With all the recent criticism of the managing approach of St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, as well as his hitting coach, John Mabry, in the area of the club’s ongoing offensive struggles, it seems odd that Matheny’s apparent right-hand man, Mike Aldrete, has remained above scrutiny.
Perhaps it is because the bench coach is rarely seen on television other than to be the manager’s phone conduit to the video coordinator during instant replays. Of course, there is far more to the job than that.
In recent years, the bench coach position has emerged as a mainstay across Major League Baseball. As close to an assistant manager as there is, the role generally includes in-game strategy consulting and organizing daily routines for the players and staff.
My sense has always been that the bench coach was less important during the game under an experienced manager, and more about handling the routine matters than offering a lot of advice to the skipper.
For example, I admired Joe Pettini and respected his teaching ability, but in the heat of battle, one would think that Tony La Russa hardly needed his bench coach’s advice. I know Joe handled the lineup card and did some defensive positioning, but I doubt his opinion was consulted on double-switches or which relievers to warm, for example.
As pointed out by blingboy in the comments here, Rob Rains wrote about the Cardinals current bench coach situation on Saturday.
“There already has been some suggestions in the Bay Area that bench coach Mike Aldrete could be headed back to Oakland to serve as the A’s bench coach,” Rains noted. “If that happens, it would be nice to see the Cardinals bring in somebody with major-league managing experience to serve in that role.”
I agree with Rains 100 percent and have had similar thoughts.
The prototypical bench coach, in my opinion, was the late Don Zimmer. Zim was a former player, former manager and life-long baseball man in his normal retirement years. In other words, more experienced than the manager, comfortable in his role, but not a threat to the skipper’s job. I sensed Joe Torre, not a bad manager himself, frequently relied on Zimmer’s counsel.
Rains continued. “The Cardinals have not been shy about promoting coaches from their own system, but sometimes that can create an atmosphere where nobody wants to question the manager or challenge any of his decisions. The Cardinals need a bench coach who isn’t afraid to do that, and has the experience necessary to have Matheny listen to his opinions and recommendations.”
I have nothing against Aldrete, but I also have no feeling for how he functions in the details of his role. Does he try to advise Matheny differently and is shut out? Or is he reluctant to speak up and question his boss, as Rains hints may be the case?
Or could Aldrete be no more knowledgeable than Matheny in the ins and outs of in-game strategy? Does the Cardinals former assistant hitting coach know any more about the nuts and bolts of managing than the manager himself? While Aldrete has been in baseball a long time, he has only been in the big chair himself for a total of two minor league seasons over a decade ago.
Bottom line, if Aldrete does decide to leave the Cardinals, it would create an ideal second chance opportunity for general manager John Mozeliak to find Matheny’s ideal Zimmer while indirectly blunting the sharp criticism directed at Matheny.
Much has been written about the importance of a good manager putting his players in the best possible position to succeed. How about the GM doing the same for his hand-picked skipper?
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