Breaking Down the Hiring of Mike Matheny as Cardinals' Manager

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Matheny as a rookie back in 1994. 
Matheny as a rookie back in 1994. 
The Cardinals are going to make it official today, and name Mike Matheny the new manager. All the scuttlebutt of late (including my own pick last week) had suggested Matheny was the frontrunner, as he gained a huge amount of momentum coming out of his interview with the club and fit the profile of what John Mozeliak was looking for almost perfectly. 

So congratulations to Matheny, and I'm sure we're all very happy to have him on board. Now, Mr. Matheny: that is likely the last nice thing I will ever say about you, so I would like to give you a moment to bookmark the page. Go ahead. I'll wait. 

Got it? Good. Now two years from now when you're being excoriated by some random Internet dude for putting on the sacrifice with men on first and second and no outs, you can go back and remember the day that random Internet dude was totally on your side. 

To be honest, I like this hire, but not because I like what Mike Matheny brings to the table as a manager. I don't really like what Matheny brings, mostly because I have absolutely no idea what that is. We won't really know much of anything about Mike Matheny the major league manager for at least a year or two from now, so to go on and on about his skillset and philosophy would be, at best, disingenuous. 

But as I said not too long ago when handicapping the managerial race, I think this hire has everything to do with the organisation itself, and from that perspective I really like it. Hiring Matheny is all about John Mozeliak, and how the GM and manager will relate going forward. Matheny has served as a special assistant to Mozeliak in the recent past (which may or may not mean anything, but I'm going to assume it does), and as such already seems to have a good working relationship with Mo. Mozeliak himself spoke earlier in this process of wanting to establish a clear chain of command, rather than the occasionally nebulous and borderline dysfunctional power structure that existed with Tony La Russa in the manager's seat. Matheny, more so than any other candidate on the board, could be the perfect individual to integrate into that structure. 

Reading the tea leaves, there are two other signs I like about this hire. One, the players seem to love Matheny. Several have tweeted their approval and excitement, and it's well-known Matheny is very close to several of the current Cardinal players. While I could conceive of a reservation or two about Matheny being almost too close to the players, any situation where the new guy is coming in to a room full of people who already respect and admire him is a net positive in my book. 

The other positive is a little more nebulous, but still important I think. The operative word for the Cardinals throughout this process has been 'leader'. Mozeliak has pushed the point time and time again; the Cards are looking for leadership. For a leader. There has been almost no mention of strategy or ideas or those sorts of things. Just leadership, over and over. 

Now, that may not seem like a big deal, but the way the front office has gone about pushing the leadership aspect while simultaneously downplaying myriad other concerns makes me think there's a very strong chance the majority -- perhaps even the entirety -- of the current coaching staff will be returning. Rather than bringing in a manager intimately familiar with the dugout aspects of making decisions and setting strategy, the Cardinals believe they have the hands-on coaching to put their players in position to succeed; the manager needs only to keep on message and, in a word, lead. 

I could be wrong, of course. Maybe the strategic element of the job is just tougher to discuss, to sell, as it were. But I feel like the Cardinals have two of the smartest assistant coaches in all of baseball, and I wonder if the front office isn't thinking they can push aside the need for a manager who is on top of all the strategic elements due to the presence of those assistants. Think of it like a head coach in football. Sure, he's the king, but he also has a pair of coordinators, one each for offense and defense, who do the majority of the hands-on work in terms of gameplanning. 

Really, though, this is all just speculation for now, fun discussion fodder to fill column space. The reality is this: the St. Louis Cardinals are going to announce their new manager today, and we'll know more about who Mike Matheny will be as captain of this ship -- as well as what his crew will look like and what they'll be doing -- in due time. 

We know Matheny is an organizational guy, we know the players love him, we know he has a strong relationship with John Mozeliak. We know he's been primarily on the player development side of things the past few years, a plus when looking at a team skewing younger and more homegrown all the time. Finally, we know he comes in almost completely baggage-free, a nearly clean slate with an opportunity to step into a remarkably good situation. Anything beyond that is just guesswork. Educated guesswork, perhaps, but guesswork all the same. 

I have to admit, I'm more than a little excited to see just how this new era of Cardinal baseball will play out. 

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