This spring, thanks in large part to importing Dexter Fowler’s uniquely infectious style from the Cubs, the Cardinals have started a quest to keep things lighter and more fun around camp. For example, Fowler encouraged players to choose music to play for their morning work, and wanted to bring more fun into the clubhouse.
Maybe it will have taken hold by the time the Cardinals take the field tomorrow against the Cubs on Opening Night. Maybe it will be the difference between a repeat disappointing year in St. Louis and a return to glory.
But if a lighter, more fun energy is going to surround the Cardinals, it kinda sounds like the players are going to have to overcome their own, self-described “crusty” manager.
“All winter, I hear from people, ‘You’re not as miserable as you look on TV,’” Matheny told Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I’m one of the smiling-est guys you’ve ever met. But I can’t do my job the way I wish I could. So badly, I wish I could have had more fun when I played. I would have been a better player, there’s no doubt about it. But I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know how ‘fun’ and ‘compete’ work together. It makes no sense to me.”
Firstly, I want to say that I respect Matheny’s honest self-assessment there. He’s not going to fake who he is just so that he can put on an air of “fun.” If that’s just not you, it’s just not you.
Secondly, though, I do wonder how this will work out for the Cardinals (and Dexter Fowler). As we’ve seen with Joe Maddon and the Cubs, although the manager need not dictate the attitude of his players, he certainly sets the tone for the clubhouse. And if there is a constant level of self-seriousness emanating from the manager, that will bleed into the way the players carry themselves on and off the field.
Will that negatively impact the Cardinals’ results on the field? Not necessarily, as they’ve won plenty of games in the Matheny era.
I will say, however, that I’ve seen serious eras in the Cubs’ world, and I’ve seen the current era … and I like this a lot more. I guess I’m just glad that, for Joe Maddon and these Cubs, there is nothing incompatible about “fun” and “compete.”