At 41 years of age, new St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny becomes the youngest active skipper in Major League Baseball. The Cleveland Indians’ Manny Acta had been the most youthful at 42.
Much has been said about Matheny’s lack of coaching and managing experience, but he ran games from behind the plate for 13 Major League seasons, during which he earned four Gold Glove Awards. He is the tenth active manager across MLB to have been a catcher during his playing days.
Matheny’s selection is unusual for a franchise that has long employed experienced MLB managers. Excluding interim skipper Mike Jorgensen (1995), Matheny will be the Cardinals’ first first-time MLB manager since Ken Boyer was hired in 1978 and if he can win a title, he will be the first first-time manager to accomplish that with the club since Red Schoendienst.
Though 41 is the youngest across MLB today, it isn’t all that youthful compared to many of Matheny’s predecessors in the job. He will become the 29th manager of the Cardinals over the last century, but only the 13th youngest – near the middle of that population.
However, that is more about the past than recent times. Matheny will be the youngest Cards skipper since 35-year-old Solly Hemus took over in 1959. Hemus’ entire MLB managerial career ran two-plus years, during the first of which he was player/manager. (Matheny also has a two-year deal with a third-year team option.)
Hemus’ relative youth was the rule rather than the exception in the 1950’s. Starting with Marty Marion’s hiring in 1951, five of the next six Cardinals managers (including Hemus) were in their 30’s on April 1 of their first season in the job*. The only exception that decade was interim manager Stan Hack in 1958.
Perhaps it is just circumstantial that none of the five 30-somethings during the 1950’s won a pennant. Despite the presence of future Hall-of-Famer Stan Musial throughout, managers Marion, Eddie Stanky, Harry Walker, Fred Hutchinson and Hemus generally were given less-competitive clubs.
The youngest Cardinals managers in the last century were player-managers. Catcher Roger Bresnahan was 29 years of age when he took over in 1909, two months younger than another future Hall-of-Famer, second baseman Rogers Hornsby, who assumed the managerial job in 1925. At 30, “Rajah” led his 1926 club to the first of 11 Cardinals World Championships.
During the 1933 season, another future Hall resident, Frankie Frisch, took over as player-manager. He was 34. Frisch’s 1934 club brought home the team’s third World Series title.
Other Cardinals managers younger than Matheny when taking over include three more Hall of Famers, Miller Huggins (aged 35 in 1913), Branch Rickey (37 in 1919) and Billy Southworth (36 in his first shot in 1929) along with Bob O’Farrell (32 in 1927) . All except Rickey were active players along with being manager. None of them won the National League pennant (though an older and wiser Southworth later had great success in the 1940’s).
In total, 10 of 12 Cardinals managers whose stints began when they were younger than Matheny did not make the post-season. Hornsby and Frisch were the exceptions. Of course, the 12 managed during a time when the league had eight teams and no wild cards.
As a player, Matheny reached the playoffs three times, all with St. Louis, in 2001, 2002 and 2004. The latter club was swept by the Red Sox in the World Series.
Hornsby and Frisch reached the summit in their first full seasons as manager, but one might argue Matheny’s order is even taller. He is not only being given the challenge to win his first title, but to do it with a defending World Champion.
Courtesy of researcher Tom Orf, here is the full list of Matheny’s 28 managerial predecessors over the last century, presented from most recent to earliest.
|11/9/1931||48||no||Whitey Herzog HOF||11||1980||1990||1553||822||728||0.530||94||1||6||2.8|
|2/2/1923||42||yes||Red Schoendienst HOF||14||1965||1990||1999||1041||955||0.522||86||1||7||3.5|
|9/9/1898||34||yes||Frankie Frisch HOF||6||1933||1938||822||458||354||0.564||104||1||6||3.1|
|3/9/1893||36||y/n||Billy Southworth HOF||7||1929||1945||981||620||346||0.642||274||1||4||1.8|
|8/7/1886||41||no||Bill McKechnie HOF||2||1928||1929||217||129||88||0.594||41||1||4||1.9|
|4/27/1896||29||yes||Rogers Hornsby HOF||2||1925||1926||271||153||116||0.569||37||1||4||2.3|
|12/20/1881||37||no||Branch Rickey HOF||7||1919||1925||947||458||485||0.486||-27||3||7||4.8|
|3/27/1878||35||yes||Miller Huggins HOF||5||1913||1917||774||346||415||0.455||-69||3||8||5.4|
|6/11/1879||29||yes||Roger Bresnahan HOF||4||1909||1912||618||255||352||0.420||-97||5||7||6.2|