It was Site Manager Emeritus Ben Humphrey who coined the phrase “Mathenaging,” which became such a popular shorthand around here, it’s long had its own section heading. In the wake of Mike Matheny’s firing on Saturday night, Ben had this to say about where the tag came from:
I started the label on VEB with the intention of it applying to all of Matheny's decisions, both good and bad. But he was such a bad manager, the label evolved into a well-deserved pejorative tag. RIP #Mathenaging. https://t.co/AUF5h1jH5k— Mathenaging Scholar (@b_g_h) July 15, 2018
That got me thinking two things: 1) Ben probably needs to change his Twitter name. And 2) it would be interesting to take one last trip back through the archives to see how #Mathenaging was created and evolved.
The first use I found of the #Mathenaging tag was Oct. 2012, when Ben questioned Matheny’s handling of starting pitchers - and specifically sticking with them too long - in the postseason. The next use came one year later, again questioning Matheny’s pitching moves, this time in the World Series.
In 2014, VEB published an ongoing series under the header of Mathenaging, with such titles as why put on the go-ahead run and still losing at reliever chess. It goes on from there. As you look back at those posts, what really stands out is how these issues - from four years ago - continued to be the same problems we discussed until about 9:30pm last night.
It was almost two years ago, in late 2016, that another Site Manager Emeritus, Craig Edwards, wrote the definitive work in the Fire Matheny genre.
But throughout the last 4+ years, most every writer here at VEB has taken on the issue of Mathenaging at one time or another. Many of us heard it in the comments and on Twitter from fans who accused us of beating a dead horse, being fixated on this one issue, etc. But if you’ve closely watched an organization you love continue to make the same mistakes for 4+ years, I don’t know how you could not fixate on it.
But for all the strategic lapses, the bullpen mismanagement, etc., the quality that the Cardinals Organization continued to hang its hat on was Mike’s leadership abilities. And for a long time, it was hard to do much but grudgingly accept that, because there is so much of the job of manager that we simply cannot see.
There were cracks, sure. Just as #Mathenaging came to be a pejorative for in-game mismanagement, Mike’s Guys™ came to refer to the way Matheny seemed to play favorites with a certain type of player. But in just the last couple weeks, The Athletic’s Mark Saxon broke two big stories about the atmosphere in the Cardinals clubhouse - first involving the standoff between Matheny and Dexter Fowler and then about Bud Norris policing Jordan Hicks.
So while it would be overstating things to say those two stories “brought Matheny down,” and Mozeliak himself directly disputed that at the press conference, they were certainly two major blows to the “Leader of Men” narrative which was long-since the only story to stand on about why Mike Matheny was still the manager of the Cardinals.
Still, despite all the evidence that this move was needed, for an organization that prides itself on continuity and is often reluctant to admit mistakes, it was a surprise to see it go down when and how it did.
For 6+ years, we have watched our favorite team play through the lens of Mathenaging. Where there other problems? Of course there were. There were roster mistakes and players underperforming and legitimate tragedy. But there was always this nagging feeling that there was more talent there, hindered rather than allowed to flourish, due to the moves of the manager.
It’s clear now that the Cardinals as an organization believe that too. During the Sunday morning press conference, Mozeliak, DeWitt and Girsch all referred repeatedly to this season, even talking about “salvaging” it. Can they still make the postseason? It’s certainly possible, though as Craig noted on Twitter, it will take a Herculean turnaround.
But whether the Cardinals make the playoffs again this season, next season, or a couple years down the line, they are better positioned to do so now than they have been for the last several years. Farewell, #Mathenaging.