When Tony La Russa retired as a manager back in 2011, the St. Louis Cardinals selected Mike Matheny – a catcher with the club in the early 2000s – to be his replacement for at least the 2012 season. After Matheny successfully returned the Cardinals to October baseball in 2012, the organization picked up his 2014 option over the offseason and, for the time being, the Cardinals manager position appeared settled in the near term.
Of course, after winning the World Series in 2011, the Cardinals visited the playoffs in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015, so Matheny was widely considered a success. Indeed, as Brett discussed recently, the Cardinals even handed him a three-year contract extension immediately after the Cubs won the World Series back in 2016, so you know they we’re feeling good about as recently as then. However, just 1.5 years into that extension, Matheny has been let go by the Cardinals.
Brett shared some of his reactions to the news immediately after the decision became public late Saturday night, but today, we’re going to fill in some of the gaps, address some of the reactions, and talk about Matheny and the Cardinals, in general.
First up, let’s talk about some of the reactions out of St. Louis, because I’m not sure I expected quite as much relief as we’re seeing. For example, despite being a 4-time playoff manager with a .555 winning percentage in St. Louis, Matheny isn’t leaving his post with the highest marks. Obviously, that’s the case with most managers who are fired at all, let alone mid-season, but still, this seems harsh. Deserved, perhaps, but harsh:
Mike Matheny oversaw the inexorable degradation and erosion of something that I loved very deeply. He made it actively worse, every day. Like most of his pitching changes, this move was about two ticks too late. But nevertheless: What a relief.
— Will Leitch (@williamfleitch) July 15, 2018
Will Leitch is a contributing editor at New York Magazine and hosts Sports Illustrated’s “The Will Leitch Show,” and a hardcore Cardinals fan.
He is far from the only voice of consequence on the matter, but I found his re-packaging of John Mulaney’s “we got the horse out of the hospital” commentary particularly amusing and his clear preference for Matheny’s dismissal revealing.
I wish him well in whatever he does next as long as it is very far away from the St. Louis Cardinals.
— Will Leitch (@williamfleitch) July 15, 2018
After losing to the Cubs in the 2015 NLDS, missing the playoffs in 2016, missing the playoffs in 2017, and finding themselves 7.5 games back at the All-Star break here in 2018, most Cardinals fans and reporters are simply not heartbroken over the loss.
At The Athletic, for another example, Bernie Miklasz writes that Matheny simply never delivered on the promises that led to his hiring back in 2011. More than that, he delivers a few key, current reasons for his dismissal. You’ll have to check his article for an expansion on each of the items (as well as many others) below, but this is the long and short of it:
- Poor leadership skills, particularly with players who aren’t “yes-sir, no-sir” types.
- Inability to develop key young players.
- A perceived affection for advanced analytics that never materialized.
Miklasz offers up several other reasons for the dismissal, and they range failure to live up to La Russa, disappearing home field advantage, damaging the Cardinals’ brand, to chronic baserunning mishaps, poor defense, too many injured pitchers, poor bullpen management, drop-off in performance for in-coming players, and much more. Needless to say, the Cardinals weren’t thrilled with how things were going.
And in the wake of this firing, the “look how far the Cardinals have fallen” takes have been rolling in. And frankly, they’re on point.
Not only have the Cardinals missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons (heaven-forbid), they were last eliminated by the Cubs, have fired a manager mid-season, have had a huge public disagreement with one of their biggest free agent signings, Dexter Fowler, and OH YEAH were caught stealing proprietary information and messages from the Houston Astros. It hasn’t been a great stretch for baseball’s formerly model franchise, and they deserve all of the hot takes they’re getting.
In any case, the Matheny Era is over and a new era is set to begin. But don’t expect that decision to come until the offseason. Well, sorta. “We want to try to find a way to salvage this season, and we think there’s a chance to do that,” President John Mozeliak said yesterday. “Change felt inevitable. We could have waited until after the season ended, but we feel like there’s enough talent and enough energy in that room that maybe we could change course.”
For his part, Matheny told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he could kinda see this coming, and had nothing but courteous and kind words for the organization.
The Cardinals are setting up Mike Shildt, who was in his first season as bench coach, as the interim manager while adding Triple-A hitting coach Mark Budaska and Minor League offensive strategist George Greer as hitting coaches (the Cardinals fired two hitting coaches in the shakeup, as well). They have not yet named a replacement bench coach, but Greer and Jose Oquendo are expected to handle some of those duties. Ultimately, you have to imagine that Shildt isn’t long for the job, but will probably be at least ceremonially considered for the opening when the Cardinals do a full-on search this winter.
Obviously, the Cardinals ownership – and even some of the players – are reaffirming their faith in this season and the chance they have to do something special, but it’ll certainly be an uphill climb. For what it’s worth, the Cubs are playing the Cardinals in five-straight games (!) to open up the second half. The Cardinals are currently 7.5 games behind the Cubs (and 4.0 games out of the Wild Card), so that series, alone, may determine whether they are toast, or whether they can try to climb back into this thing.
Note: We’ll take a closer look at the list of potential long-term replacements later on. There have already been rumors, of course, but these lists tend to evolve over time and it’s not always readily apparent which up-and-coming coaches will be available mid-season.