Mike Matheny and Eddie Dyer took radically different paths to achieve similar historic feats.
Matheny is the first rookie big-league manager to lead the Cardinals to the postseason since Dyer did it 66 years ago.
Matheny had no professional managing experience when he was selected to replace Tony La Russa, who retired after the 2011 season. Taking advantage of an expanded postseason format, Matheny led the 2012 Cardinals to the NL Championship Series before they were eliminated by the Giants.
Dyer had been a manager in the Cardinals’ farm system for 13 years (1928-36 and 1939-42) when he was chosen to replace Billy Southworth, who left St. Louis after the 1945 season to manage the Braves. Dyer led the 1946 Cardinals to the ninth NL pennant and sixth World Series title in franchise history.
Southworth was one of the most successful Cardinals managers. He led them to three NL pennants and two World Series championships. After the 1945 season, when the Cardinals placed second behind the Cubs, Southworth was approached by the Braves and offered a financial deal “that comes to a baseball manager only once in his career,” he told the United Press wire service.
Southworth, 52, was under contract to the Cardinals through the 1946 season. After hearing from the Braves, Southworth asked Cardinals owner Sam Breadon whether he would consider releasing him from the remaining year of his contract.
Breadon agreed, telling the Associated Press he “couldn’t stand in Southworth’s way.”
Southworth, who was earning $20,000 a year from the Cardinals according to multiple published reports, signed a three-year deal with the Braves. United Press reported the total value of the contract at $75,000 to $100,000. The Associated Press stated Southworth would earn $30,000 a year from the Braves. The Sporting News reported the contract was for $35,000 a year.
“The Braves offer was one which comes to a baseball man only once in a lifetime,” Southworth said to The Sporting News, “and I wish to state publicly how much I appreciate Mr. Breadon’s magnanimity in not putting any obstacle in my way to better myself. I have never had a harsh word with Mr. Breadon during all the years I worked for him in St. Louis.”
One reason Breadon was willing to allow Southworth to leave was he had Dyer available to replace him.
Dyer, 46, had entered the oil business in Houston in 1944 after working for the Cardinals for more than 20 years as a player, scout, manager and minor-league executive. He was pleased to be asked to return to baseball at the major-league level.
“It was a big surprise to me,” Dyer said to the Associated Press when asked his reaction about being selected to replace Southworth, “although I always wanted to manage a big-league club.
“Since Billy Southworth had a contract with another year to run, I was surprised at his leaving the Cardinals. I made certain he hadn’t taken the step because of any disagreement with the club before I accepted the managership. I wouldn’t have taken the job under such a circumstance.”
Wrote the United Press: Since his entry into the St. Louis organization in 1922, Dyer has been one of the chain’s hardest and most unpublicized workers. Last year (1944), when Eddie left the Cards to go into the oil business in Houston, an attempt was made to alter his decision. He was told that he was next in line for the managerial job. Thinking Billy Southworth was a fixture for as long as he chose, Dyer declined.
A graduate of Rice with a bachelor of arts degree, Dyer was signed to the Cardinals by Branch Rickey. A left-hander, Dyer pitched six seasons (1922-27) for the Cardinals, posting a 15-15 career record and 4.75 ERA before a sore arm ended his playing days.
Rickey hired him to be a scout. After a year of scouting, Dyer became a Cardinals minor-league manager in 1928. He stayed in that role through 1936, then spent two years as a Cardinals minor-league executive and returned to managing St. Louis minor-league teams from 1939-42.
Under Dyer, the Cardinals’ Class AA Houston club won Texas League championships in three consecutive seasons (1939-41).
Among the future Cardinals big-league standouts groomed by Dyer in the minor leagues were outfielders Joe Medwick and Enos Slaughter, first baseman Johnny Mize and pitchers Howie Pollet and Harry Brecheen.
In 1943, after Rickey had departed the Cardinals for the Dodgers, Dyer became director of most of the Cardinals’ minor-league system. He was in that role until July 1944, when he accepted an opportunity to join his brother in an oil business.
With an influx of players preparing to return to the 1946 Cardinals after military service during World War II, Breadon saw Dyer as the ideal talent evaluator to sort through the roster options.
“I consider him the best judge of young ballplayers in the country, which makes him priceless at a time like this” Breadon said of Dyer to The Sporting News.
Said Dyer: “All I ask of a ballplayer is that he stay in shape to play winning baseball. My theme song for years to my players has been, ‘Be mentally and physically fit to do your best and we won’t worry about the results.’ “
Dyer led the 1946 Cardinals to a 98-58 record and the franchise’s fourth NL pennant in five years. (The Cardinals and Dodgers ended the regular season tied for first. St. Louis then won a best-of-three playoff and advanced to the World Series, defeating the Red Sox in seven games.) Under Southworth, the 1946 Braves finished fourth at 81-71, their first winning season since 1938.
Dyer managed the Cardinals for five years and never had a losing season. In 1949, the Cardinals nearly won another pennant under Dyer but placed second, a game behind the Dodgers.
In 1948, his third season with the Braves, Southworth managed them to the NL pennant, their first since 1914.