Sunday, November 13, 2011

The toughest man(ager) alive

When I talk a bit about Michigan baseball alumni on this blog, there's a guy I don't mention too often since he was never a big star here or in the Majors, plus he played most of his career during an era when cards weren't quite as out-of-hand as they are now.  However, I'm happy to say that today is a perfect occasion to put the spotlight on this former Wolverine who'll make Michigan alumni the world over (and believe me, there's a LOT of us) proud during a press conference tomorrow:  Mike Matheny.
2002 Topps Limited #4 - Mike Matheny/1950 - Courtesy of

In news that's sure to matter to fans all over the midwest, the St. Louis Cardinals decided today to hire Matheny to replace baseball legend Tony LaRussa as their manager.  Mike played for the Cards for a few seasons and was most recently a special adviser for the team.  He was chosen over more experienced managers and coaches such as Terry Francona, plus Cubs legend and for some reason not new manager Ryne Sandberg.  Despite Matheny's lack of experience, history shows that he has two factors in his favor:  other first-time managers have gone on to have some success (see perennial asshole Ozzie Guillen) and former catchers, such as the very successful (and classier) Mike Scioscia, due to years of being field generals, tend to enjoy great managerial careers.  Obviously that's my hope here, mainly because I'd love to see a Michigan Man succeed at this level, but also because I genuinely like the Cardinals thanks to their excellent franchise history and the fact that they're one of the best baseball towns period.

The Michigan Daily did a nice piece on him earlier this year and I totally recommend reading it because it's a fairly interesting story.  (I also recommend this interview with him from this year as well)  As a no-hit, great fielding catcher out of Ohio, the Buckeyes dropped the ball (OSU fans don't get that pun, why people make fun of them for marrying their cousins, the concept of not being a douche) in not recruiting him, but that was Michigan's gain.  The rest of the story is interesting and features several great moments.  One of my favorite aspects was the fact that he met his wife, a fellow Michigan athlete, on the first day of classes, making them a true Michigan family.  I also love his obvious reverence for and pride in the school, something he was definitely serious enough about to spend two years after being drafted finishing up his degree.  Matheny truly is a Michigan Man.
1994 Ultra #375 - Mike Matheny RC (Rookie Card) - Courtesy of

After being drafted by the Brewers (having spurned the apparently "standoffish" Jays years earlier) Mike went on to a solid MLB career.  It was ultimately derailed by concussion-like symptoms, a hazard of the job, but he wasn't nicknamed "The Toughest Man Alive" for nothing--he couldn't really hit but his defensive prowess was almost unheard of.  He won four Gold Gloves, but more impressively, he holds the record for most consecutive chances without an error in a career:  1565.  He was truly a gifted defensive catcher and it's a shame his career was cut short and that he didn't get to enjoy either of St. Louis' World Series titles as a player, but at least he got to participate in one with the Cards in 2004.

All that said, I wish Mike the best in this next step in his baseball career and hope he continues the Cardinals' tradition of excellence, hopefully with slugger Albert Pujols signed to a fat contract extension soon.  Go Cards and GO BLUE!

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