St. Louis Cardinals

Former Cardinals star praises Royals managerial candidate Matheny as ‘leader of men’

Former St. Louis Cardinals All-Star outfielder Matt Holliday wasn’t present when Royals general manager Dayton Moore described the virtues Moore would look for in the Kansas City Royals’ next manager.

A plethora of people had crammed into the interview room at Kauffman Stadium for Ned Yost’s retirement news conference, but Holliday undoubtedly wasn’t one of the stragglers in the back.

Yet somehow, Holliday’s description of his former Redbirds skipper, Mike Matheny, seemed crafted to Moore’s sensibilities — right down to Matheny’s abilities in the areas of leadership, mentorship and being a person to look up to on and off the field.

Holliday, who last played in the majors with Colorado in 2018, sung Matheny’s praises while Holliday was in Kansas City over the weekend. Holliday, now a volunteer assistant coach on his brother Josh’s staff at Oklahoma State, came to Kansas City for Saturday’s college baseball exhibition between Vanderbilt and Oklahoma State at the Kansas City Urban Youth Academy.

“I would say first and foremost he is a great human being,” Holliday said of Matheny. “He is a tremendous husband, tremendous father — I know all of his kids. Getting a chance to watch him as a husband and father, the respect that I have for him as a human being is at the utmost. I consider him somebody that I look up to, and a mentor for me.”

Holliday played 15 years in the majors and was a seven-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger award winner. He won a batting title in 2007 as well as the NLCS MVP award in 2007. He spent seven seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, including their World Series championship season in 2011. Five of his seasons (2012-16) with the Cardinals were spent playing under Matheny.

Matheny and Holliday played against each other as National League foes from 2004 to 2006. Following Matheny’s retirement as a player, he became a roving instructor/player development assistant for the Cardinals and then took over as manager in 2012 after Tony La Russa retired.

In a conversation with The Star, Holliday went on to laud Matheny as a “leader of men” and praised Matheny’s ability to communicate with players. As far as strategical understanding of the game, Holliday pointed to Matheny having learned from Hall of Fame-caliber managers in both La Russa and recently retired San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy.

Toward the end of Matheny’s tenture in St. Louis, questions arose about his communication skills, particularly amid complaints about playing time and a report of a frayed relationship with a star player.

“I can’t speak to other people’s relationships with him,” Holliday said. “His communication with me was always tremendous. The people that I was around, I never heard anybody complain.

“I can’t speak to how other people felt about how he was communicating, but I’m a pretty low-maintenance guy. I don’t need a ton of attention, affirmation, as far as that goes. In my experience with Mike, he was really good at those things.”

Holliday, who dealt with injuries and a decline in production at the end of his stint with the Cardinals, was already an established veteran when Matheny took over.

Holliday surmised part of the reason he always knew were he stood with Matheny was because he had no problem asking questions of Matheny or the Cardinals’ front office.

Holliday had spent a year with the New York Yankees and was in his final season with the Rockies when Matheny was fired in 2018. Holliday wasn’t on the team when a report portrayed a potential bullying/hazing atmosphere between one of St. Louis’ rookie relief pitchers and a veteran closer.

The Cardinals refuted details in several reports about their clubhouse atmosphere, but the front office still fired Matheny in July 2018. That left the assessment of his tenure in St. Louis a bit murky.

“I guess some guys’ interpretations of what’s going on compared to others is kind of personality based,” Holliday said. “I don’t know what ultimately happened, why they moved on from Mike. It would be hard for me to give you an opinion outside of the fact that when I was there, we had tremendous success. He was a big part of it. I thought he was really good in his role.

“I was surprised (by Matheny’s ouster in St. Louis), but it’s like anything. At some point you’re going to get fired as a major-league manager. Even some of those Hall of Fame managers ... Tony La Russa was fired.

“A lot of great managers have been fired. At some point, organizations want to sort of repaint a new narrative or move on in a different direction and revamp the fan base. I don’t know. I don’t really know the details of he said/she said type stuff.”

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Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Royals and Major League Baseball for The Star. A native of the Northeast, he’s covered high school, collegiate and professional sports for The Lowell Sun, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Allentown Morning Call and The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s won awards for sports features and sports columns.