ST. LOUIS — When the Chicago White Sox decided on
former player Robin Ventura to be their manager last October, they did so
despite the fact that he had never managed a game at any level of professional
They also paved the way for the Cardinals to do the same thing with Mike
Matheny about a month later. Matheny, hired by the Cardinals in mid-November,
also took the helm for the first time despite never coaching at any level.
“He claims he took all the darts for me, going through the process
first,” Matheny joked Tuesday.
The rookie managers are facing off this week at Busch Stadium as the Cardinals
and White Sox began a three-game Interleague set Tuesday night — Chicago won
the opener 6-1.
Ventura and Matheny had the same agent as players and developed a relationship
that continued even once their playing careers were over. Back in the game at
the same time and in similar situations, the two have chatted this year as
“I have a lot of respect for him,” Matheny said. “We talked
early on. He was obviously a good person to talk to as I was going through the
beginning stages of all the hiring and following him.
“I really like the way he went about his business as a player and I
respect him a lot and continue to keep in touch with him.”
Matheny, 41, is the youngest manager in baseball while Ventura, 44, is the
third-youngest behind only Matheny and the Indians’ Manny Acta, who is 43.
Ventura retired in 2004 due to arthritis in his right ankle. He returned to the
White Sox as a special advisor last June but never spent any time as a manager
or coach at any level prior to this season.
He certainly had the credentials to be a big league manager. In 16 big
league seasons — 10 with the White Sox from 1989-1998 — the left-handed hitting
Ventura hit .267 with 294 home runs, 1,182 RBI, 1,006 runs and 1,885 hits.
The two-time All-Star won six Gold Gloves at third base and hit 18 career grand
slams, tying him for the fifth most in baseball history.
So far, he has the White Sox playing surprisingly well. After
Tuesday night’s results, Chicago sits atop the AL Central with a 1½-game lead over
Cleveland, a spot most didn’t expect Ventura’s club to be in at this point in
“He’s been great,” White Sox slugger Adam Dunn said. “He’s so
consistent day in and day out. He’s made it a lot of fun.
“He’s so laid back that you would have thought this was his 10th or 11th
year managing. It seems like every time he makes a move, the guys pick him up
and make him look really good. He’s pushing all the right buttons for
Said catcher A.J. Pierzynski: “He’s very even keel. He doesn’t get too
high and he doesn’t get too low. It’s nice. It’s just different what we came
from with Ozzie Guillen. They each have their own styles and Robin’s is more
“He’s handled the game situations very well. He’s handled the moves and
the lineups very well. He knows when to give a guy a day off. In spring
training, definitely you could tell some things going on that he didn’t really
know what was going on, but as the season has progressed and he’s gotten into
it, he’s definitely gotten better.”
Matheny retired in 2006 because of the effects of a concussion suffered due to
repeated foul balls off his mask behind the plate. The former catcher won
four Gold Gloves, including three in a row from 2003-05.
He played 13 big league seasons, including five for the Cardinals from 2000-‘04.
He saw his playing time cut during the Cardinals NL championship season of 2004
when a rookie named Yadier Molina broke into the majors.
Matheny served as a roving catching instructor and special assistant to GM John
Mozeliak for the Cardinals in recent years. He also served as a pregame and
postgame studio analyst with FOX Sports Midwest.
“It still looks hard,” Matheny said of comparing the game from behind
home plate to the dugout. “I think it’s very similar. You’re looking at
all aspects of it, there’s just more to look at. It is the same game, but a lot
more moving pieces.
“Every day there are surprises. They are all different. I don’t expect to
have them all figured out or be prepared for them. I’ve enjoyed it and there
have been some great challenges. Not everything has gone exactly as scripted,
but we’ve got a long way to go here and I know that’s just part of it.
“You don’t plan out a season like this. There are just too
many days, too many opportunities for things to go exactly how you didn’t
expect them to happen.”
The Cardinals have been battered with injuries before the season even started,
but Matheny has the defending champs just three games out of first place in the
NL Central after Tuesday’s defeat.
Barely two months into their managing careers, Matheny and
Ventura have continued to learn on the fly. And while they’ve had their ups and
downs, both seem ready for the challenges ahead.