I've slept on it. And I hate to be a naysayer. But I have to be honest and say that I just don't like the Cardinals' decision to replace Tony La Russa with a guy who has absolutely no experience.
It's not that I don't like Mike Matheny. I have tremendous respect for his on-field leadership when he was a player. But, even if he was the smartest guy on the planet, I don't think there is any way for him to anticipate all the pressures of being a major league skipper until he has walked a few miles in those shoes.
When it was annouced that Matheny was one of the candidates for the open Cardinals job, my reaction was that it was a shame it wasn't a different time or place because Matheny might be an interesting selection had he not had the fatal flaw of no experience. He might very well make a very good major league manager someday. But the list of skippers who turned out to be great but who got fired in disappointment from their first job is considerable: Whitey Herzog, Joe Torre, Casey Stengel, Tony La Russa, Billy Southworth, Bobby Cox, Terry Francona. That's just the tip of the iceberg... But you get the point. And the Cardinals don't have the luxury of waiting around for Matheny to get his feet beneath him. They're the defending World Series champs and more than three million paying customers expect them to be a major contender next season.
What I really want to know is how the Cardinals allowed themselves to be put in this position. It seems like terrible planning. If they knew La Russa was going to retire -- and they had to know that because the guy is 67 years old and he spent the last three off-seasons taking weeks to decide if he had it in him to come back for another season -- why didn't they send Matheny to Springfield or the Quad Cities a couple of years ago to get his feet wet?
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Don't tell me he came out of nowhere to win the job and they had to hire him now or lose him. General Manager John Mozeliak has said for years that he's kept a list in his desk of potential candidates. Obviously Matheny's name was on it. It's the other names on the list -- or should I say the names NOT on the list -- that gave me pause. The Cardinals wasted everyones time by talking to Terry Francona and Ryne Sandberg whom they obviously had no intention of hiring. Everyone else on the list was either an in-house candidate, was terribly under-qualified or both.
Mozeliak should be in the bad list makers hall of fame.
Bottom line is that the Cardinals have at the very least created a huge distraction for themselves. As the national media has already made abundantly clear in a broad panning of this decision, everyone is going to be watching for Matheny to stumble. He's going to be under the microscope in every close loss and that could be a mushroom cloud waiting to happen on a team that is going to have a very young bullpen.
As we saw with La Russa over the years, people tend to assume that every decision that doesn't work out was the wrong thing to do. And we're going to find out really quickly just how thick Matheny's skin is.
I hope we learn that Albert Pujols endorsed the move and that he's now very close to re-signing with the Cardinals or that there is some other positive motive for this move. But right now it seems to me that the one thing Matheny brought to the table that Jim Riggleman, Tony Pena, Terry Pendleton, Terry Francona or a host of other more experienced candidates couldn't was the inability to command a huge paycheck.
And it's ironic that the Cardinals didn't hire Jose Oquendo after all. He was thought to be the front runner for the job with the only flaw in his armor the fact that he didn't have enough experience. He's got tons more of that than Matheny.