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Managing the St. Louis Cardinals' Postseason Collapse Puts Mike Matheny in Hall-of-Fame Company

The Cardinals' epic collapse in the 2012 National League Championship Series was on par with those of club's managed by the greatest managers in Cardinals franchise history.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Cardinals' 2012 season ended in particularly brutal fashion in San Francisco when the club lost by the score of 9-0 in the decisive game of a seven-game League Championship Series that they led 3-1. As the game drew to a close, crown prince of the useless (yet often fun and interesting) stats, Jayson Stark of ESPN tweeted the following:

The tweet touched on a small segment of the lopsided losses St. Louis has suffered over the years. The Cardinals' franchise history is undeniably storied. But, for all of the organization's successes, there have also been some gut-wrenching failures.

Hall-of-Fame writer Rick Hummel took to the pages of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch with a well-written and informative article on the one-sided postseason losses that the Cardinals have been on the wrong side of over the years. The title of the article could not be more accurate: "Lopsided loss in Game 7 not new." Hummel summarizes the Cards' past losses in seventh games thusly:

With the exception of a 4-2 loss at Minnesota in the seventh game of the 1987 World Series, all other Cardinals' losses in seventh games have come after they've led a playoff series by a 3-1 count and three of the losses have been routs. In all three instances, the Cardinals missed a chance to wrap up the series in Game 5 at home before losing the final two on the road.

When Mike Matheny was announced as the new manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, there was some surprise that the Cardinals turned to a man with no managerial experience above the youth level. The hiring of Matheny stood in stark contrast to the last hiring the franchise made, which took place before the 1996 season. That hiring, of course, was of Tony La Russa, who even back then was an experienced manager.

Through the ups and downs of the Cards' 2012 season (and usually during the downs), fans have lamented that La Russa was retired and Matheny hired. My Twitter feed was filled with such sentiment, especially during the final three games of the NLCS. It seems that many thought the future Hall-of-Famer would have steered the Redbirds to yet another pennant.

The truth is that, by managing this season's NLCS collapse, Matheny followed in the footsteps of the franchise's Hall-of-Fame managers. Three managers have their numbers retired by the St. Louis Cardinals: Red Schoendienst's No. 2*, Whitey Herzog's No. 24, and Tony La Russa's No. 10. These men own the top three win totals as manager in franchise history. All three of these fine leaders managed a Cardinals club that blew a 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven postseason series.

*Schoendienst is enshrined in the Hall of Fame as a player. His retired number is for his contributions as player and manager.

Red Schoendienst managed the Cardinals for 14 years. He accrued 1,041 wins with a .522 winning percentage during that time. Schoendienst managed two National League pennant winners and the 1967 World Series champions--the team for which this very blog is named. In 1968, Schoendienst and the Cardinals led the Detroit Tigers 3-1 in the World Series. Those Birdos wound up losing the final three games of the series by a combined score of 22-5.

Whitey Herzog is third on the Cardinals' all-time franchise wins list for a manger with 822. He notched those wins over 11 years as manager and did so with a .530 winning percentage. Herzog's Cards won the 1982 World Series as well as the 1985 and 1987 National League pennants. In 1985, the Herzog-led Runnin' Redbirds faced the Kansas City Royals in the World Series and jumped out to a 3-1 series lead. They lost the final three games of the series by a combined score of 19-2, with most of this lopsided run differential provided by a 11-0 defeat in the decisive Game 7.

Tony La Russa is the all-time franchise leader in wins as a manager. La Russa amassed 1,408 wins over his 16 years as the St. Louis skipper. During that tenure, La Russa led the Cardinals to many postseason berths. In those postseasons, as Hummel writes, La Russa-managed clubs suffered multiple lopsided series losses. The Cards lost 4-1 in the 2000 and 2002 NLCS, 4-0 in the 2004 World Series, and 3-0 in the 2009 NLDS. In the 1996 NLCS, La Russa's Cardinals suffered a collapse quite similar to that of the Matheny-managed Cards of this October. The Cards led the Braves 3-1 before being defeated in the final three games of the series by a combined score of 32-1. The Braves trounced the Cardinals 15-0 in Game 7 of that series.

Fans being critical of Matheny should take a step back and look at the Cardinals' postseason collapses that were managed by some of the best managers in the franchise's history. Red, Whitey, and Tony all managed St. Louis ball clubs that led a postseason series 3-1 before dropping the series' final three games in a lopsided fashion similar to the 2012 Cards being outscored 20-1 in the final three games of this year's NLCS. Matheny has a long way to go before anyone starts talking about retiring his number or giving him a plaque in Cooperstown, but there is no denying that this postseason's collapse had a Hall-of-Fame quality to it.