This morning, I read an article in the Chicago Sun-Times that quoted deposed Cubs skipper Mike Quade on the major challenge in his former job. Despite having managed 17 years in the minors, he was still not completely prepared for one element of his Major League assignment – dealing with the media multiple times each and every day all season long.
You can read the details, but suffice it to say that Quade, basically a one-year-and-out skipper, is painted as the anti-Robin Ventura and Mike Matheny. The new on-field leaders of the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals, respectively, have yet to manage a game at any level professionally. Though both are former long-time Major League players, their media engagement level will now increase exponentially.
I have to wonder how Matheny will evolve in this area. By all indications, including my first up-close opportunity with him in his new role during the recent Winter Warm-Up, the former catcher is open and at-ease with the scribes. A man of faith, Matheny appears balanced with his priorities seemingly where they should be.
On the other hand, no games have yet been played. No losing streaks have been encountered. As has already been well documented, the Cardinals no longer employ the man generally considered the best player in baseball as well as perhaps the top pitching coach of all time. Coming off a World Series victory with a stacked roster, there seemingly could be no more pressure than already exists on the rookie manager to keep his club on the winning path.
When times were tough, Matheny’s predecessor Tony La Russa could be notoriously prickly with the media. This became evident to any and all observers via the manager’s required televised post-game interviews. At Busch Stadium, they are held in a spacious media room in which cameras are pre-set. On the road, the print and broadcast media cram into the visiting manager’s office.
Often, La Russa was either just heading into or coming out of the shower with almost no time to decompress. Having to answer some uncomfortable or perhaps ridiculous questions even a first time, let alone hearing them re-asked in a slightly re-worded manner over and over, led to frustrations boiling over on occasion.
The difference with La Russa is that long ago, his future Hall of Fame portfolio of accomplishments had been cemented. He had established such a solid track record of results that his rough edges were accepted almost without question. After all, what choice was there?
Though St. Louis is hardly a tough media town, Matheny’s reservoir of good will is nowhere near the level of his predecessor’s. When the chips are down – and at some point they surely will be – it will be interesting to see how both sides react.