11/14/11 7:42 PM EST
Matheny takes managerial post for Cardinals
Job a long time coming for catcher, who is introduced Monday
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
Matheny, formally introduced on Monday as the 49th manager in St. Louis Cardinals history, was in the Dominican Republic when he heard from general manager John Mozeliak on Friday. Mozeliak notified Matheny that he would be receiving the job, but that he needed to keep it quiet for the time being.
So Matheny sent a text message to his wife -- who was sitting next to him -- and otherwise kept a lid on the biggest news of his baseball career.
Finally, on Monday, he publicly accepted the position. He donned a Cardinals jersey with his familiar No. 22, taking questions at a news conference while flanked by Mozeliak and the team's principal owner, Bill DeWitt Jr. Matheny agreed to a two-year contract with a club option for 2014.
"I believe all the experiences that I've learned up to this point from the field and off the field have led me to this point right now, to be what I was made to be," Matheny said. "And as I sit here as the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, I have to tell you that this is the greatest honor of my life."
It was a long time coming. While sitting in his new office, Matheny told reporters that the thought of managing had first been put in his mind not during his professional playing career, but early in his stint at the University of Michigan. Head coach Bill Freehan told him to make sure to take plenty of Spanish -- not so much to help him as a player, but because it would serve him well when he managed.
This, to an 18-year-old kid. So yes, Matheny's selection as Cardinals manager was only really a shock as far as the timing.
"I really think Mike has the aptitude, the intelligence and the character to withstand this," Mozeliak said. "I don't think it's going to be the simplest of transitions, but I certainly think he's up for it."
Mozeliak pointed to the same traits that coaches and managers have seen in Matheny for years. Few people in the game are better respected than Matheny. Thus the St. Louis search committee, which consisted of Mozeliak, DeWitt, assistant general manager Mike Girsch and special assistant Mike Jorgensen, put Matheny at the top of its list from the day he interviewed.
The challenge for the rookie manager is obvious. Not only has he never managed or coached in the big leagues, he's never managed or coached in professional baseball at any level. Most recently he's been a special assistant and roving instructor for the Cardinals organization. Having been a big league catcher would seem to give him something of a leg up, but his new job is unlike any previous job he's had.
"If I didn't think I could do it, I certainly wouldn't have walked into the interview process first," Matheny said. "It's a legitimate question, but I look at what the traits are that they're looking for. I know that 'Mo' and Bill and the committee had a job description in mind and what that looked like, and then they needed to check off whether somebody filled that role."
One of the traits the organization sought is a familiarity with St. Louis' way of doing things. Matheny has been in the organization before, as well as for the past two years, and five of the six candidates had some tie to the organization. That was not a coincidence.
"He was a winning player, highly respected by his teammates and by the opposition and throughout baseball," DeWitt said. "He knows our current club and organization as well as anyone, and we feel he's the perfect one to lead us into a very bright future."
Matheny likely would have been on a bench somewhere sooner if not for his family. He had long maintained, since his retirement following the 2006 season, that he would not want to take a full-time coaching job until all of his five children were out of the house. Two of them are now on the way, his daughter and his oldest son having committed to colleges over the weekend, but the three youngest remain.
His family is on board, though, Matheny said.
"That balance of career and family has always been a tough one for me, and I believe it's tough for everybody in this industry," he said. "But the dynamics of my particular family have certainly changed. A great example was yesterday was a tremendous day for our family, not just for me. My son signs his national letter of intent to go to Missouri State, my daughter makes an oral commitment to play hockey at Ohio State University. So things are changing quickly in my home, and my family couldn't be any more supportive than they are of this."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.