The St. Louis Cardinals' Managerial Mount Rushmore

You could say Mike Matheny has his work cut out for him this year. Having inked his first regular-season lineup card on April 4, he is the 35th manager in the history of the St. Louis Cardinals, a span that stretches back to the beginning of the twentieth century, when the St. Louis Perfectos (formerly the St. Louis Browns) formally abandoned the greatest baseball team name ever, forsaking it for that of the color featured most prominently on their uniforms.

Matheny has no major-league managerial experience. He has no minor-league managerial experience. He has no major-league coaching experience. He has no minor-league coaching experience.

Yet there are many (the author of this piece included) who believe the front office made a very astute hire when they handed the Cards keys to Matheny. Players love him. Coaches love him. His reputation in the league is unquestioned.

Yadier Molina, the Cardinals' All-Star catcher and recent recipient of a dump truck full of money (and a new contract to go with it), credits Matheny for mentoring him in 2004, his rookie season. Matheny knew the pudgy Puerto Rican kid was there to replace him, yet in an act of unselfishness that goes utterly against the grain of the grizzled-veteran stereotype, he did everything in his power to provide Molina with the tools to succeed. The role of teacher seems to fit Matheny well. Given the wave of youth coming in the next handful of years for the Redbirds, that professorial hat may be one he wears often.

Mentoring is all well and good, but wins and losses are the currency by which managers earn their legacies. Matheny will be given time to grow into the job, but a position of this stature carries commensurate expectations, expectations that cannot help but be magnified in light of last year's World Championship.

Oh, and Matheny now occupies the office most recently vacated by the third-winningest manager in the entire history of the game.

What with the leadership torch passing from a guy whose managerial résumé is one of the game's longest to a guy whose managerial odometer currently reads 000000.0, it seems appropriate to look back at the franchise's most notable helmsmen and see how their tenures played out from start to finish. What follows, then, is the St. Louis Cardinals' Managerial Mount Rushmore, if there were such a thing.

Billy Southworth: 1929, 1940-1945 William Harold Southworth managed the Cardinals for seven seasons, serving as a player-manager in 1929 and non-playing skipper from 1940 through 1945. The stretch that covers the first half of the '40s stands as the greatest six-season run in franchise history.

The Cards had been a powerhouse in 1939, but when the 1940 team stumbled out of the gate, Southworth was handed the reins after the early-season ouster of his predecessor, the combative Ray Blades. The Cardinals won 97 games in 1941 then reeled off successive campaigns of 106, 105, 105 and 95 victories. (Bear in mind that in those days a season consisted of 154 games, as opposed to today's 162.) Southworth took his Cardinals to the World Series three years in a row, winning the whole mogilla in '42 and '44. No other Redbirds manager has accomplished so much over such a short stretch. The good times continued under Southworth's successor, Eddie Dyer, who led the ballclub to a title in '46, his first year. All told, the 1940s stands as the team's best decade.

Red Schoendienst: 1965-1976, 1980, 1990 Stan Musial is the single ballplayer most identifiable with the St. Louis Cardinals. If the man known as "The Man" had a sidekick, it would have to be Albert Fred "Red" Schoendienst. Over the past seven decades, the native of Germantown, Illinois, played for the Redbirds, managed them, managed them again, and again, and he now serves as special assistant to the general manager. Red's tenure as skipper (the long one), was immensely successful, especially for the first half or so.

Like Matheny, Schoendienst took over the team following a World Championship season. The 1965 campaign was a down year for the defending champs, who finished 80-81, mired in seventh place in the National League. The next season was incrementally better (83-79; sixth place). Then came 1967, and the Cards won 101 games and another world title. In 1968 the Cardinals again won the pennant but lost to the Detroit Tigers in seven games. By the dawn of the '70s, Schoendienst was increasingly called upon to play the role of the good soldier as beer baron Gussie Busch became disenchanted with the evolving realities of team ownership. Nothing, however, can tarnish the brilliance of Schoendienst's and the Redbirds' late-'60s run.

Whitey Herzog: 1980-1990 Dorrel Norman Elvert Herzog's curatorship of the Cardinals was marked by nearly peerless brilliance. But just as it followed an epoch of frustrating mediocrity, it was destined to give way to a similar dry spell. Busch brought aboard Herzog — like Schoendienst, born and raised less than 50 miles from downtown St. Louis — as general manager in 1980, a season that saw the Cardinals cycle through three field generals — Ken Boyer, Jack Krol (for one game) and Red Schoendienst — before the buck finally stopped with Whitey. The Redbirds finished with a dismal 74-88 mark, but Herzog already had an overhaul under way.

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