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What challenges will Matheny face this year?Posted Tuesday, February 7, 2012, at 7:45 AM
By COREY NOLES
Anytime a professional sports team changes managers there are a lot of dynamics in play. Teams typically look for a person who is a proven leader capable of commanding immediate respect. Teams want a manager that not only can win tomorrow, but has won in the past. They want a manager who keeps a tight ship and is able to control his players and clubhouse.
After the retirement of longtime manager Tony LaRussa, the St. Louis Cardinals bucked all of the traditional ideas when they handed the reins of the world champion team to Mike Matheny.
At first sight, with some of the candidates who were on the table, I'll admit I scratched my head. As the weeks drew on we learned that he has basically been being groomed for the position for quite some time.
I'm not going to waste your time predicting how Matheny's first year at the helm will turn out. We have absolutely zero information to base such predictions on and I won't waste my time with them.
What I am going to do is share a few challenges Matheny will likely face this year and how I think he can best combat them.
1. From friend to boss - I believe this is going to be the most difficult hurdle for him. There is a good chance this will make for some awkward moments throughout the year. Early on in the season, likely in Spring Training, Matheny is going to have to step up and command their respect, not their friendship, which several of these guys have had for years. I don't foresee anyone as a problem right off the bat (pun intended), but you never know who will or won't jive well together (ex: Colby Rasmus, Scott Rolen).
2. LaRussa's shadow - In his 16 year reign, LaRussa polarized a large portion of the Cardinals fan base. There was little middle-ground because you either loved him and his methods or hated him and cursed his every move. Regardless, he commanded respect. LaRussa's winning legacy is something Matheny will be very pressured to follow. But Mike Matheny isn't LaRussa and everyone needs to understand that well before a baseball is ever lifted in Jupiter, Fla. I'm not saying he doesn't have potential to be as great, but he isn't going to play the same style of baseball. His every move will be contrasted to how LaRussa would have handled it and he's going to have to be willing to make it clear who he is. He needs to be his own man and make it clear from day one that's what he is doing. Between his knowledge of the game, knowledge of the players and even his personality, I think this is a hurdle he will be able to jump. His reported regular visits with Whitey Herzog also intrigue me. Might we see a base-stealer again?
3. Making this team gel - To help with this, Matheny was given one true blessing. All of these shake-ups (AP, TLR, Duncan, etc.) have happened over one season, so while he is a new manager, this is a new team with a new identity for everyone who suits up. While this will be an obvious challenge for Matheny, it will also take a little heat off of him if he struggles in his first year because, frankly, I don't think anyone will know what to blame it on for sure. Traditionally, the manager is the first to catch it, but given the vast number of changes, I don't think you could just start launching tomatoes at Matheny. It would be a struggle for any coach, but what coach wouldn't be happy with the lineup they have built for him.
Even though we know little of Matheny as a coach, we know a lot about him as a person. I look forward to seeing him in the dugout and how he handles various situations as they arise.
I know a lot of people are still disappointed over how the Pujols deal ended, but there is a lot to be excited about this year. You never "replace" a player like Albert, but I think the front office has done an admirable job about replacing the lost production.
In 11 days when pitchers and catchers report to Jupiter, Fla. to kick off spring training we will finally have the opportunity to get our first glimpse of how Matheny will handle things.
Thanks for reading!
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Corey Noles, staff writer for The Daily Statesman and Editor of The North Stoddard Countian, is the author of a regular baseball/St. Louis Cardinals column and also uses his blog to sound off on various happenings in sports. He also operates a weekly baseball mailbag column.
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