The date was November 14, 2011 as the St. Louis Cardinals introduced Mike Matheny as their new manager. After the initial introductions and statements, the floor was opened up for questions and among them, the late Bryan Burwell asked Matheny, who had never managed professionally, if managerial experience was over-rated.
“I think any experience is important,” responded the new skipper. “Experience in general. I think it’s something that I’m eagerly looking forward to surrounding myself with people to continue to absorb, like the Hall of Famers we named earlier. As well as the managers that have come through here, it’s a long, distinguished list. People that I know, that I’ve been able to absorb from in the past and ask questions and I believe that through my career, it’s been an opportunity to develop who I am as a person, as a player, and eventually as a coach or manager.”
Now a little over a month into his seventh season at the helm, Matheny is about to mark the 1000th game of experience as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. How does he think he’s grown the most as a manager?
“If in fact, the rule of thumb is to learn something new everyday, then I’ve had 1000 chances to learn something,” answered Matheny before today’s game. “I know I haven’t dropped the ball on that because those are conversations we’re having everyday–postgame with the staff and things that we’re learning as we go. I don’t think there’s one thing you could put your finger on. We had some in-depth conversations at length today about some of the, just reviewing our players and going over analytically what we’re seeing. Those sort of things are always evolving as we get more information. How we’re running a game, how we’re handling a ‘pen–all those things.
“The more experience you have, the more you have in your tool belt. But I believe it does comes down to people and that’s the leadership component or however you want to call it, but it’s trying to figure out how to bring all the pieces together and somebody’s got to do that. Fortunately, we’ve had great leadership from our ownership down to Mo and Girsch and we all work collectively to try and make those decisions. I’ve learned a lot from each of them and every one of these coaches.”
Only Whitey Herzog, Tony La Russa, and Red Schoendienst have reached the 1000 game managerial milestone in St. Louis Cardinals franchise history.
“I haven’t spent much time thinking about that, but that’s pretty humbling,” said Matheny. “Those are people…high on my respect list and people I think the world of. I’ve told these guys the same thing–I remember when Carp passed Stan Musial one season on the doubles, just give yourself a minute to think about that. That’s unbelievable that you’d be in the same breath and so for you to say that and that stat to be true, it’s humbling.”
Matheny enters the night with a record of 559-440. And the same expectations for success.
“I think that’s the effort that you put in and how you prepare to go about your business and the motive that you’re doing it,” he explained. “That hasn’t changed. It’s trying to do things for the right reasons. Trying to put other people in front of yourself, which is always a lot easier said than done.
“But when we get it right, I think that starts to permeate through the entire clubhouse when the staff starts to get it, you start to see it go through the players and that’s when big things start to happen for your club. That’s never changed.”
So with 1000 games on the resume, what’s the best part of being the manager?
“I keep coming back to the people, but when we get it right–it’s special,” said Matheny. “When it doesn’t work, it hangs with you and hurts deeper than anything I could’ve imagined. But when you get it right, the same thing can be said. I didn’t expect that going in. I thought it would be very similar, you just take care of your own business, you prepare and do your thing kind of as a player and then at the end of the day, you just kind of let it go, figure it out, get better, and move on. But the losses and the tough times, much more difficult than I anticipated to let go.”
Talking about himself at such great length was uncomfortable for Matheny, but he did share he was able to enjoy the excitement of friends and family–and a chocolate cake that his daughter baked to celebrate the occasion. Family, friends, players, coaches, others in the organization–Matheny made a point to stress there was a lot of support and he didn’t take anything for granted.
That was a similar theme he presented when he took things over in 2011…
“I would say to the Cardinals fans, I can’t tell you how excited I am about this opportunity and I know that there’s a high level of expectation,” said Matheny at that introductory press conference. “There’s a high level of what has been known as ‘the Cardinal Way’ that I plan to carry through with–something that’s been embodied by some of the greatest players who’ve ever played. With the names coming to mind of Red and Lou, of Gibby, and Bruce, of Ozzie, Whitey, and of course, Mr. Musial. It’s not something that I’ll take lightly. Putting the Birds on the Bat my chest is something that I know is not to be taken lightly and it’s something that I will not take for granted for one day.”
photo credit: Jeff Curry, Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports