Cards have elite manager to match first-class franchise
Club's consistent success to test Matheny's ability to stay out of spotlight
ST. LOUIS -- Mike Matheny makes a persistent effort to deflect attention from himself. This effort is frequently successful.
But the success of his team, the St. Louis Cardinals, is going to make that an increasingly difficult task.
You understand where Matheny is coming from and where he is attempting to go. As the manager of the Cardinals, he can be the consummate team player in an organization that not only has a rich history, but a present in which it ranks as one of baseball's elite operations.
Beyond winning games, Matheny does not need to amass credit. He can deflect it, in any number of directions: to players, to scouts, to Minor League instructors, to astute front-office decisions.
But at some point, the Cardinals' success is going to overrule Matheny's genuine modesty, and people are going to get the general point: This fellow is an exceptionally good manager.
Eyebrows were raised in some quarters, when general manager John Mozeliak hired Matheny, a man with no managerial experience, to succeed the retired Tony La Russa after the 2011 season. Here were the Redbirds, the defending World Series champions, handing the keys to a luxury vehicle to someone with no driving experience.
What Mozeliak knew -- and what people outside baseball didn't -- was that the Cardinals were getting a highly intelligent manager who had already earned the respect of many people in the organization, not only for his baseball acumen, but also for who he is as a human being.
During his playing days, Matheny was a Gold Glove catcher, known as a student of the game, widely respected in baseball circles as an astute handler of pitchers and a highly competitive, knowledgeable baseball man.
He hasn't lost a step in any of the intangible areas. Matheny is the genuine article. He cares about his players, not just about their on-base percentage or their earned run average, but about their well-being as individuals.
The players sense that, see that, know that and they'll give it their best for Matheny, every game, every inning, every play. Listen to Michael Wacha, the 22-year-old phenom who has given up two hits in his last two starts, who stopped the Pirates cold in the pivotal Game 4 of the National League Division Series.
"He's an unbelievable guy," Wacha said of Matheny. "I don't think I want to play for any other guy. He really looks out for the best interests of us. I think that's real important to a player. It's a lot of fun playing [for] that guy.
"I think he cares more how we are as people off the field, instead of how we are as players on the field. It's an unbelievable characteristic that he has to be able to do that."
Having defeated the Pirates in the NLDS, the Cardinals were at Busch Stadium on Thursday working out in preparation for their NL Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, which starts at 7:30 p.m. CT on Friday (on TBS).
It could have been a reasonable time to pause for just a moment, acknowledge the considerable successes that had occurred, and perhaps even take just a smidgeon of credit. The Cardinals, despite injuries to important personnel, despite having to use 20 rookies this season, had emerged with the NL Central title and had, in fact, amassed the NL's best record, with 97 victories. Now, they had also come from behind to win a splendid NLDS.
Matheny, of course, was having none of it.
"I'm intentionally staying away from that until we're finished and they won't let us play anymore," the manager said. "Hopefully that's not for a while yet.
"But, you know, we do so much reflecting. I think that's part of the learning process. Some people call it second guessing, we're just reviewing our first guess is all I see it as. Spend a lot of time going over every game -- things that were done well, things that could have been done better -- and then let it go.
"It's almost just a game, playing in the mind to be able to let it go and be ready for the next one. If we live too much in the past, I do believe that gets in the way of things we can do going forward. At the end of the season, I've taken close notes. I'll be able to go through and spend more time with the staff and kind of review some things.
"But overall, right now, we're excited about what we were able to do [Wednesday night]. We'll enjoy that a little bit, but we've already got our minds on L.A. and figuring out how to put out our best game against them."
With Matheny as manager, the Cardinals are in their second straight NLCS. These are not coincidental occurrences. The Cardinals are a top-shelf organization with a manager to match.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.