Monday, November 14, 2011
Updated: November 15, 3:22 PM ET
Cardinals take risk by hiring Mike Matheny
Strike One: Manager Matheny Dept.
Would the 2011 Cardinals have won the World Series if they hadn't been managed by a living managing legend?
I don't think so. And if you surveyed Tony La Russa's players, I bet they'd tell you they don't think so, either.
La Russa's troops talked nonstop about their manager this October. And one topic they brought up, over and over, was how prepared he was.
He paced the dugout every night with notes stuffed in his back pocket, meaningful pearls of information he'd accumulated through more than three decades of managing. So no matter what situation presented itself in any game, Tony La Russa had seen it, done it, lived it -- and was ready for it.
But now he's gone -- and the St. Louis Cardinals are about to go from a man who has managed more than 5,000 games to a man who has managed zero games.
Think about that.
Mike Matheny is an incredibly intelligent man whose skills as a leader and as a teammate are undeniable. But he has never managed a single baseball game. Anywhere. So you can't understate the risk the Cardinals are taking by bringing him in to manage the reigning World Series champs.
But here's an astounding fact that ought to make Matheny feel better:
Tony La Russa is one of only seven managers in history to manage at least 4,000 games in the big leagues. Five of those men were replaced by a guy who had never managed any games -- not in the big leagues, at least. Here's that list:
• La Russa (Cardinals): Replaced by Matheny in 2012.
• Joe Torre (Dodgers): Replaced by Don Mattingly in 2011.
• Sparky Anderson (Tigers): Replaced by Buddy Bell in 1996.
• Bucky Harris (Tigers): Replaced by Jack Tighe in 1957.
• John McGraw (Giants): Replaced by Bill Terry in 1932.
The track record of those replacements couldn't be more mixed. The jury is still out on Mattingly, whose team went 82-79 this season. Bell got fired in his third season and never had a winning season in Detroit. Harris went 99-104 and got canned 49 games into his second season.
So only Terry, who was actually a player-manager initially, had any success. He won the World Series in 1933, got back to two more World Series and lasted 10 seasons on the job. Anybody think Mike Matheny is going to make it through 10 years in this job? I'll take the under.
Other Matheny tidbits:
• Who were the only two men to manage 4,000-plus games and then not get replaced by first-time managers? One was Bobby Cox (succeeded this year by Fredi Gonzalez). The other was Connie Mack (replaced in 1951 by longtime manager Charlie Dressen).
• With Matheny's hiring, 10 of the 28 current managers were catchers in their playing days. The others: Bruce Bochy, Joe Girardi, Gonzalez, Jim Leyland, Joe Maddon, Bob Melvin, Mike Scioscia, Eric Wedge and Ned Yost. Three of those eight have won a World Series (Scioscia, Girardi and Bochy). All but two have made it to the postseason. And it would be nine for nine in postseason appearances if Gonzalez's Braves hadn't collapsed this September and if Yost hadn't been fired by the 2008 Brewers with 12 games left in the season.
• Matheny will be the sixth manager in history to take over the defending World Series champs, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Of the previous five, two of them -- Jack Barry (1917 Red Sox) and Bob O'Farrell (1927 Cardinals) -- were player-managers who managed only one season. The other three -- Bill Virdon (1972 Pirates), Red Schoendienst (1965 Cardinals) and Bill Carrigan (1913 Red Sox) -- all managed first-place teams within their first three seasons as a manager. And Carrigan and Schoendienst both won the World Series.
Strike Two: Shades Of Charboneau Dept.
Just take one look at the rookie-of-the-year voting in the American League, and what do you find? Chaos. That's what.
Five different players got a first-place vote. No player was named on every ballot. And as my friend Jeff Fletcher, of baybridge.com, observed via Twitter, one of the five guys who got a first-place vote -- Dustin Ackley -- only had his name show up on ONE of the other 27 ballots. (And that was a third-place vote.)
But here's the most unusual part: Four voters turned in ballots that didn't even list the winner of this election -- Jeremy Hellickson -- anywhere on their ballot.
So how rare is it for an AL rookie of the year to be named on only 24 of the 28 ballots? I went all the way back to 1980, which was the first year of the modern voting system, and just three other winners could say that:
1980: Joe Charboneau (24 of 28)
1985: Ozzie Guillen (23 of 28)
2009: Andrew Bailey (19 of 28)
Closest near-misses in that span: Walt Weiss (1988) and Huston Street (2005) were named on 25 ballots apiece.
Strike Three: Useless Rookie Info Dept.
In other news
• How many qualifying AL starters in the DH era allowed as low an opponent batting average in their rookie season as Hellickson did this year (.210)? That would be none, according to Tampa Bay Rays public-relations genius Rick Vaughn.
• And who was the last qualifying AL rookie starter with an opponent average and ERA as low as Hellickson's (.210/2.95)? Would you believe it was Wally Bunker, of the '64 Orioles.
• I wouldn't have voted for the Los Angeles Angels' Mark Trumbo as rookie of the year, either. But he did go deep 29 times this season. And in the 32-year history of the current voting format, only two other rookies ever hit 29 homers or more in a season and didn't win the award: Matt Nokes (32 HR for the 1987 Tigers) and Chris Young (32 HR for the 2007 Diamondbacks).
• On the other hand, Trumbo's .291 on-base percentage is tied for the lowest in modern voting history by a position player who finished second or higher in the rookie-of-the-year voting. Ozzie Guillen actually won the award with a .291 OBP in 1985.
• Finally, Braves prodigies Craig Kimbrel and Freddie Freeman were only the third teammates in the history of the modern voting system to finish 1-2 for rookie of the year. The others: Alvin Davis-Mark Langston of the 1984 Mariners and Jerome Walton-Dwight Smith of the '89 Cubs. And whatever happened to Jerome Walton and Dwight Smith, huh?