Rick Horton, Cardinals broadcaster and former pitcher, says manager Mike Matheny is an outstanding leader and Adam Wainwright could win 20 for St. Louis this year.
Horton, entering his ninth season as a Cardinals broadcaster after pitching for St. Louis from 1984-87 and 1989-90, granted me an interview while taking a break from participating in the Cardinals Legends Camp at Jupiter, Fla. The tape-recorded interview was conducted Friday, Jan. 27, 2012, at Roger Dean Stadium. Horton, smart and personable, was generous with his time and thoughtful with his answers.
In future posts, I’ll share Horton’s remembrances of Bob Forsch and Horton’s thoughts on working the Cardinals Legends Camp, which donates proceeds to Hire Heroes USA (a non-profit group that helps place military veterans in jobs).
Q: Let’s go back to August of last season. Things looked bleak for the Cardinals. What do you think turned it around for them?
Rick Horton: A couple of things happened. One thing you can’t overlook is the trade of Colby Rasmus and getting the bullpen shored up by getting Marc Rzepczynski. Around the same time, the Cardinals got Rafael Furcal to play shortstop. So the defense for the Cardinals improved tremendously.
Defense matters. It’s an absolute fact that if you can’t catch the ball better than the rest, you’re going to lose games you shouldn’t lose. I don’t care how well you hit and how well you pitch. If you can’t catch the ball consistently and make some plays better than the other guy, especially up the middle, it’s really tough to win, and that’s been true in baseball forever.
The Cardinals became better up the middle when they had Furcal at shortstop and Jon Jay in center field, so I think that’s a big piece. And I think the bullpen all came together at the same time. They all kind of got into a flow and got onto a roll.
So the makeup of the team changed. That team always knew they were better than they were showing. When they started to show it, it just raised the bar for them in terms of their own expectations of how they could play.
Q: From a pitcher’s perspective, Game 5 of the Division Series, Chris Carpenter vs. Roy Halladay, a 1-0 victory for the Cardinals over the Phillies. How good was that?
Rick Horton: That’s the game I want to watch. People like offense. I like offense. But the game is more fun to me _ it’s more pure _ when it’s a 2-1 game or a 3-2 game, when every run matters and every decision that a manager makes is critical and every executed little thing matters more.
You get the bunt down in a 17-2 game in the third inning and nobody remembers and nobody cares. So the beauty of the bunt, the beauty of the hit-and-run or the stolen base or taking the extra base or hitting the cutoff man, all those little things about baseball become infinitely more important in a game when you have Carpenter and Halladay pitching.
Q: Game 6 turned out to be the greatest Cardinals comeback in a World Series, culminating with the walkoff home run by David Freese. Where were you for that game?
Rick Horton: For most of the game I was in the ballpark, going from place to place and preparing for the postgame show, which I was doing.
So about the seventh inning, I went to the outside part of the ballpark on the north side where they had set up where we were going to do our postgame set, right next to the ESPN set. I went to the set with Al Hrabosky and was prepared to do the postgame analysis of the Cardinals losing Game 6 of the World Series. We had monitors out there and were watching the last couple of innings. We were writing scripts and preparing conversation about how it was a good season but just didn’t finish well.
A minute before we’re about to go on and do the postgame wrapup of the Cardinals season, things got changed, our scripts got rewritten and baseball changed in a heartbeat for a lot of players, and lives changed in a heartbeat, including David Freese’s. The number of moments that happened from that seventh inning on, so many things critical to the Cardinals winning that game. Phenomenal.
I remember when it was over and we were trying to ad-lib new scripts now that the Cardinals had won it. The thing we kept talking about was you can’t condense Game 6 into a soundbite. I think our postgame show went about two hours and we probably had about two more hours we could have talked about.
Q: Were you surprised by manager Tony La Russa’s decision to retire or did you have an inkling?
Rick Horton: I did not have an inkling. At the time, it was a shock. But in retrospect I looked back at some things he’d said and some things I’d seen in him and I was less surprised. It seemed like he was a little more relaxed in the second half of the season. Of course, winning had something to do with that. But, even beyond that, I think there was a resignation to stop and smell the roses more. I could see evidence of that in the rearview mirror.
Q: Did Albert Pujols’ decision to leave the Cardinals surprise you?
Rick Horton: Yes, it did. But by a hair. I kind of had it 50-50 the whole time and I was going back and forth 60-40 both ways when I was asked about it all year long. When Tony decided to leave, that started swaying me 60-40 that Albert would go. But as the negotiations were going on I wasn’t sure another team was going to jump up and go to the level that would convince him to go elsewhere. I think had it (the money) been close he would have stayed in St. Louis. He loves St. Louis and St. Louis loves Albert.
If I’m in his shoes and somebody offers me a quarter of a billion dollars, we could all say, ‘I wouldn’t have taken it, I’d stay.’ Well, wait until that happens before you’re sure that you would say no. I hope history sees it as a guy who did what’s best for his career because five years from now he may be a DH anyway, so his value is much higher as an American League commodity than as a National League commodity.
And the way contracts work I think it was just the best business deal for him. It would not have been a good business deal for the Cardinals to pay him a quarter of a billion dollars for 10 years. Nothing against him, it just wouldn’t. Some would say it isn’t a good business deal for the Angels. Time will tell.
Q: Realistically, what can be expected this year from Adam Wainwright on his comeback from Tommy John surgery?
Rick Horton: He’s already throwing. He’s down here working out. He’s thrown some bullpens already. The doctors have said his elbow is more sound than it would be normally. So I don’t think there’s a real concern about reoccurrence.
Adam knows his mechanics well enough and he knows who he is as a pitcher well enough that I think he’s going to get back up on the bicycle and ride it. Some pitchers get hurt and they’re always feeling for their mechanics. He’s so consistent that I don’t think he’ll have any problem getting back to where he was.
I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins 20 games. I just wouldn’t.
Q: Jaime Garcia this year could become just the fourth Cardinals left-hander in the last 50 years to have three consecutive double-digit win seasons. As someone who has the perspective of a left-handed pitcher, where do you see Garcia’s career going?
Rick Horton: I see Garcia at a fork in the road. I don’t mean to imply that I think he’s got anything wrong with him. But I could see him going in two different directions.
I could see him escalating, because he’s got really good stuff. And I could see him getting something that clicks in that makes him go from good to great.
I could see him in that other part of that fork, becoming just an average-to-good left-hander who is productive. I don’t see him going south. But he could stay the same or he could go much better.
Inconsistencies in his pitching mechanics make him feel for the game a little bit, and there are times when it’s really easy for him and times when it’s hard. And there are times when he loses it, he loses it quickly and he doesn’t know how to get it back. So the negative things about him are things that he could fix and figure out and he may never go back there again. That’s possible and that’s what you hope for.
So I would say he has potential to be three notches higher than he is as a pitcher _ and he’s already good _ or he has the potential to be just a good big-league pitcher the rest of his career, which isn’t so bad.
Q: What is your take on Mike Matheny as Cardinals manager?
Rick Horton: Mike Matheny is an outstanding leader of men. I know him very well. He knows baseball. The style he is going to have as a manager and how he handles the things he’s going to have to handle is an unknown to everybody, including him. Because you don’t know until you’re in those shoes.
Every indication would be that he has the intellect, the baseball feel, the leadership ability to be able to handle the position and be good at what he does. I have a lot of confidence in him because I know him as a man. People like him, people will follow him.
Last year in spring training, Tony La Russa brought him in to this clubhouse and Mike Matheny gave a talk to the entire Cardinals team that Tony asked him to give and it was a 20-minute talk about what it means to be a professional player.
As people left that clubhouse _ media was not allowed in there _ one guy after another were coming up and going, “Holy cow. You would not believe how awesome that was.”
These are guys who have heard from five-star generals. They’ve heard from people before. They’re not naive about that. The coaches were saying the same thing. I remember Joe Pettini coming out and saying, “I’ve never heard anything like that.”
For people at spring training to be wowed at 9 o’clock in the morning is pretty impressive. But that’s the kind of guy Mike is. I wouldn’t call him overly dynamic, but he’s a man’s man, a leader and people respond to him.
Q: The Cardinals have a great tradition of ballplayers turning into top-notch broadcasters. Joe Garagiola. Bill White. Bob Uecker. Tim McCarver. Mike Shannon. I see you as the next in carrying on that legacy. Where do you see your career going?
Rick Horton: I appreciate you seeing me in that list of people. I don’t see myself that way. I see myself as a guy who gets the opportunity to talk about the team. I see myself as being more of a conduit to Cardinals fans. That’s where my equity is. That’s where my connection is.
I don’t really think bigger than that. I don’t really have a vision beyond that. I want to be good at what I’m doing. I want to keep getting better at what I’m doing.
The reason I’m doing it in the first place is the right people told me I should try it. And the right person was Jack Buck. He said, “You might want to get into this business.” When Jack Buck says it, you’ve got to try it.
I take it seriously but I don’t try to be serious in the way I do it. It’s a viewership responsibility for me to be a voice for the fans. It’s a pleasure to do it. Every day I get a chance to be a Cardinals broadcaster, it’s an honor.