Its no secret to Major League Baseball fans that catchers have more inside information on the game than any other player on the team, save for the managerial staff. It then stands to reason that catchers would make great candidates for an MLB coaching staff or even to lead a team as manager.
Currently one third of all MLB managers are former catchers–several of whom have experienced a high level of success as a player. Most notably New York Yankees skipper Joe Girardi has won three World Series titles as a player with the Yankees. Mike Scioscia, manager of the Anaheim Angels, won two world titles with the Los Angeles Dodgers and was an All-Star in as many seasons. Both were good players and even better managers, but they weren’t as prolific as St. Louis Cardinals second-year manager Mike Matheny.
Matheny had a great season in 2012 as a rookie manager for St. Louis. Considering he lost Albert Pujols and long time pitching coach Dave Duncan (considered the best in the league), he managed to guide the Cardinals back into the playoffs as a second Wild Card, all the way to the National League Championship Series.
Matheny spent four of his twelve MLB seasons with the Cardinals–from 2000-2004, an era that saw St. Louis return to prominence in the NL. Matheny also had his best years as a catcher while with the Cardinals as he won three (out of four) Gold Gloves. No other current manager/former catcher can claim that kind of success as a player.
More impressively, Matheny threw out 36 percent of potential base-stealers in his career.
And though Matheny wasn’t the greatest hitter, he still put up decent numbers for a catcher. He was a career .239 hitter with 67 home runs. He ended up 75 hits short of 1000 and only slugged over .400 once in 2005 with the San Francisco Giants. Most telling of his offensive shortcomings was his low .278 wOBA.
Despite his lack of offense–which isn’t that far removed from his current contemporaries–no one can argue that defensively he was always a terrific player who had the utmost trust from his pitchers. That leadership carried over to his managerial style and allowed him to take over for one of the most successful managers in baseball, Tony LaRussa.
While Matheny isn’t (yet) considered one of the best managers in baseball, if his continued success applies then he’ll be in the rare company of great players who were also great managers.