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Matheny Says His Words Could Put His Players at Risk

Based on recent events, communications, said to be Mike Matheny’s strength, is under increased scrutiny – both by the St. Louis Cardinals manager himself and others.

One of the too-many live dugout interviews conducted by ESPN during Tuesday’s Cardinals game at Port St. Lucie versus the New York Mets was with Matheny, now in his sixth year. The talk was during the bottom of the third inning.

Citing Geno Auriemma of UConn hoops fame and Super Bowl champion Bill Belichick, announcer Karl Ravech asked the Cardinals skipper which coaches he seeks out for advice.

After saying, “All of them,” Matheny latched onto Belichick by name and explained why.

“Just watching how he handles his guys, watching how he even handles the media,” the manager said.

Ravech asked Matheny to please not start providing one-word answers and thanked him for sharing more information in their 3 1/2 minutes together than the New England Patriots coach might volunteer in an entire season.

The Cardinals manager did not accept the praise.

“You know what?” Matheny replied. “But every year, I am reminded that it is so smart that he does that.”

Ravech asked, “Why?”

“You open up a whole lot of worms,” the manager said. “The more words you say, the more the door is open for something to go wrong.  Less is more.”

At that point, the manager perhaps sensed he needed to moderate his comments.

“But I also want to be a representative of this team,” Matheny continued. “So I am trying to balance that. But I realize, the more you say, the more you are putting your guys at risk. And that is that fine line you are always walking.”

Wong-Matheny-usa-200Though the subject of potentially platooning Kolten Wong did not come up specifically, this seemingly minor exchange grabbed my attention. It was impossible to not look at the second baseman’s current situation through his manager’s comments on national television.

Matheny’s core strength, the one that is supposedly his most important differentiator, is as a leader of men – a strong communicator.

What we have seen this week is someone who seems less adept in these very areas that are supposed to be in his wheelhouse.

There is no doubt that Wong was foolish spouting off to the media about playing elsewhere in a rash reaction to the potential platooning news – words for which he quickly had to backtrack. Not to make excuses for the second baseman, but he is probably not in the strongest position mentally after a tough spring at the plate – on the heels of a 2016 in which his very foundation had to be shaken.

Yes, Wong must ultimately perform to keep his job, and that is the bottom line. Yet his results and his role should be discussed and debated if necessary directly between the men involved – behind closed doors, not through the press. That is one of the most basic elements of any manager’s job.

Was Matheny’s ESPN remarks on Tuesday an acknowledgment that he erred by not speaking with Wong in advance, putting his player “at risk”?

Or are they simply indicating that he faults himself for talking with the media – those whose job it is to share his thoughts with the team’s fan base?

As I stitched these two recent data points together, I remain torn regarding Matheny’s motive – even after listening to the interview a second time. Was he was taking responsibility for lighting the match that set off the latest Wong controversy or simply wishing out loud that he could avoid talking publicly about these kinds of seemingly-relevant matters in the first place?

Where will this lead? Will we hear less from the Cardinals manager in the future? Without championships on his resume, could Matheny pull off a Belichick impersonation, even if he wanted to?

Perhaps far more importantly, will his players hear more from him directly and does he understand that seems to be the core issue here?

Talking more to his players seems far more important than talking with the media less.

Addendum

In his most recent reader chat, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch provided additional background on the situation.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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