Matheny helped pave way for Ausmus, Williams
Cards skipper proved candidates with no managerial experience can bring results
Brad Ausmus and Matt Williams might think about sending a thank-you note to Mike Matheny.
Gifts would not be out of line in these circumstances, either. But just to cover the necessary base of gratitude, a sincere "Thanks a lot, Mike" would seem to be the minimum as a reasonable response.
Ausmus has been hired as the manager of the Detroit Tigers. Williams has been hired as the manager of the Washington Nationals. Neither had any experience as a Major League manager. But this is a bigger deal than even that.
Considered from the standpoint of probable success in the very near future, these were the two best managerial openings available after the 2013 season. The Tigers, with their extremely talented rotation and powerful lineup, have become postseason regulars. The Nationals, who had baseball's best record in the 2012 regular season, may have underachieved this year. But they are loaded with talent, particularly pitching talent.
Managerial jobs like these don't become open every day, but these two did, because of the retirements of Jim Leyland and Davey Johnson. Still, jobs like these aren't typically supposed to be available to inexperienced candidates. That is where Matheny's example comes in and stays in.
There was surprise in some quarters when St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak named Matheny as manager after Tony La Russa's retirement at the end of the 2011 season. The Redbirds had just won the World Series and there was some question about why they were turning over the field operation to someone without any managerial experience.
But Mozeliak knew what many others now know: Matheny is an intelligent man, an intense competitor who respects the game and commands the respect of his players.
The proof was in the performance. The 2012 Cardinals came within one victory of reaching the World Series. The 2013 Cardinals won a division title, had the best record in the National League and advanced to the World Series, where they lost to the Red Sox in six games.
So it was all right for an extremely high-profile, successful franchise to hand the reins to a manager without previous experience, if the new manager in question was bright, directed and could, in fact, be a leader of men.
The next thing you knew, Ausmus was the managerial candidate of the moment. Widely known as an intelligent fellow who had the respect of other players during his a long and successful career as a catcher -- also Matheny's position -- Ausmus was no longer an unlikely candidate. Rather, he now seemed to be the perfect candidate.
"It really became quite clear for me, for us, that he would do an outstanding job for us," Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said at Ausmus' introductory news conference. "It was probably not where I started, but it's where we ended, and I feel very good about that."
In the case of the Washington job, Mike Rizzo, president of baseball operations and general manager of the Nationals, had a candidate in mind who had made a similar strong impression upon him. That was Williams; the impression was made when both were with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
"In some ways, my interview with Matt began during our days together in Arizona, where his undeniable toughness, attention to detail and intensity established a foundation for a Diamondbacks expansion franchise that reached the postseason in its second season and won a World Series two years later," Rizzo said in announcing Williams' hiring. "All these years later, Matt's preparedness for this position, knowledge of our roster, system and league set him apart. He is a fierce competitor with a progressive view of the game."
There are those who are making the argument that hiring people who have no previous big league managing experience "devalues" the position. On its face, no it doesn't, especially when the guy with no managerial experience winds up managing in the World Series.
Brad Ausmus and Matt Williams earned these jobs, but not in the conventional, traditional, dues-paying way of painstakingly working up through coaching and managing in the Minors to coaching in the Majors, etc. They earned the jobs by demonstrating throughout long playing careers that they were the kind of people who could be considered to have the qualities associated with successful Major League managers. The burden of proof is now upon them, but this is a burden they can happily accept.
But they did receive a nice assist from Mike Matheny, who demonstrated clearly that a man with no managerial experience can be precisely the right man for the job. There aren't many people like this, but the Tigers and the Nationals each believe that they have found another one.