and ’84, and also in ’88, ’89, and ’90.
Hall of Famer Joe Torre was the St. Louis Cardinals manager from 1990 to 1995, comparatively Mike Matheny looks like the one who should be in the Hall of Fame. During Torre’s five years plus as the Card manager his record was 351-354(.498) and had zero postseason appearances. Torre wasn’t replaced as manager until the franchise was sold to Bill DeWitts Jr, group in 1995. Until then, patience with Torre seemed to be unlimited.
Tony La Russa
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Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa was the longest-serving manager in Cardinals history. During his 16-year tenure from 1996 to 2011, La Russa was the most successful manager in franchise history. He had nine postseason appearances that included two world series championships, three NL pennants, and seven NL Central championships. Quite impressive.
However, La Russa had three consecutive years of no postseason appearances in ’97, ’98, and ’99. He also missed playoff appearances in consecutive years of 2007 and 2008. Dismissal of La Russa wasn’t an option during his tenure. In fact, later in his tenure, he always let the franchise know if HE wanted to come back for another year. By the way, La Russa’s winning percentage of .544, trails Matheny’s .560.
Also keep in mind that La Russa’s first five years were less impressive than Mike Matheny’s; LaRussa only had two postseason appearances in those five years.
Nevertheless, Whitey Herzog, Joe Torre, and Tony La Russa accomplished something during their tenures that Mike Matheny can’t claim– losing seasons.
Herzog had losing seasons in 1983, 1986, and 1988, not including the 1990 season, in which he resigned before the season was over. Torre had losing seasons in 1994 and 1995, while La Russa had losing seasons in 1997, 1999, and 2007.
Fans need to have something or someone to blame when their favorite sports team fails to meet expectations. Usually this falls on a manager, head coach, or a key player. In the St. Louis Cardinals’ case, it has fallen primarily on Mike Matheny.
I understand the fan frustrations, I feel them myself. Also, I don’t completely absolve Mike Matheny of some responsibility. Especially when it comes to bullpen management and some other questionable moves made during games.
However, I do remember having frustrations with Tony La Russa’s never-ending double switches, batting the pitcher eighth, and having ‘his guys’ in the clubhouse (remember Chris Duncan?)
My point is we are not judging Mike Matheny by the same criteria we did Herzog, Torre, and La Russa. If the St. Louis Cardinals miss the postseason for a third consecutive year, I’m sure a change will be made, along with others. At that point a new voice in the Cardinal clubhouse may be needed.
Until then, we all need to get out of the ‘echo chamber’ and not blame Matheny for all the Cardinals’ woes. Blame can be spread in several directions and just replacing Mike Matheny will alone not return the Cardinals to the postseason.
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Thanks for reading and let the comments begin.