I was pretty big into baseball until I was about 17; phrased another way, you could say that I cared pretty deeply about the ins-and-outs of every game across the summer (when I was about 12-13, I kept notebooks of box scores, mostly related to the Yankees), and then I went to college and learned more about drinking and girls. Watching a random Marlins-Pirates game on a July 17th evening seemed less relevant then it once did. Maybe that’s how a person’s love affair with baseball works: it starts out tepid, it ramps up, it hits a peak, and then you re-discover it when you’re also becoming fond of golf.
All this is a long way of saying that I kind of remember Mike Matheny from his playing days. I had baseball cards (surprisingly, my mom has yet to throw them out, which is the way most guys end the sentence “I had baseball cards…”) and while I’m not looking at the entirety of those 3-4 binders as I type this, I’m almost sure I had a Matheny card. I can only hope it was from his Cardinals days, although he also played for the Giants, Blue Jays and Brewers. Fun fact: he was actually on that ’04 team that got swept by the team-of-destiny Red Sox in the World Series.
When Matheny was hired, I casually noticed that news. I didn’t know what to think, although people that know a lot more about baseball than me thought it was risky, and others thought it could be a shot across Pujols’ bow. Hardball Talk, which — truth be told — I read every night before bed, thought it was a “radical shift.” This is kind of what I remembered (ignore the “high character guy” line, which is cliche); he’s clearly a tough dude:
Shortly after he was hired, my man Jeff Bradley (I worked with him, which is to say I worked in the same place as him and barely interacted with him) altered me to the famous letter that Matheny wrote when he was coaching Little League. Here’s the letter. First off, Kevin Seitzer was always one of my favorite players and I have no true idea why. Second off, I coached Little League in 2011. I wrote a few letters and some were OK, but nothing like this. This is pretty much the definition of what you’d want to see from a coach as a parent. I have no idea how well his team did (mine was 2-9 regular season but did win a playoff game), but it almost doesn’t matter. This is coaching the right way.
These numbers could be higher now, but at the time Matheny was hired, he was the 10th manager to have been a catcher during his playing days. At some point, Brad Ausmus is going to become a manager (maybe with the Cubs, and soon), and even though John Farrell is doing pretty well in Boston right now, someday Jason Varitek will likely be a manager too. That’s 12, and I’m sure there are a ton I’m forgetting. Catchers are theoretically more “cerebral” (during my extremely limited baseball career, I was a P/1B), but they also might understand the flow of the game better because they essentially control the pacing of the pitcher. When you see youth baseball coaches and football coaches operate, I always found it interesting that youth football coaches will sometimes take the big, fat kids and make ’em linemen; baseball guys sometimes have the inclination to do that with catchers, but the good coaches want their best people behind the plate or pitching (or alternating), because that’s how you control a Little League game. RFs don’t have as much impact, ‘cept possibly at the plate.
Matheny also seems to be quite religious:
So … ultimate baseball guy? I’m not sure how to qualify that ultimately, but the letter + the toughness + the scripture + the dynamic with his guys + the World Series appearance = he’s up there.
All this said, I still kinda think the Red Sox are going to win the World Series … but I think Mike Matheny is definitely going to get his someday.