Experience matters. In a results-driven business like professional baseball, the importance of experience cannot be overstated. The ability to draw upon a lifetime of experiences and knowledge when it comes time to making the key decision in the biggest spots is often the difference between winning and losing.
Just look at the St. Louis Cardinals. The World Series champions rode the managerial acumen of Confirmed Genius Tony LaRussa all the way to an unlikely title. LaRussa pulled the strings brilliantly, sending wave-after-wave of reliever in perfect sequence, overcoming mediocre starting pitching as they seized countless opportunities on the way to a surprise title. The triumphant field general then rides off into the sunset himself, forever a legend.
Which makes their decision to hire completely experience-free former backup catcher Mike Matheny as their new manager extra curious, doesn’t it?
Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe all managers are equally inept and equally superfluous – why bother chasing after the most wizened bench sage when a freshly scrubbed bebe can do the job just as well?
This is the 21st century, after all. Most companies — good companies — hire for fit. They don’t simply find the longest resume submitted for a given role. Good companies recognize a prospective employee who fits their culture is already ahead of the game. They realize candidates who offer fresh ideas and plans for where they want to go, not where they are appealing for what they can become in the future. Looking for high-ceiling talent extends beyond the players on the field, in other words.
Not according to Ken Rosenthal, of course. He isn’t a fan of the recent trend of hiring this dew-soaked n00bs when a raft of deserving candidates sits home by the fire. Kenny Ken believes the job changes men and experience is key to fending off the media hordes and dealing with the pressure and the grind. He isn’t all wrong and Rosenthal names several candidates from beyond the standard “this guy just go fired so he should have another job” list. If Rosenthal really believes the multi-billion dollar business that is Major League Baseball is a strict meritocracy, where everyone gets a turn and patience and dedication are rewarded in equal measure, he’s a little naive.
The case of the Cardinals shows the value of hiring for fit. As Bernie Miklasz of the ST. Louis Post-Dispatch suggests, Matheny brings intimate knowledge of The Cardinal Way and the current pitching staff along with strong leadership skills. Another key skill of Matheny’s? He isn’t Tony LaRussa.
As much as the Cardinals organization love and appreciates Tony LaRussa, his exit provides a great opportunity to tweak their culture every so slightly, to get the players attention by speaking in an entirely new voice. Matheny has the opportunity to provide a stark contrast from the previous leadership is a great way to re-dedicate the Cards clubhouse, with an injection of enthusiasm and “I could still be out there” leadership from Matheny possibly serving as a strong World Series hangover remedy.
At the very least, the Cardinals brain trust must feel a little relieved by the prospect of not trading away talented players after personality clashes with their bench demigod.
There is also a much simpler and more tangible explanation behind the decision to hire an inexperienced guy like Matheny – money. Drew Silva of Hardball Talk says as much, insisting the Cards may like what Matheny brings to the table, his far lower salary requirements than what a proven manager of the stature of Terry Francona demands suits the teams just fine.
This extra savings provides more baseball-related income to throw at Albert Pujols as the Cards attempt to run lean to meet the enourmous wage demands of their finest player, as Silva details.
If Pujols is going to command a yearly rate of $23 million or more over the next seven, eight, or nine seasons, the Cardinals need to be more well-oiled. They need to run more efficiently, with better structure from top to bottom and more cost control in the big leagues. It’s something that Mozeliak has known since taking over the job in October of 2007, and his decisions are now clearly being led by the idea.
Cynical as it might be, it does add up. The balance of power in St. Louis is shifting quickly from the dugout to the front office, with a potential stop at first base along the way. Change was on its way to St. Louis, no matter who got the nod as new bench boss. Making a bold hire like Matheny shows the change won’t be insignificant.