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What can we expect from Matheny as a manager?

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012, at 9:19 AM

The season is still early, but with Spring Training and a handful of regular season games under our belt we are beginning to see the shape Mike Matheny is going to take as the manager of the Cardinals.

While there is still a lot to see about how he will handle the various situations that will arise, but from his many years in baseball and these few games there is a lot we can learn.

1.Open to his players and coaching staff -- Matheny has not tried in any way to cover up his lack of experience. Instead, he has surrounded himself with smart people, just like any good leader does. He hasn't just surrounded himself with guys like McGwire, Maloney and Oquendo for fun, he's done it because he trusts their judgment and experience. Working with those guys will only strengthen his managing skills.
2.Fair -- Matheny, who comes from a strong Christian background and was long regarded as a problem solver, will be seen as a fair leader by his team. He will pull no punches, but make clear his reasoning. He seems to be highly regarded by his team as he has been in the sport for years.
3.A man of encouragement -- During game one, I initially questioned having Rafael Furcal on the roster that day given his slump. Matheny and Furcal proved me wrong. Having him on the roster was meant as a vote of confidence to the struggling Furcal and it was just the trick because in his first 19 at bats he had 10 hits. At the end of the first game against the Miami Marlins, as Matheny stood at the top of the dugout high-fiving his players, when he got to Furcal he patted him on the back and leaned in to whisper in his ear. They were both smiling and while we don't know what he said in that moment, I have no doubt he was giving him a good "attaboy" and reminding him that he "still has it."
4.Aggressive -- As we have already seen by their base-running tactics, I think we can expect Matheny to be an aggressive manager. He, at least so far, doesn't like to play it safe early in the game. Most of the stolen base attempts we have seen thus far have been early in games, attempting to get the team on the scoreboard and build a little run cushion. I'm not saying he won't be aggressive late in games, but he clearly like to get runs on the board early and so far, his team has done a good job of getting it done.
5.Less pitching changes -- I think we can expect to see less pitching changes in games with Matheny at the helm. In Sunday's game against Milwaukee, we saw Mitchell Boggs give up a run, but Matheny left him in. In turn, he struck out the side. LaRussa, most likely, would have yanked him. I'm not knocking LaRussa, but he leads the world in pitching changes. It won't always work out that way for Matheny, but I understand why he did it. He wants to show the guys, especially in the bullpen, that he has confidence in them. Pitchers, and baseball players in general, are creatures of habit and superstition. They have a tendency to let things get to them. The great ones have the ability to block it out, but not everyone is great. Some guys need nurtured a little. This game can make a head case out of anyone, and sometimes the manager has to play resident psychologist to keep all of the wheels turning in the right direction.
6.Well-liked -- Anyone who knows Mike Matheny talks well about him. He's just one of those guys. He's generally well-liked by players, management and media alike. He's up-front and friendly, two qualities that you don't often see together. Anytime you see a camera shine on the dugout or watch batting practice, you can quickly see the light-heartedness between the guys and their manager. Rest assured, at some point, he will have to exert his authority, but with all of the young guys coming up over the next two seasons, a light-hearted, likeable manager could be good. Many of the young guys seemed to find LaRussa intimidating, and rightly so. He was intimidating. The last major question to be answered is can Matheny win?
7.Open to the media -- On occasion, LaRussa was known for blowing up at reporters, but in general he was quite honest. I expect more of that with Matheny, only with less explosions. Don't get me wrong, he can get fired up, but it will be the exception not the rule. So far, he has been rather outspoken about his team and tactics. The media who are with the team have had nothing but nice things to say about him so far. The St. Louis media, who already know him well from his time as a player and in the front office, have all seemed to be excited about working with him. As a result, I think we can expect more candid stories about his thoughts and reasoning than we saw with LaRussa over the years.

I should point out that I was a fan of LaRussa and I'm not trying to make Matheny out to be a better manager. That still remains to be seen. I do, however, have faith in his ability as a manager, former player and person. Anything he does, he plans to succeed at. Managing the Cardinals will be no different.

All in all, I'm very impressed with what I've seen. So far, Matheny hasn't handled himself like a rookie manager. He looks the part and so far it appears he is getting the job done. I look forward to what the rest of the season has to bring.

Don't forget to enter the contest on our website for a free BluRay/DVD combo pack of Baseball's Greatest Games featuring Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.

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To submit a question for the Balls & Strikes Mailbag, either e-mail cnoles@dailystatesman.com , call (573)624-4545 or fill out the form at dailystatesman.com/blogs/coreynoles/

Follow him on Twitter @coreynoles

Before I dive into today's column, I wanted to remind everyone to dive into this week's contest for a free BluRay/DVD combo pack of Baseball's Greatest Games featuring Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. Just click on this link to read more and find out how to enter.



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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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