This year, major league baseball will have two new novice managers. Mike Matheny will manage the Cardinals and Robin Ventura the White Sox. Both have never managed at any level, anywhere. Both, however, spent more then ten years in the majors.
Matheny was an 8th round draft choice in the 1991 draft. He played twelve years in the bigs as a catcher, five years with the Brewers, one year with Toronto, five with the Cardinals and his last two with the Giants. At 41, he will be the youngest manager in the majors. The Cardinals, however, are a pretty old team (the 35 year old or older club includes Chris Carpenter, JC Romero, Rafael Furcal, Carlos Beltran, and Lance Berkman). Matheny should feel right at home. Matheny was a gold glove winning catcher while with the Cardinals so the organization obviously believes he knows how to handle a pitching staff. Perhaps they know something we don’t, in that Matheny was in St. Louis for Rick Ankiel’s breakout season and then post-season of wildness. I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing. But he was able to at least help Ankiel through the rigors of his first full season in the majors. With the likes of Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez and Tyrell Jenkins on the horizon, the ability to break in young pitchers is always a valuable commodity. Heck, if Yadier Molina needs some time off to deposit or invest some of his newfound riches, Matheny could actually man the dish if needed.
Do catchers really make better managers? Not according to this analysis or this one. Matheny, despite these studies, will be the 11th former major or minor league catcher among the crew of managers at the start of the 2012 season. The others are Joe Girardi, Mike Scoscia, Ned Yost, AJ Hinch, Eric Wedge, Bob Melvin, Manny Acta, Bruce Bochy, Joe Maddon, Freddi Gonzalez and Jim Leyland.
We do know this – he won’t have Albert Pujols to lead his team to another World Series. Despite the loss of Albert, the Cardinals still look to have a relatively strong team and will most certainly contend for the NL Central crown. Age and the injuries that tend to follow, however, should be of great concern to Cardinals’ fans. Hope springs, though, with the return of Adam Wainwright to the rotation and a rebound to normal levels for Matt Holliday. These two things would make up for Pujols’ excursion west. There is also the possibility of two youngsters joining the Redbirds at some point this season. Twenty-two year old first base candidate Matt Adams, he of 32 dingers and an OBP of .357in AA and top pitching prospect Shelby Miller, who, between high A and AA, struck out 170 in 140 IP and posted a 2.77 ERA. Though the Cardinals are getting older, they still have a solid core that should make Matheny’s job easier then, say, Robin Ventura’s.
Ventura was the tenth overall selection in the 1988 draft. He spent nine years with the White Sox before moving on to stints with both New York teams and the Dodgers. He was a gold glove third baseman and wielded a decent bat. His career slash line is .267/.362/.444 and he amassed 1,885 hits and 294 Home Runs. While not a Hall of Fame caliber player, he was a solid regular for almost fifteen years. He finished his career with the 11th highest slugging percentage for a third basemen (minimum 1500 games) behind Ron Cey and Doug DeCinces.
Ventura takes over for the mercurial Ozzie Guillen. From what I remember of Ventura, he seems like the anti-Ozzie, calm and even-keeled. But, I also had the sense that he was the do-it-the-right-way type and that he would not put up with logy gagging. Who knows if that is true. Regardless, Ventura faces a tough rode with the White Sox. First, he has to manage some expensive busts in Chitown – Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, and Jake Peavy. With any luck, two of those three will rebound. Those two being Dunn and Peavy. Dunn’s season at least seemed so far out of whack with past precedent that I am almost ready to give him a do over. Peavy was hampered by an injury most unusual, but nonetheless word is he is as healthy as he can ever expect to be, whatever that means. If he is healthy and able to come anywhere near the pitcher he was in San Diego and Dunn mashes close to what he robotically used to, then the Sox will be a much better club despite the struggles and demise of center fielder Rios.
Ventura, despite the loss of Mark Buehrle, has a pretty good decent rotation in John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Peavy, Philip Humber and youngster Chris Sale. None are number one types right now, Sale has the potential down the road. Ventura’s toughest and most important assignment will be helping Sale make the transition from reliever to starter. Ventura will also need to help Bret Morel become a right-handed version of himself, give Gordon Beckham a more nurturing environment to rediscover his swing, and finally massage the end of AJ Pierzynski’s career and the beginning of Tyler Flowers.
If Ventura can do all those things, the White Sox will still likely finish behind the Tigers and miss out on the plethora of new wild card slots for the 2012 MLB round of 64 tournament.
But, the bottom line here is that despite the fact that both Matheny and Ventura played professional baseball, what qualifies them to be managers? Nothing in my mind. They should have done some minor league managing and/or coaching at the majors and developed some skills for managing people. If they do succeed one has to wonder how important the manager really is.