In participation with a United Cardinal Bloggers February roundtable project, we asked the question: What do you see as first-year Cardinals manager Mike Matheny’s single biggest challenge in 2012?
The answers ranged from handling his working relationship with general manager John Mozeliak to handling the media.
The consensus: Matheny will have to earn respect early by establishing that he is the boss, not just a buddy, to the players.
Here are excerpts of the responses:
Bill Ivie, i70 baseball: Matheny’s biggest challenge is (Tony) La Russa’s shadow. When it comes down to it, Mike has to be his own man. He cannot get caught trying to micromanage the way TLR did. Nor can he get caught up in trying to manage completely opposite constantly.
Matheny has to get into a mode of calling the game the way he feels comfortable. He will be compared to Tony frequently, but he has to ignore that and find his own style, brand, and voice.
Corey Noles, Balls & Strikes: Coincidentally, this is the subject of my column for today’s newspaper. I agree with Bill about La Russa’s shadow being his biggest enemy this year, but he’s capable of overcoming that. His hardest challenge is going to be moving from the role of friend/mentor into the position of manager.
There is a good chance this will make for some awkward moments. Early on in the season, likely in spring training, Matheny is going to have to step up and command their respect, not their friendship, which several of these guys have had for years. I don’t foresee anyone as a problem right off the bat (pun intended), but you never know who will or won’t jive well together (ex: Colby Rasmus, Scott Rolen).
To help with this, he has been given one true blessing. All of these shake-ups (AP, TLR, Duncan, etc.) have happened over one season, so while he’s a new manager, this is a new team with a new identity for everyone who suits up.
Daniel Shoptaw, C70 At The Bat: It’s hard to disagree with anything Bill or Corey has said (darn it!), but I’d also add that I think he’s going to have to learn how to manage a bullpen.
Johnny Keane once said, after he’d left Bob Gibson in to finish the 1964 World Series, that he “had a commitment to his heart.” That’s a wonderful line, but it would have been of little solace to the fanbase had they seen the Yankees rally to win the game.
Matheny’s going to have to be less of a former player and more of a strategic thinker. He can’t necessarily let people like Chris Carpenter go as deep as they think they can, which ties back to Corey’s point _ he’s got to be a manager, not a friend and former teammate. I’m sure he can do that, but it’ll be interesting to see if he’s more lenient with the hook than TLR was.
Tom Knuppel, Cardinals GM: Just “managing.” What I mean by that is working with some of the same people you worked with in the past, but in a different light.
No matter what his relationship with them was, it has now changed. Things he may have to say to them could be detrimental; things that they have no business knowing (when and if they ask) will be kept from them. He has to make decisions based on a business model and must keep it from being “too much” from the heart. It is more difficult, many times, to manage people you know well.
Ryan Knuppel, Saint Louis Sports: The biggest challenge Matheny is going to have is to withstand injury. Let’s be honest _ this team will get hurt. Key players will get hurt. Does Matheny have the depth to withstand injuries? Especially out of the starting rotation, can he fill the gaps needed throughout the year? What about if veterans Berkman or Beltran go out with injuries? Can he fill the gap?
Bob Netherton, On The Outside Corner: It can be summarized in a single word, experience. We saw that with Red Schoendienst in 1965 when he took over a world championship team and largely tried to carry on in the manner of his predecessor. The team struggled, for a number of reasons. It took Red a bit over a year to turn things around as he developed his own style. Unlike Matheny, Red went straight into coaching after retiring.
Joe Torre was another who struggled. It might not be totally fair, but it always seemed as if Torre was a checkers player, trying to play against a chess Grand Master. Torre got better, and had success under different circumstances with another team.
The only two managers that have come into St. Louis recently and had any early success were Tony La Russa and Whitey Herzog. Both were exceptionally strong tacticians, had been successful managers before coming to St. Louis, and both engineered a complete overhaul of the team to match their approach to the game. Absolutely none of that applies to Matheny, at least initially. This is further complicated by the loss of his safety net (Dave Duncan, Rick Pettini and last year with Marty Mason).
I have a lot of respect for Matheny _ he’s smart, always played the game the right way, and has something of a presence. Maybe losing Albert Pujols to free agency will end up being a blessing in disguise as this gives an opportunity for a new player to stand up and be the leader of the team (if that’s what Pujols was before).
We will have to be patient as Matheny learns how to manage all aspects of the game. Fortunately, he has inherited a very strong team that just might be able to overcome some of his less-than-ideal managerial decisions. That’s where we hope players like Carlos Beltran can make a big difference.
Chris Mallonee, Birds On The Bat82: The biggest challenge Matheny faces is his relationship with (general manager John) Mozeliak as he’s gaining experience as a manager. Mozeliak believes in him and gave him a chance for his first managing gig to be at the highest level. There will be a huge amount of loyalty there. With that in play, will Matheny truly be able to voice his honest opinion on tough decisions, or just go with whatever Mo thinks is best?
A couple of other challenges:
_ Handling of veteran players. Will he stand up to Berkman, Beltran, Carp when they need a day off? I think he will. But how will the veterans handle decisions being made they don’t like and will it affect clubhouse chemistry?
_ Getting off to a quick start. There are a lot of high expectations for this team. There’s very little margin for error or grace for learning on the job. Twenty-six of the Cards’ (first) 27 games are against NL Central opponents, which is supposed to be the weakest division in baseball. If the team wins 16 to 18 of those games, and gets a 3- to 4-game lead in the division, it will create huge momentum and take a lot of pressure off Matheny. If the team is wallowing around .500 and doesn’t create any separation early, it’s going to make his job that much tougher.
Kevin Reynolds, Cards ‘N Stuff: While I don’t disagree with anyone so far, I believe I come down closest to Bob’s assessment. As a catcher _ especially one under TLR and Dunc _ Mike has experience making in-game decisions on the fly that forces him to incorporate multiple pieces of information (hot zones, pitch selection, hitter-by-hitter strategy, etc.), but try doing that for not only every position at once … but the entire roster.
Add to that the need to think in both the past, the present, and the future (in other words, what has happened in the game thus far, what is happening in that at-bat, and what he needs to be prepared for two or three innings later) all at once … and this job gets tough.
As fans, the game seems to move at a leisurely pace, but it’s shocking how fast it speeds up in the dugout. Matheny’s biggest challenge is going to be getting comfortable with incorporating the millions of pieces of information available to him, organizing it, and applying it in-game in an effective way. While I love the choice of Matheny as manager, one has to admit that there’s just no substitute for true managerial experience.
Matheny is going to be learning on the fly. He’ll have a few brain cramps along the way. A person can be as prepared as possible, but when the bullets start to fly, the brain functions differently. Hopefully he’ll be able to lean on his coaching staff to help funnel and organize that information for him. Perhaps an addendum to saying “managerial experience” (meaning all that I’ve said here) is his biggest challenge should be how he makes use of his coaching staff to help him develop and manage without questioning his authority or leadership role.
Matt Whitener, Cheap Seats Please: Matheny’s biggest challenge is going to be in-game decision making. While managing the team overall and the personalities in it will be tough, that’s the case for the other 29 managers in the game as well. For a first-year manager (at any level), the adjustment is going from “what I would’ve done” to “what I must do.” That’s a big difference in not only developing the confidence to do so himself, but to also outdo the managers he is facing, which will be a tough task to do with many of the other elements that will be in play with this team this year.
Elements like becoming a superior to his peers, adjusting a team that is carrying the title of world champs, yet is a new club looking to make its own way & adjusting to a coaching staff that is used to a particular direction to see his way. There’s a lot of inherited pressure overall here, and him establishing his autonomy to truly make this “his” team is going to be an urgent matter. Both on-field and off.
Ray DeRousse, Stl Cardinal Baseball: Given that we basically called Matheny as manager on August 21, 2011 (http://www.stlcardinalbaseball.com/the-case-for-mike-matheney-as-manager … can you hear that horn tooting?), we’re pretty much onboard for whatever he does. Matheny’s biggest challenge will probably be standing up for himself as the boss among many seasoned vets and a team of talented players who just won a World Series.
As much as it pains me to say, one of TLR’s great strengths was his leadership; nobody ever doubted who was in charge. This caused players to support him even when he was ridiculously wrong. Hopefully, Matheny can achieve that respect. A secondary concern is his strategic ability, which will need more time.
Daniel Solzman, Redbird Rants: Matheny’s biggest challenge will be, wait for it, finding a rally squirrel. But in all seriousness, it’s going to have to be being better than the expectations that everyone expects of him.
He’s a rookie manager who has never managed. (Jose) Oquendo is the veteran of the coaching staff with Dunc taking an indefinite leave of absence. It’s like Bill Russell coaching the Celtics after the legend that is Red Auerbach retired from coaching. The difference is that Russell was a player-coach and a fan favorite. Matheny might be a fan favorite, but he was never an iconic player and that’s what makes him different from another Red that managed the birds on a bat.
Tyler Giles, Rally Birds: Matheny’s biggest challenge will have little to do with what takes place on the field. I understand the concern some have voiced over his ability to adjust to the differences of peer versus superior with his former teammates, but we are talking about very professional individuals. Chris Carpenter is a leader and will ensure that proper respect is tendered to the new manager, providing an example for all younger subordinates.
My inclination is that Matheny’s biggest challenge, certainly his most tiresome, will come from incessant doubts and pressures from certain media types waiting to credit any mistake to his lack of experience. Matheny had always been known as a game manager from behind the plate. I was a catcher throughout my playing days and idolized Mike for everything he did BEHIND the plate. A lack of managerial experience is mitigated in my eyes by his undoubted experience in managing the game as a catcher.
Our new skipper is a leader, he has always been regarded as such by his peers. Color me purple (or whatever flavor of kool-aid this might be) but I am 100% in support of Mike Matheny and have every bit of faith in him as a game manager. His challenge will be fending off his detractors who felt Jose Oquendo deserved the job, citing only his time in service and time in grade _ neither of which determine a manager’s legitimate qualifications.
Angela Weinhold, Diamond Diaries: Matheny’s bigger challenges are going to come down to how he is able to handle the roster. That’s a broad picture, so let me narrow it…
To start with, there are already a plethora of pitchers that can be worked in and out of the bullpen that have already been on the major league roster. That doesn’t take into account the number of guys that can be or ‘should be’ brought up from AAA throughout the season. While part of that responsibility could fall to Mo to make something happen with some roster/trade hijinks, part will fall to Matheny to manage what he has and keep them all fresh. As crazy as TLR made many of us (myself included) with his late-inning pitcher’s mound merry-go-round, arms stayed fresh … unless your name is Brad Thompson. How will Matheny find space for them all?
Then there is the lineup. Let’s face it – we all wish there was a clear choice at second base that was actually… you know… a second baseman. But for Matheny, it’s almost more personal than that. Chances are he has seen a lot of both Tyler Greene and Daniel Descalso both in and out of the big leagues thanks to his work as a minor league special instructor last year. Does he hold a special spot for one or both of them? What about Skip?
There’s also the fact that he kinda sorta played with many of the players he now manages, whether it was on the same team or from the opposing dugout. Is he able to draw the line between teammates and player/manager? The hopeful, obvious answer is yes of course, but there are no guarantees. Will he become the kind of manager that has “his guys” that he will stick with in whatever part of the lineup no matter the fact that he’s 0-for-the-month of June?
Seeing how any new manager handles the roster for the first time is a challenge, but Matheny faces a bit more intriguing position.
Chris Reed, Bird Brained: I’m really interested to see how Matheny does with in-game management, especially when he has to go up against a shrewd, veteran manager on the other side.
We relished in the inverse for so long here: watching Tony La Russa carve up young, inexperienced managers was a thing of beauty. It was a game within the game, if you will. Now the Cards have the young, inexperienced guy at the helm. How will he fare in the 8th inning of a 2-2 game against Dusty Baker’s Reds, or Bruce Bochy’s Giants? The National League isn’t for the faint of heart; making a move one batter or one pitch too late can cost the whole game.
Nick, Pitchers Hit Eighth: The biggest challenge facing Matheny in 2012 is the day-to-day massaging of his lineups and pitching staff. Like or dislike La Russa, and for all of the consternation about his ever-changing lineups, he was brilliant at keeping players fresh near the end of the year and for manipulating his roster in a way that assured the amount of at-bats he wanted for certain players. You or I may not have always agreed with the players he wanted to get at-bats for, but he made it happen.
That will be a challenge in the upcoming season when Allen Craig returns, and hopefully all of the coins-in-the-air middle infielders burst out of the gates in April. How will Matheny juggle this roster to maximize performance and minimize wear-and-tear?
Tara Wellman, Aaron Miles’ Fastball: I’m going to go a slightly different direction with this (although, it pulls from what several people have said already). Mike Matheny’s biggest challenge will be the expectations. These are the world champion St. Louis Cardinals. These are the best fans in baseball. This is a team packed with talent, despite losing a future Hall of Fame player and manager.
Yes, Matheny is following in Tony La Russa’s footsteps. But, even on top of living under his shadow, he has to handle the pressure of making his management debut in a premiere location with a premiere club that has extremely high expectations every year, regardless of the circumstances. Matheny likely won’t have the luxury of people excusing mistakes because of his inexperience.
When the players have come out in such strong support of Matheny and with such determination to succeed, the pressure’s on, perhaps more than is fair. But, such is the burden of stepping into the role he did. He’s not only managing the team — making all sorts of decisions he’s never had to make before — but the expectations of an entire organization and their unbelievably passionate fan base.
… no pressure, right?
JE Powell, Fear The Red: Matheny’s biggest challenge will be how he handles being asked the same question six or seven times (rephrased differently each time, of course) in a post-game interview after a tough loss. How many times did we see La Russa get quite agitated and become snarky or just leave the press conference? Even a seasoned vet such as La Russa became frustrated with the media.
While St. Louis has a more mild media presence (compared to New York or Boston), there is enough national media attention and hard-hitting local guys that they could get to Matheny. Sure, he has dealt with the media before, but managers typically take more heat than players do.