It is probably important to remember that Mike Matheny has nothing in the way of real power for the Kansas City Royals right now.
As I have it from the Royals press release, Matheny will be a special advisor for player development, which I know has many who observed his Cardinals tenure in stitches. He won’t be on the bench. He won’t be assisting Dayton Moore in any official capacity. He’ll just… kind of be around?
And yet we all know what this is—Break Glass in Case of Managerial Change. This is the same kind of positionless position Matheny used to springboard himself into the managerial spot in St. Louis in the first place. Heck, it’s how we got Ned Yost. This act is familiar to every manager whose end is near or whose future is uncertain, and with Ned set to turn 65 next year, it’s not terribly unfair to wonder how long he plans to keep going here.
The gist I get, from spending time talking to Cardinal fans or (shudder) going to Cardinal-centric websites, is that Matheny cared a lot about his players and embodied the Leader of Men mantra that Very Serious Baseball Men™ place exceptional value on. As much as we turn players into numbers rather than people, from all appearances Matheny seemed to care greatly about the person wearing the uniform beyond his WPA or tOPS+. And he made the postseason four straight years to start his tenure, although crediting him with not completely steering the ship into an iceberg as soon as he took over seems rather back-handed—the 2012 Cardinals had talent and a pipeline of up-and-coming youngsters to keep things moving in a good direction, even with the unfortunate passing of Oscar Taveras.
He also lost complete and utter control not only of the clubhouse but seemingly of the intricate little things required to be an effective manager. He was clueless as a tactician. He couldn’t run a pitching staff to save his life, and that’s giving him the benefit of the doubt for what guys like Jordan Hicks, Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver were able to do at various times under his tutelage. He played favorites. I’m no Yadier Molina stan, but hey… Yadi’s out taking shots, and I’m not sure there’s many more respected players in baseball than Yadier Molina. He’s inflexible. He wore out position players. He let veteran doofuses harass talented youngsters because Baseball Reasons and also encouraged those same vets to become clubhouse snitches. He also seemed to go out of his way to antagonize other players, including a high-priced free-agent signing and a talent they basically gave away for nothing who hit .343 for his next franchise.
Sounds like a treat!
It should be noted that Mike Shildt took the same guys Matheny barely scratched a .500 record with and went 41-28 and nearly drug the Cardinals to the playoffs last season. Maybe Mike Shildt is modern-day Casey Stengel, maybe he’s not. But one day Matheny was in St. Louis and everyone hated everyone else and they played mediocre baseball, and the next day he was gone and things were fine. I think there might be a tendency to overthink this, that perhaps there were other mitigating factors at work—don’t do that. When Mike Matheny was fired, the St. Louis Cardinals became a markedly better baseball team.
Now he’s Kansas City’s problem. This concerns me for several reasons and excites me for none. Nothing I have read about Mike Matheny, Manager makes this sound promising. No Cardinals fan I’ve spoken to enjoyed the Mike Matheny Experience.
If what we believe will happen comes to pass—that Matheny is the successor to Yost once the latter is out to pasture—one wonders what the resulting ripples might be. Free-agents are already reticent to come to small-market Kansas City—how might they feel about Matheny after he froze out Dexter Fowler? Young players may not enjoy cutting their teeth in a clubhouse if some middling reliever is gonna trash them at every turn or rat them out to the boss. And we have no proof that Matheny can “coach ‘em up,” as the parlance goes—what kind of manager will he be if/when he doesn’t have a team at the height of its powers?
I imagine it will look quite a bit like the first half of his final year in St. Louis, only worse.
For now, I go back to what I started with—that there’s only so much damage he’ll be able to do in an advisory capacity. Perhaps he’ll take a year to get indoctrinated into the Royal Way and his crash course in Baseball According to Dayton Moore will be perspective-altering. Perhaps he will develop a rapport with the next wave of Royals and they’ll rally around him in a year or two as they begin to make their big-league debuts (this seems to be what happened for the Atlanta Braves and Brian Snitker in some capacity, although Matheny would certainly be more fly-by-night). In an advisory role, I guess he’ll have some voice in development, although how much and to what end will likely be the subject of much debate—I’m sure there’s an example you could point to of a player who is better for Mike Matheny having passed through his life, but I’m not sure who and I’m not sure that same player wouldn’t also lament certain aspects of life under Matheny.
So… yeah. Even though this was rumored for a long time now, I’m nowhere closer to understanding just why. Why add Mike Matheny? He’s not a brilliant baseball mind. He’s not a well-respected teacher. I guess he’s a leader, except for the part where he got fired from his last gig in part because he lost his clubhouse. He’s just a dude who has been around baseball for a long time and happened to be unemployed.
If he’s a player, you could see taking a flier on him and hoping he turns into something you can trade for value ahead of the deadline; if not, you cut him loose in spring training. That’s not going to happen with Matheny; now we just get to watch and wait. Exciting!
(It’s November. This is what passes for news.)