Extending Matheny is a Cardinals no-brainer
Manager's professionalism and determination rewarded with deal through '17
During the 2013 season, Mike Matheny did everything he could to deflect credit for the St. Louis Cardinals' World Series run away from himself.
Matheny had some success in this venture. But fortunately, his bosses in the St. Louis organization could not help but notice how well their manager was performing.
On Wednesday, the Cardinals announced that Matheny had received a three-year contract extension. With the one-year contract option for 2014 that had been exercised during Spring Training, this new deal will take him through the '17 season as the Redbirds' skipper.
Matheny spoke of his job performance with typical modesty.
"You come in and try to do your job and want to try to represent the organization as a whole the best you can," he said. "Fortunately, we've had a group of guys who've played extremely well in the two years I've been here."
There had been some serious eyebrow-raising when Matheny was hired after the legendary Tony La Russa retired at the end of the 2011 season. Matheny, after all, had no managerial experience, and here he was taking over a World Series champion.
But Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak knew exactly what he was doing. Matheny, a four-time Gold Glove Award winner as a catcher, had played five seasons with the Cards. He was the regular catcher in 2004, when St. Louis won 105 games, still the best record by a National League club this century.
Matheny was a leader with that club and every club that he played on, and not because he was the loudest man in the room. He was a leader because of his diligence, his intelligence, his preparation, his work ethic, his attention to detail and his genuine concern for his teammates as individuals.
Matheny was, experience or not, an ideal managerial candidate. The proof came over the next two seasons.
The Cardinals qualified for the postseason as a Wild Card team in 2012 and advanced to the NL Championship Series before being eliminated in seven games by the eventual World Series winners, the Giants.
In 2013, the Cards won the NL Central, had the league's best record with 97 victories, won the NL pennant and lost to the Red Sox in six games in the World Series.
But the managing job last season was even better than the achievements indicated. Injuries to pitchers in particular caused turnover on the roster. The club was forced to use 20 rookies at one time or another during the season. For most clubs, that would be a recipe for disaster. For the Cardinals, it was one more way to be the best team in the league.
The pitching staff was particularly young; half of the pitchers on St. Louis' World Series roster were rookies. Matheny managed this young club with a blended approach that not many managers could have utilized. He was at once patient with the young players, but also made it clear that he expected them to do their share in contributing to a winning Major League team.
One way or another, Matheny epitomizes "The Cardinal Way," an approach that demands a persistent, determined, dogged, respectful approach to the game of baseball.
Adam Wainwright, ace of St. Louis' staff and a leader on this team, said this of Matheny during a World Series media session:
"I think he's the perfect torchbearer for that Cardinal Way going forward. ... The perfect torchbearer, a great leader, a great motivator of men."
Asked about being anointed by Wainwright as "the perfect torchbearer" for The Cardinal Way, Matheny responded:
"Well, first of all he made that statement because I was standing in the doorway."
In fact, Wainwright did not know that Matheny was standing in the doorway when he made that statement. When Wainwright did realize that Matheny was standing in the doorway, Wainwright said with a smile:
"I think he's the greatest person ever."
We don't have to go quite that far to endorse Matheny's contract extension. Yes, he walked into a solid situation. But there weren't many managerial jobs done better over the last two years.
In the NL Manager of the Year Award voting, you could see how Davey Johnson would win in 2012 because of the Nationals' remarkable emergence. And in '13, with the Pirates breaking a 21-year drought, putting up a winning season and qualifying for the postseason, Clint Hurdle was a natural choice.
But the job that Matheny has done despite losing key personnel to injuries and having to rely on an extremely young pitching staff deserves some serious credit.
On Wednesday, Matheny received the best kind of credit a manager can get; three years worth of a contract extension. This was yet another good day for the St. Louis Cardinals.