Matheny on KC: 'This is where I'm meant to be'

October 31st, 2019

KANSAS CITY -- Mike Matheny said it took him all of two days after he was dismissed by the Cardinals in 2018 to reacquire his urge to manage again. He will get that opportunity now with the Royals.

Matheny was introduced as the Royals’ 17th manager in franchise history on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium, replacing Ned Yost, who led Kansas City to a World Series championship in 2015 and then retired after this season.

Matheny, 49, had joined the Royals toward the end of 2018 as a special advisor under general manager Dayton Moore, and essentially underwent an 11-month interview, one in which he passed impressively according to Moore.

“As Mike interacted with all of our people,” Moore said, “to a man, everybody was amazed by his leadership, admired him as a human being. And so today, this process to where we are right now is very humbling and exciting to be able to get to work with Mike and to be able to introduce him to an unbelievable community and be able to celebrate him as the next manager of the Kansas City Royals.”

Matheny said he was grateful for the opportunity to learn the organization from different levels, something he believes will make him a better manager the second time around. He also has spent time with pending new owner John Sherman, who was involved directly in the hiring process.

“I made no bones about it [last year] with Dayton that, ‘Hey, I’m meant to manage again. I love managing,’” Matheny said. “And I had enough conversations with other people in the league that there might be other opportunities, but they are rare and they are fleeting. You can become irrelevant. So it comes back to what can I do to get better to keep myself relevant, in case I get another chance. That year [here] was great; it was great meeting people.

“Just to jump into this situation and see how people [in the front office] do things and why. It was a great opportunity for me to grow, not only personally but professionally. I just got to watch and was very grateful for it.”

Matheny touched on a variety of subjects Thursday, from the mistakes he felt he made in St. Louis, to unwarranted criticism there, especially in how he handled some players, and to how he plans to improve overall.

Matheny, a former catcher who played 13 years in the Majors and garnered four Gold Glove Awards, took over as the St. Louis manager in 2012 and led the Cardinals to playoff appearances during his first four seasons there -- the first manager ever to do so -- while winning a National League pennant in '13. He posted a 21-22 postseason record overall.

Matheny was dismissed by the Cardinals after a 47-46 start in 2018. He had an overall record of 591-474 in seven seasons in St. Louis.

Matheny, though, made no apologies for his time in St. Louis.

“There was a lot of good in St. Louis,” Matheny said. “There were a lot of guys that came in and were not expected to do anything and got big contracts. There were guys who, late in their career, found their sweet spot with us. I’m not going to apologize for everything that happened there. How it is perceived there and how to convince people [otherwise], I’ll probably have to do that one at a time. Just me saying this, I know people are going to have their opinion anyway ... but I have no regrets.

“Some of the stuff [mishandling of players] that’s been talked about are the guys I loved the most. There is always friction in a clubhouse. You’re always putting out fires. It just so happened that on a couple of hot topics, we hadn’t put out the fire yet. It was going to get put out ... you have to navigate through slop, and there is always slop.”

Matheny vows that matters will be different with Kansas City, especially in two notable areas: How he handles the media, and how he approaches analytics.

Matheny hired a media consultant last spring in the event another managing opportunity opened up for him.

“No one really knew what Ned might do,” Matheny said. “It was well after the All-Star break when I found out. But this is a cool place to be ... just in case. I knew there would be some opportunities out there to throw my name in the hat.”

Having a media consultant was an eye-opener, Matheny said.

“I had never heard of [media consultant] before,” Matheny said. “In baseball, we’ve dropped the ball on that [not hiring media consultants]. I never had that media training. I never had that as a player coming up. And I was completely unprepared for that as a manager. I was catching a lot of noise. So I just thought, ‘Why not learn about this?’ It wasn’t my place then to talk to the [Royals media relations people about it]. But how else will I get better if I don’t ask someone? I have continued to talk to him.”

And what has been the consultant’s main suggestion?

“He said, ‘You need to smile more,’” Matheny said. “And I’ve got more joy than you really know. I truly believe that.

“I had a teammate come up to me once and tell me, ‘If you just had a little more fun, you’d be so much better.’ But this was a guy that could go out there like [Ken Griffey Jr.] and just have fun. But I wasn’t like that as a player.”

Matheny also was labeled an anti-analytics guy in St. Louis, an image he promises to change. He hired a consultant to better acquaint him with analytics in the past year and recently passed a baseball analytics course with Sports Management Worldwide.

“I always had a great appreciation for that,” Matheny said. “I wish I had that information when I was playing, with the blast-motion sensors, the Rapsodo -- I had a whole lot going wrong with my swing. I would have loved for someone to give me some data. It’s amazing. People who aren’t using that are cutting themselves short.”

Matheny and Moore now will turn their sights toward Matheny’s coaching staff. It is believed that Matheny will keep Yost’s staff mostly intact, with the exception of bench coach Dale Sveum, who expressed a desire previously, as reported last week, to be reassigned in the organization so he could spend more time with his family.

It is also believed the Royals will fill Sveum’s spot internally, as they would with Pedro Grifol, who is interviewing for the Giants’ managerial opening, if Grifol leaves.

Matheny said he had interest from other teams in the past month but decided against pursuing any other job.

“I had informal contact [with other teams] through mutual friends,” Matheny said. “I just made it clear, and I hate to close doors ... this is a really stupid move [to close those doors]. But this is a great organization.”