St. Louis Cardinals

Royals-Matheny courtship slowly grew behind the scenes over the past year

The Royals made official the managerial hire that had been assumed for months Thursday. Mike Matheny will replace the retired Ned Yost as the club’s manager.

Matheny seemingly embraced everything about the organization in an introductory news conference at Kauffman Stadium. He beamed with optimism and enthusiasm as he sported a Royals jersey with the KC logo prominently on the left sleeve.

One year to the day he first walked into the doors to sit down with general manager Dayton Moore about joining the organization as an adviser, he took over the Royals’ most visible position of leadership.

“I remember that day extremely well for one reason more than any other,” Matheny said. “Because when I left, I went home to (his wife) Kristin and our five incredible kids and said, ‘I don’t know why. I can’t explain it. But I truly believe this is where I’m meant to be. I believe this is where we’re meant to be.’”

Matheny, who played 13 seasons in the majors as a catcher, joined the Royals as an adviser for player development last November after having been fired as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals during the 2018 season.

He was the first manager to reach the postseason in each of his first four years, and he posted a higher winning percentage (.555) with the Cardinals than his predecessor Tony La Russa (.544). Along the way, Matheny’s teams won one National League pennant and three division titles, and he managed the 2004 NL All-Star team.

“You know what, sometimes change happens, especially in the game that we’re in today,” Matheny said of his firing in St. Louis. “And actually, six and a half years is a pretty long run in our game now. I enjoyed every single day of it. I was honored to be considered for that. I don’t regret any day that I was there. Once again, it leads towards the excitement I have of doing it here.”

Matheny, who plans to move to the Kansas City area, and the Royals engaged in a mutual evaluation during this year in the organization. He explored what he described as an incredible “culture of care” extending to people and the community.

He also came to the conclusion that the front office was intent on building a team that would perennially contend in the future after back-to-back 100-loss seasons.

“The one word that kept standing out to me was sustained,” Matheny said. “It wasn’t just let’s get back and have success. It was how do we create sustained success. So you’ve got an incredible culture. You’ve got a drive and a commitment. You’ve got incredible players that are on the way with a very bright future. All these things coupled with a city I love to come to, always have, coupled with a fan base that is as passionate as any and loves this team.”

While Matheny felt two days after his firing in St. Louis that he wanted to manage again, he deliberately stayed behind the scenes and avoided interviews this past year out of respect for Yost.

Matheny said he and Yost spoke on the phone on Thursday prior to the news conference.

Prior to Yost’s retirement announcement, Moore began vetting Matheny via conversations with players and front office people who’d worked with Matheny. Moore also picked the brains of each member of the organization who dealt with Matheny in some fashion.

“We as a group, our leadership team and everyone throughout our baseball operations department, I asked continuously throughout the year I want you to spend time with Mike Matheny and I want you to get back to me about what you believe his strengths are and what you believe his weaknesses are,” Moore said.

“… As I continued to ask that question to whoever interacted with Mike, it always came back the same in a very positive and healthy way and their vision for being able to work with him.”

During the search process, Matheny had several chances to speak with prospective owner John Sherman both in person and via telephone. Sherman has agreed to purchase the franchise from David Glass, but the sale is pending league approval that should come in late November.

Sherman urged Moore and the public relations department to go forward with Thursday’s announcement despite the ownership situation remaining fluid.

“I’ve been well-informed by Dayton and the leadership team about the material activities underway with the club, and have been impressed with the thoughtful, strategic process Dayton has run to get to this important decision,” Sherman said in a release announcing Matheny’s hiring.

Former Cardinals All-Star outfielder Matt Holliday played 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.

Asked last weekend what he’d tell Royals followers of Matheny, Holliday told The Star, “He’s as classy and good human as you’ll find. He’s just a great man. I would say he’s somebody they could be proud of. He’s somebody that I really enjoy.”

Drafted out of the University of Michigan by the Milwaukee Brewers in the eighth round of the 1991 draft, Matheny made his MLB debut in 1994 and went on to play for the Toronto Blue Jays, Cardinals, and San Francisco Giants.

He won four Gold Gloves in his career and set a MLB record for consecutive games caught without an error (252 from 2002-04). In 2003, he became one of three catchers in major-league history to complete a season (at least 100 games) with a 1.000 fielding percentage.

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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.