The start of April brings forth the beginning of the baseball season for players of all ages. I know this not only because I write about and follow MLB closely, but because I’ve been coaching little league baseball in some capacity for 8 year. This group is the second group of kids that I have coached and they are 12. We had our first game on Wednesday night, and we won 9-6. PRAISE ME.
And because I know you are wondering, yes, I am indeed that weirdo that does not have a kid or relative on the team that he manages. It might not surprise you to find out that coaching these kids is probably the least-weird thing that I do. So, suck it!
But since that game, like with every game I’ve ever coached, I’ve spent a lot of time wonder what I could have done better to put my kiddo’s in the best position to succeed. As an unexpected result, I’ve really started to zone in on what I believe to be the deficiencies of Mike Matheny as the manager of the Cardinals.
MIKE MATHENY: THE MANIFESTO
At this point, we all know that Matheny didn’t have any experience managing in the pros before being hired as the Cardinals manager. However, we forget sometimes that Matheny did manage his kids when they were younger. Not only did he manage his kids, but he was
pompous/cocky/brash kind enough to create a guideline for the best way to coach kids and how parents should interact with those teachings.
The gist is, let the coaches coach and the players play, and parents need to stay the hell out of it. There is some other stuff, but that is the through-line of the Manifesto. (Quick Aside: I think Matheny views Cardinals’ fans as the “parental” figure in the Manifesto. Let him coach. Let the players play. Everyone else keep away)
So, at one point he was a little league baseball coach. I just don’t think he’s stopped coaching that way since. Let me count they ways…
There is only place to start when you talk about the short-comings of Matheny the manager and that is his misuse of the bullpen. Since taking over the reigns of the Cardinals at the start of 2012, Matheny has stuck to trotting out the same three relief pitchers year in and year out. This philosophy gets you a lot of regular season wins, but it also gets your work-horses hurt, shows lack of trust in other options, and makes those other options ill prepared if they need to be thrust into a tense situation.
But, as a little league coach of a team that doesn’t play everyday, that isn’t something you have to worry about. All that is needed to be successful in little league is a starter, maybe 2, and a couple of other kids, probably two, that can come in when things get tough. You just do that over and over and over again until the season is over.
And that’s what Matheny does with his pen. He’ll be damned if the season is 162 games over 6 months instead of 52 games over 6 months. If his philosophy of using the same kids worked with 12 year old’s, then it will surely work at the toughest level in baseball, right?
OVER-EXPOSURE OF TENURED SP
Continuing on with the starter setup and pitching philosophy stated above, Matheny has a tendency to stick with his starter a hitter or an inning or two too long. This is a philosophy that is perfectly fine if you are coaching 2, maybe 3 games a week while trying to teach a kid mental toughness and how to work through adversity and tough situations. However, it is absolutely destructive if you are trying to win ball games over a long time line, to that particular abused pitcher, the teams morale, and to your reputation.
It’s a move that you can do in little league baseball. Hell, it’s a move that everyone does in little league baseball. But it isn’t a move that you can get away with at the major league level.
As a coach that has no familia attachments to the team he coaches, I am free to do what I think is best for the team without having to think about how it might affect my personal life. I don’t have a favorite player and there aren’t any politics with who I’m playing and why they are playing. It’s simple: The players who show up and give max effort play more.
But like with most parent-coaches, the same cannot be said for the manager of the Cardinals. Matheny plays favorites and shelters and rewards HIS players as if he is the A-typical dad managing his sons.
“Bat My Little Johnny 4th? Sure. I’m the manager. I can do that. He’s the best!”
“There is a better player at 1st base? That’s fine, My Little Matty worked hard to get in shape! I’ll be damned if he’s never played the OF, He’s mine! He HASSSSSSSSSS to play.”
“My little Yadi is the best player I’ve ever seen at his position. What? He’s exhausted and it’s going to cost both sides in the long run? Nahhh, little Yadi tells me he wants to play, so he plays!”
And none of this touches on the preferential treatment that Holliday, Kozma, Mujica, Boggs, Rosenthal, and others have gotten while shunning other players like Wong, Taveras, Aledmys Diaz at first, and Jose Martinez currently.
Matheny idealizes his guys like a little league coach-dad idealizes his kids.
ACCEPTANCE OF BAD DEFENSE
The first thing you have to accept about coaching a team of little kids is that, as a whole, the defense is going to be terrible. You can work and work and work and repeat-repeat-repeat until the act of even saying the word “defense” makes you cry, but it won’t change the fact that kids who are learning the sport for the first time aren’t going to be good at getting in front of the ball or making a good throw or making the correct play. It just doesn’t happen.
So what are you to do? You hit. It’s your only option to win so it becomes your survival philosophy. You might spend entire practices on fielding, but you always find yourself getting cage-reps in because, well, that’s how a survival mechanism works.
In the little leagues, hitting and pitching come first, everything else is a work in progress.
BAD BASE RUNNING
Another trapping of your typical little league player, base running is a tough thing for a kid to learn. There are so many different situations and circumstances for a kid to prepare for. You are doomed to base path-failure if you don’t spend a tiring amount of minutes on it.
Well, as we know, the Cardinals are one of the worst teams on the bases under Matheny. As a matter of fact, this team runs the bases more like a little league team than a major league team. Yet, nothing has changed.
That’s because, as a little league coach, Matheny knows only that if you hit enough the other problems will become secondary.
“Bad base-running? Well, at least we were on base!”
MIKE MATHENY: LEADER OF WHAT?
Mike Matheny might have a reputation as a “Leader Of Men”, but he coaches more like a “Coach Of Little Leaguers” than a “Coach Of Men”. Until that changes, the 2016 tailspin that has leaked into 2017 will continue.
What do you think? What are some of the other ways that #Manifesto is more like a little league coach that a professional coach? Am I totally off base? Let us know!
Thanks For Reading!!!