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?

  • Buddhasillegitimatechild38 May 9, 2014, 7:29 am

    I’m sorry but that is some horrible logic. First ofteb people think having talent means laziness and not having talent includes work ethic. It’s a false narrative pften named “grit”. Most talented guys also hustle, thats how they have maintained the athleticism and gained the refined skills to be talented. The off the field antics of Yasiel puig for example dont change the fact that he busts his ass off. Peter Bourjos isn’t just fast because he’s fast, he’s fast because hes fast and running as hard as he can.

    Saying it’s ok that a manager drives a team into the ground because you have had the same poor preconceptions while admitting that he is playing favorites and working off of these misconceptions still doesn’t change that he is making horrible decisions that detriment the team. Ellis love has given us worse production at 2B than Wong has given us at the MLB level while we are burning his hot streak in the .300/.350/.450 mold in AAA (wouldn’t our struggling offense be much nicer with that production at 2b?). Jay and Ellis are goodplayers (not DD wwho’s below replacement level) but Wong and Bourjos are likely better.

    Also people aren’t blaming the record on Matheny, this is a team with a dangerous, talented lineup that was off to a slow start, that is the biggest reason for the slow start for the team and will regress. The team’s record and offense good or not though have been made much worse by Matheny because of horrible decisions with worse reasoning behind them. Both the worsening of the record and offense and the demotion of Wong resulting from Matheny’s horrendous are unacceptable. In his first two years Matheny was bad at bullpen management with a poor bunting fetish his first year. He seemed to be improving and eitger way mostly staying out of the way, which is pretty darn good, hence his early supporters and extension. This year he has thrownthat into the wind, mmicromanaged with poor decision after poor decision and most importantly picked his boys and ran with them. Since he was supposed to be a “clubhouse guy” win supprt type of manager rather than a tactical one and badly playing favorites in an extremely obvious and detrimental fashion kills any trust and leadership his only value is as a figure head and hurting a competing team and it’s up and coming talent for an overpaid figure head is not ok. This is why everyone is very understandably upset and very understandably wants Matheny gone or at least stopped.

    • Cardinal70 May 9, 2014, 10:06 am

      To be fair, I don’t think there are a lot of people calling for Matheny’s head just yet. There’s still a long way to go this year and it well may be that we’ll only vaguely remember this if the club goes deep into yet another October.

      I also think Matheny is learning a bit. For instance, today’s move to send Grichuk down probably means that he’s at least more comfortable using Bourjos, which is what many of us want to see. Wong has been down 10 days now, I believe, and I wouldn’t be shocked if we didn’t see him up in time to face Cincinnati next week.

      I think Matheny’s made some mistakes this year, but they aren’t anything he can’t learn from. If we are still seeing Wong in the minors or covered in dust in July or continuing to debate why Jay is playing significantly without reason around the All-Star Break, then it’s a more serious issue. Again, hopefully Matheny’s learned from the last few weeks and we’ll see a more defensible manager going forward.

      • Buddhasillegitimatechild38 May 9, 2014, 12:04 pm

        Yeah, they are a lot of stupid, hard to excuse and poorly reasoned mistakes that a frightening in the sense that they generally spur poor trends ongoing but if they are just mistakes and are quickly corrected then they are just short term mistakes. Also this team will regress on offense and win a lot whether it is with Matheny or in spite of him

        • Cardinal70 May 9, 2014, 1:38 pm

          That last sentence is what it all boils down to, I believe. You can have the smartest manager ever or the dumbest manager ever, but on the whole the variance in wins is going to be because of the players performing or not performing.

      • Buddhasillegitimatechild38 May 9, 2014, 12:07 pm

        Also Butler has been RAKING in AAA

        • John Smith May 11, 2014, 7:23 am

          In all reality, playing Butler instead of Taveras only makes sense if you plan on trading him at some point this season. He’s 28, has a history of pretty terrible plate discipline, and is not going to be an everyday player… least in STL.

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