First-year managers have Matheny to thank
With the 2015 Baseball Writers' Association of America Manager of the Year Awards being announced Tuesday night on MLB Network at 6 p.m. ET, in the National League half of the debate, there are a few skippers who would have been absolute locks in some years.
There is no shortage of completely worthy candidates. In fact, there is a surplus. Look at what Joe Maddon did with the Cubs. Look at what Terry Collins did with the Mets. Clint Hurdle had the second-best record in baseball (98-64) with the Pirates, but he is not even a finalist.
You couldn't argue with the choice of any of those gentlemen. But there is only one NL manager whose performance has opened the door for an entirely different type of manager. That would be Mike Matheny of the St. Louis Cardinals.
What was Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak thinking when he named a man with no previous managerial experience to succeed the great Tony La Russa after the 2011 season?
Mozeliak was probably thinking of reaching the NL Championship Series three straight times, including one trip to the World Series. This was accomplished in Matheny's first three seasons. Mozeliak was probably thinking as well of winning the NL Central for three straight seasons, as the Redbirds have done the past three years.
Mozeliak may even have been thinking about a 100-victory season, although who could have conjured up the one the Cards had this year against great odds? There were injuries -- to the ace of the staff, to other members of the rotation, to relievers, to the third and fourth hitters in the lineup, an entire outfield on the disabled list at one point , and on and on.
Still, the Cardinals persevered and kept winning in what turned out to be the toughest division in baseball. The three best records in baseball were right here, and the Cards were the best of the best over 162 games.
With all this in mind, in recent seasons, we have seen an unprecedented trend toward the hiring of skippers with no Major League managing experience, or with no managing experience at all.
And when GMs are asked about hiring a manager with no previous experience, they often respond along these lines: "It worked out fine for the Cardinals with Mike Matheny."
Yes, it has. This is not a referendum on the success or lack thereof of the relatively inexperienced class of new managers. It's an impressive group, all of them current Major League managers, none of them with previous big league managing experience, all of them hired since Matheny's hiring.
They are: Brad Ausmus of the Tigers, Paul Molitor of the Twins, Scott Servais of the Mariners, Kevin Cash of the Rays, Jeff Banister of the Rangers, Chip Hale of the D-backs, Bryan Price of the Reds, Walt Weiss of the Rockies, Craig Counsell of the Brewers and Andy Green of the Padres.
Another notable in this category was Matt Williams, who had no Major League managerial experience when he was hired by the Nationals. He won the NL Manager of the Year Award in 2014 and was dismissed by the Nats after the '15 season.
Of those 11 people, there are two for certain who were not regarded as rookies, even if they technically were first-year big league managers. Molitor is a Hall of Famer. Banister had an extensive background in Minor League managing and instruction. Both of them are finalists for the AL Manager of the Year Award.
For the remainder, Matheny was a pathfinder, proving conclusively that a man without previous managing experience could succeed at baseball's highest level in the complex contemporary game. This opened some doors for candidates who might otherwise never have been sitting in the manager's chair.
There won't be a lot of managers, of course, who have Matheny's qualities as a leader of men, as a man of belief, as a man of consistency and persistence. Matheny's virtues as a man and as a manager don't have anything directly to do with the fact that he had no previous managerial experience.
But those qualities came in handy in making success possible for both Matheny and the Redbirds.