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Royals to hire Mike Matheny as manager

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The Royals finally have someone to fill out their lineups!

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Well the worst-kept secret in baseball seems to be a reality now. According to MLB.com reporter Jeffrey Flanagan, Mike Matheny will become the 17th full-time manager of the Royals. (Update: The Royals have made it official).

The former Cardinals manager had been serving as a special advisor with the Royals since last November. Mike Matheny won 591 games in six and a half seasons with the Cardinals, losing 474 for a .555 winning percentage. His teams won 88 or more games and reached the post-season in each of his first four seasons. He led the Cardiuals to the 2013 National League pennant, falling to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, and his club won an MLB-best 100 games in 2015.

His teams declined in his last three seasons, missing the playoffs all three years, and he was dismissed midway through the 2018 season with a 47-46 record. Matheny was criticized for clashes with players and a tense clubhouse, and things came to a head when an article at The Athletic detailed Matheny’s approval of veteran pitcher Bud Norris riding rookie pitcher Jordan Hicks hard, to the displeasure of the Cardinals front office. Matheny was dismissed a few days after that article was published.

Matheny has been described as an old school coach whose philosophies on teaching youths on baseball are outlined in his “Matheny Manifesto.” He has emphasized fundamentals and his Cardinals teams did bunt more than average, but they did not steal many bases in his tenure. Cardinals fans have criticized many of his strategies, such as bullpen management and basing lineups on small sample sizes. Matheny ranked dead last among all active managers in Baseball Prospectus’ Reliever Management metric. He was resistant to analytics in St. Louis, although Jeffrey Flanagan reports he has been working to understand them more in his time in Kansas City.

The 49-year old Matheny is an Ohio native who attended the University of Michigan. He enjoyed a 13-year Major League career as a catcher with the Brewers, Blue Jays, Cardinals, and Giants, winning four Gold Gloves. He was hired by the Cardinals as manager despite no previous coaching experience but became the first manager ever to reach the playoffs in his first four seasons.

Matheny’s wife Kristen played field hockey at Michigan and together they have five children. Mike’s son Tate, is an outfielder in the Boston Red Sox organization, his son Luke plays baseball at St. Louis University, and his son Blaise plays baseball at Missouri State University. He is a very outspoken Christian and has been been involved in a lot of charity work off the field.

The Royals also considered internal candidates such as quality control coach Pedro Grifol, who also interviewed twice for the managerial opening with the Giants, as well as bullpen coach Vance Wilson. Flanagan reports they also interviewed some external candidates remotely.

The possibility of Matheny being hired has drawn a lot of ire from Royals fans on the internet, but it is easy to see why Dayton Moore was drawn to Matheny as a candidate. He brings the experience the Royals want to lead their young team back to competitive baseball and he espouses the old school approach and values they have emphasized.

Matheny will need to learn to run a clubhouse better than he did in St. Louis, and perhaps a second chance will give him an opportunity to improve his leadership in that regard, much like Ned Yost evolved between his time managing the Brewers and his time managing the Royals. You wouldn’t think that hiring a pennant-winning manager who won 55 percent of his games would be seen as a risky choice, but the Royals are taking a gamble here. Let’s just hope it works out.

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