Mike Matheny, like any manager and people in general, has both strengths and weaknesses. Depending on who you ask, his strengths deal mostly with leadership. His players play hard for him and he keeps a good clubhouse. As for his negatives, it probably is not necessary to go through everything as I wrote two pieces on potential improvements last Fall (Part I, Part II). If you are looking for something more recent, in his preview for the season, Bernie Miklasz provides a solid summary at the end of his piece on the Cardinals' manager. Nowhere in any serious criticism of Matheny I have seen has his attitude come up as a negative, yet that narrative is being pushed this spring.
The criticisms of Matheny revolve around strategy, planning, and quick-thinking, but Matheny himself is pushing the story that he receives criticism for being no fun or stoic, and perhaps that is something he can work on. The odd part about this narrative is that it is not entirely inconsistent. From Benjamin Hochman's piece on not pleasing everyone:
"I know you guys (in the media) don't get to see it ... but I spend time around people in the real world, and it's different because I can be different there. Maybe someday I'll get better at combining the two, but I feel like I'm always on point when I'm doing this job, which is guarded, which is maybe combative, I don't know you guys can throw the adjectives on there. I just feel like that's what I'm supposed to do."
Here, he embraces his attitude, the attitude that garners him the most praise as a leader and consistent presence in a long, grinding season. In a piece by Jennifer Longosch, Matheny acknowledges the "no fun" reputation, but says he is going to take efforts to make sure players can let be themselves a bit.
"I want to encourage an atmosphere that we're going to get our work done and be serious, but I almost push that too far. So we're going to be a little more intentional on figuring how to lighten the mood and let guys be themselves."
Do the Cardinals really have a problem being themselves?
This GIF is basically me when I think about @Cardinals spring training pic.twitter.com/w8Fg3IYYiV— Dan Doelling (@daniel_doelling) January 19, 2016
Does not seem like it there. Matheny goes on:
"They just can't let their guard down ever," Matheny said. "I think it's a different situation than we've ever had in the game before that they just can't separate what they do from who they are. I think it's a dangerous place to be, and it's something that I want to consciously create an atmosphere here where they can breathe a little bit."
It is important to breathe. Good hydration is also a must.
Or is this #BestOf2015? pic.twitter.com/K2HwSfzbJr— Dan Doelling (@daniel_doelling) December 31, 2015
Were the Cardinals not able to be themselves in the dugout during games because of Matheny's stoic demeanor? You be the judge.
#BestOf2015 pic.twitter.com/02bxvaZV3U— Dan Doelling (@daniel_doelling) December 30, 2015
But that's just one piece of evidence. Surely the team was not loose in the dugout the entire season, right?
@theemaryrose When it's your birthday and you get everything you asked for pic.twitter.com/zv04lgJoWV— Dan Doelling (@daniel_doelling) January 4, 2016
The team would not do anything really silly like wear as many hats as possible during a game?
Dear @Tsunamy27,— Dan Doelling (@daniel_doelling) September 18, 2015
I love ya.
- Me pic.twitter.com/ug5KAD3fH7
Okay, fine, but that is just Carlos Martinez. The Cardinals might have one goofball, but the rest of the team probably doesn't even like it.
Important Carlos Martinez GIF break pic.twitter.com/stfFB937mB— Dan Doelling (@daniel_doelling) September 25, 2015
I doubt the whole team ever gets involved though, especially not a veteran like Matt Holliday.
The best team in baseball gets the squad back together pic.twitter.com/btc3I8Bi04— Dan Doelling (@daniel_doelling) September 15, 2015
They are probably pretty mean to newcomers though. It might be hard for new guys to fit in.
Advice: Taken. pic.twitter.com/5bh4KsAA4e— Dan Doelling (@daniel_doelling) September 2, 2015
Although I have heard Kolten Wong can be pretty tough on himself.
When you have a day, you pull out The Whip. pic.twitter.com/ATn0L51FgE— Dan Doelling (@daniel_doelling) April 23, 2015
Sure, maybe some of the new guys can have fun, but Adam Wainwright, the heir to foul-mouthed uber-serious Chris Carpenter would treat the game with a little more respect.
Jason Heyward doesn’t think the @Cardinals are fun enough pic.twitter.com/WPukYl5vIf— Dan Doelling (@daniel_doelling) December 15, 2015
Okay, Wainwright, sure, but certainly Yadi would never make light of an unusual situation on the field.
Sometimes, you have to wear oven mitts to run, because baseball. pic.twitter.com/CkdembLmgF— Dan Doelling (@daniel_doelling) October 11, 2015
I'm sure they've never danced together, though.
He is my favorite. #VivaElGallo pic.twitter.com/T0X8EbLazz— Dan Doelling (@daniel_doelling) October 1, 2015
The Cardinals had a lot of fun playing baseball last year with Matheny's demeanor the way it is. When Tony La Russa was the manager, guys like Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Chris Carpenter embodied their manager's spirit and attitude. That is not the case for the current Cardinals. Fans of teams who are not the Cardinals likely view the team the same way they have for years, as a business-like "no fun" team that Matheny is worried about, but that is untrue for the current bunch with the birds on the bat.
If Mike Matheny wants to work on something, he should focus on his weaknesses, not his strengths. A loose manager is not going to help the grind of the season that much, but getting starters regular rest, not overdoing it with the bullpen, and making sure starting pitchers are in optimal health will greatly help as the Cardinals seek to defend their division title over the next 162 regular seasons games.
Special thanks to Dan Doelling (on twitter @daniel_doelling) who eagerly agreed to allow use of his tweets throughout the year to help create this post.