Each of the team's past three full-time managers, La Russa, Joe Torre and Whitey Herzog, had previously made the playoffs as a manager before being hired. The last man who didn't fit that profile was another former Gold Glover in St. Louis, Ken Boyer, who managed from 1978-80 after winning five Gold Gloves as a third baseman with the Cardinals.
A longtime big league catcher, Matheny beat out a diverse group of candidates. The Cardinals interviewed six contenders over the past week, including the team's incumbent third-base coach, Jose Oquendo, and former Red Sox manager Terry Francona, as well as Ryne Sandberg, Joe McEwing and Chris Maloney. All but Matheny had either Major League coaching or managing experience, or Minor League managing experience.
Matheny, 41, has neither. He has served as a special assistant to general manager John Mozeliak, and as an instructor in Spring Training, but had yet to coach or manage in pro ball. However, no one in recent Cardinals history has been more highly regarded personally by teammates, coaches or the front office.
Cardinals players are already responding to the hiring.
Matt Holliday texted, "I'm pumped. I love Mike."
On Twitter, David Freese tweeted, "Love the hire. STL should be pumped," while Jon Jay said, "Excited for the chance to play for Mike Matheny."
An alumnus of the University of Michigan, Matheny played the largest portion of his 13-season Major League career with St. Louis, winning three of his four Gold Gloves as a member of the Cardinals, with whom he spent five full seasons. He retired due to the effects of a concussion he suffered in 2006 while playing for the Giants, and also spent parts of five seasons with the Brewers and one with the Blue Jays.
Over his Major League career, Matheny batted .239 with a .293 on-base percentage, a .344 slugging percentage and 67 home runs. He was widely regarded as among the best defensive catchers in the game for much of his career, if not the best, and served as a mentor to current Cards catching star Yadier Molina, who took over for him in 2005.
In recent years, Matheny has served as a catching instructor and special assistant in the Cardinals' organization. Even during his playing days, he was considered a candidate to coach or manage at some point, but the leap directly into managing the Cardinals is surely a steep one.
One thing he may offer, though, is continuity for a team that seems likely to bring back the bulk of its roster after winning the World Series. A significant portion of the Cardinals' coaching staff is likely to return, a source said. That includes pitching coach Dave Duncan, who is under contract for 2012 and is known to think very highly of Matheny. It is unclear whether the Cardinals plan to announce a full coaching staff on Monday.
Matheny makes his home in the St. Louis area. He and his wife, Kristen, have five children.
He was the inaugural winner of the Darryl Kile Award, presented by the St. Louis chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. The Kile Award is voted upon by Cardinals players each year and given to the Cardinal who best exemplifies the late pitcher's traits as "a good teammate, a great friend, a fine father and a humble man."