In defense of Mike Matheny

Lately I’ve found myself in the extreme minority of Cardinals fans still believing Mike Matheny has a method to his madness. Thus far, I’ve refused to accept the idea that Matheny’s the root of all the problems the Birds have had, and that the only logical solution is to fire the man who just signed a contract extension. Because, clearly his inadequacies are the source of the offensive woes, hands down. Besides, he only plays the guys he likes, displaying incompetence and personal vendettas without cause.

Sorry. I don’t buy it.

That said, I began to wonder why I felt so inclined to defend the man. I don’t know him on any kind of personal level. I can’t make claims about his character anymore than others can make claims about his intentions. He makes me crazy with his nonstop tinkering. His explanations of questionable decisions often leave me even more befuddled — not for lack of words, but for his unflappable belief in the choices he’s made, regardless of results.

Plus, he had a hand in sending Kolten Wong down. How am I not more furious about this?!

I think I’ve figured it out, though: I’m a whole lot like him.

Please, don’t shove me off a cliff just yet! Let me explain.

I desperately want Matheny to succeed in St. Louis, simply because I like him. I like who he is, what he stands for, how he invests himself in the people around him. I liked him as a player, and I want to like him just as much as a manager. So, yes. There’s a personal interest in Matheny’s success. I like him. I want him to be the next great thing, and I want that to be in St. Louis.

Similarly, it appears Mike desperately wants guys like Jon Jay, Daniel Descalso, and even Mark Ellis to succeed. Why? I couldn’t tell you. But, right or wrong, I understand what it’s like to give someone second, third, fourth, fifth chances simply because you are personally satisfied by their success.

Matheny and I also place extra importance on “intangibles.” Good people are sometimes more important than good players … or at least, it can seem that way.

Give me a smaller, less talented “project” who will show up everyday, work harder than is expected, keep his nose clean, and squeeze everything he can out of any opportunity he’s given, and give me a kid dripping in talent, but lacking in motivation, work ethic and respect, and I’ll take the first guy every time. (I believe the “cool” expression here is, sorry not sorry.)

I see the same thing in Matheny. Please don’t assume I’m discounting the intangibles of a Peter Bourjos or a Kolten Wong. I know only enough about these guys to be dangerous. But. as far as I can tell, Mike tends to faithfully support the workaholics with more fervor than the natural talents … for better, or for worse.

I’m a silver lining kind of person. When a situation is bad, I can make it sound less bad by talking only about the positives, the potential of greatness yet to come. I think Matheny suffers from the same characteristic. Things have been bad. Really bad. And yet, he seems more or less unfazed (minus the night he spent on his office couch in frustration over two extra-inning losses. There was little positivity there.). It’s not a bad thing until the undying “life is good” attitude becomes as frustrating as the situation itself!

And then there’s the chronic overthinking.

Whether it’s what shoes to wear to work, what job I should or shouldn’t take, where I should go for lunch, if I should shower now or later, or if I talked too much at dinner with friends last night, I spend countless hours worrying, thinking, analyzing, creating scenarios in my head and determining how I’ll handle each one (that will likely never happen anyway). If I was managing one of the best teams in baseball, I’d never sleep, for all the thinking I’d do.

It mimics preparation in many ways. Sorting through possibilities, running situations through your head, planning for plot twists, and how to handle the inevitable (for lack of better term) curveballs this game throws. And just when I feel comfortable with the methodical approach I’ve concocted, something doesn’t work like it did in my head. …then what? I look stupid either way.

So goes the plight of the chronic overthinker.

Look, I’m not blind to Mike’s inexperience as a manager. I may be a bit more patient with him as he sorts it out, but I’m not oblivious to the mistakes he’s made. I suppose my abnormal need to defend him stems from the similarities I see between us.

Call me naive, but I still want to believe he’ll figure out how to adjust mid-plan (actually, that’s another thing I don’t do well either!). I still have faith in the team he’s molding. And I really think that given time to address his shortcomings, he’ll do great things in St. Louis. Just like Bourjos, Jhonny Peralta, Wong, Oscar Taveras and the rest of the gang.

I really do.

So, I defend him. Hey, somebody’s gotta brave the road less traveled, right?

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