I once worked for a place that treated its employees like bottles on a conveyor belt.
This company became so accustomed to hiring people that when I turned in my two-week notice (which was only about a month after I started), my boss didn’t even look up from what she was doing. In fact, I’m pretty sure she had my replacement on the phone within seconds of me stepping out of her office.
Turnover is fine for companies that employ commission-based workers. Turnover doesn’t work as well in sports, however. And when it comes to the manager position, Cardinal fans should feel grateful that the organization is nothing like my former employer.
The Cardinals announced yesterday that they’ve signed Mike Matheny to a contract extension that will run through the 2017 season. When you take stock of successful organizations, you’ll take comfort in the fact that this was a smart decision.
From 1996 until after the 2011 season when Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan retired, the Cardinals played in the NLCS seven times, made three World Series appearances and won two championships. They also won the NL Central seven times, including three straight years from ’04 to ’06.
Over that same span, the Cubs had nine managers and reached the NLCS only once, which came in the Steve Bartman year of 2003. There’s something to be said about stability.
Granted, it wasn’t just the manager that has made the Cardinals successful over the past three decades, and it wasn’t just the manager that has made the Cubs loveable losers. Dusty Baker and Lou Pinella weren’t horrible managers. Not when there were six Manager of the Year awards between them.
But look at the organizations that have had success. The Yankees have only had two managers since 1996 and have won six World Series titles over that span. The Phillies won five consecutive NL East titles and one World Series – all under Charlie Manuel – and the Giants have won two World Series since Bruce Bochy arrived in 2007.
This applies to other sports, as well. The Steelers have only had three head coaches since 1969, and their success has been well-documented. The Packers have only had four head coaches since 1992 and have won two Super Bowls over that span, as well as countless trips to the playoffs. Bill Belichick, meanwhile, has been with the Patriots for 13 seasons and has won three Super Bowls.
And how have the Rams done since Dick Vermeil and Mike Martz left?
We’ve seen teams reach the World Series or Super Bowl with a manager or head coach in just his first year. The Red Sox just accomplished the feat under John Farrell. When the Cardinals beat the Tigers in 2006, that was Jim Leyland’s first year as Detroit’s manager. The Colts also went to the Super Bowl in 2010 with Jim Caldwell, who was groomed to be Tony Dungy’s replacement in prior years.
Thus, teams can have success with new coaches, as long as they have players. The Rams’ issues since Jeff Fisher arrived weren’t just on the head coach. Not when the scouting, drafting and developmental processes had been brutal as well. A team can employ the best manager the game has ever seen, but without the players, chances are he’ll eventually be looking for work in another city. Just look at Baker.
But can teams sustain the same amount of success that the Cardinals have enjoyed over the past three decades without some stability at the top? It’s rare.
Matheny took over in 2011 without any managerial experience, and, yes, he’s benefited from having a roster and a farm system that was put together masterfully by John Mozeliak. And yes, Matheny has delivered some head-scratching moments over the past two years.
But the results (185-139) speak for themselves, and he’s still growing into the position. For as inexperienced as he was when he was hired, it’s impressive that he took the Cardinals to back-to-back postseason appearances the past two years. That just doesn’t happen from managers as green as he was.
The Cardinals made the right decision to sign Matheny to an extension. The smart decision. Being comfortable and content isn’t good, but neither is turnover. Thanks to Matheny’s contract extension, that’s something the Cardinals don’t have to worry about.