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Mike Matheny and climate issues in the Cardinals' clubhouse

There might be dissension in the Cardinals' clubhouse. But what could it possibly be?

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

A popular mantra surrounding Cardinals' manager Mike Matheny is that he compensates for his weak acumen as in-game strategist with his presence behind clubhouse walls.  He's a "leader of men" and in a 162-game season, the latter skill might actually be more important than the former.  Chris Jaffe, author of the book "Evaluating Baseball's Managers: A History and Analysis of Performance in the Major Leagues" thinks so and after four seasons of the Cardinals playing postseason baseball it's certainly not a notion that I dismiss.

Derrick Goold wrote an eye-opening piece this morning which could put Matheny's talents to the test in 2016.  Goold alluded to "tension clearly simmering" amongst players and a feeling of "palpable unease around the clubhouse."  The source of this friction was not entirely clear although Goold mentioned that some of it might be related to the loss of third base coach Jose Oquendo for the season as well as built-up frustrations that come with losing a bunch of spring training games.  If, like me, you're on a never-ending quest to figure out what matters and what's meaningless during spring training - because outside of injuries I don't have the faintest clue - apparently losing a bunch does mean something.

Lil Scooter opined this morning that this is likely not a big deal and she's probably right, but there was a part of Goold's article that particularly jumped out at me (emphasis mine):

Matheny explained that one of the reasons [for increased team meetings] was to go through and sign rules required by Major League Baseball. The other reasons were internal, such as establishing clubhouse policies as well as addressing concerns that have recently surfaced about the clubhouse's climate. Other players joined the meeting based on the issue, Matheny said, and he has sought to expand the leadership group at times.

Again, we're left to speculate what sort of issues persist with this clubhouse climate and I don't mean that as a criticism.  Goold mentioned that Matheny wasn't specific when acknowledging the tension, and he can only provide as much information as he himself is privy to.  But for the sake of this column let's assume these climate issues are real and not the product of needing material at the five-month mark of the offseason; nor are they the type of climate issues which are universal to every major league team that has ever existed.

So let's speculate about the possible concerns inside the clubhouse.  Here are my guesses:

  • Similar to the great home run chase of 1961, the four-way tie of 2 home runs to lead the Cardinals this spring (Grichuk, Peguero, Hazelbaker, Pham) is causing undue stress and fracturing the clubhouse.
  • Lots of jealousy as newcomer Ruben Tejada now has the most "killer" scar on the team.
  • Matheny wasn't specific with Goold because he meant it literally: The actual climate - the temperature, if you will - inside the clubhouse at Roger Dean Stadium is bad.  I work in an old government building and 360 days of the year the temperature inside the building is quite uncomfortable.  It's either way too hot or freezing cold - they can never get it right.  Roger Dean Stadium is not known for its amenities, and I could see this being a possible problem.
  • Still lingering tension from this:
  • Most of the team is enraged with the recent New York Times trend piece on millennials while Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday, and Yadier Molina thought it made some interesting points.
  • Everyone competing to fill the role of jerk on the field to replace John Lackey.
  • The team agreed to follow the Cubs lead and bring actual live cardinals to play with at their final practice.  Half the team thinks the birds should be in cages; the other half thinks they should be cageless but with clipped wings.
  • Like all of us, the team has absolutely had it with Christine showing up in their Twitter Notifications.

  • Those are my theories.  And again, this episode is likely not a big deal but something to keep an eye on.  If this story turns out to be more of the significant variety Mike Matheny might have to prove his worth again in 2016.  To date, he's shown he has the ability to navigate these tough waters behind closed doors and I, for one, expect him to have the team ready to play on Sunday.