The book: “The Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager’s Old-School Views on Success in Sports and Life”
The author: Mike Matheny, with Jerry B. Jenkins
The vital statistics: Crown Archetype Books, 224 pages, $24
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Barnesandnoble.com, at Powells.com
The pitch: You’re familiar with “The Dodger’s Way to Play Baseball.” Al Campanis wrote the book on that more than 60 years ago.
So now consider the Matheny way, for those who didn’t grow up with such a guidebook to how the game is played.
In the three years since Matheny took over for the retired Tony LaRussa as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals after the 2011 World Series championship season, the franchise has been to three straight National League Championship Series, won two NL Central Division championships and played in a World Series.
As a player, Matheny caught more than 1,300 games over 13 seasons, five of them in St. Louis. And desipte a less-than-stellar .239 lifetime career batting average, he won four Gold Glove awards as a catcher, and played in the post-season three times – all with St. Louis, in 2001, ’02 and ’04.
Even with a series of serious concussions that led to his playing career ending when he was 35, we give him the benefit of the doubt that he has forgotten more about how the game is played than we’ll ever know.
But what this “Matheny Manefesto” proves is that he’s remembered plenty enough to get it down in writing and boil it down to what matters most.
You can’t emphasize enough how much a parent of a Little Leaguer – or any youth sport participant – needs to face the cold, hard facts of what Matheny first lays down and then explains about how the game should be played.
The book is the byproduct of a five-page, single-spaced letter he once wrote in 2008 to a group of parents who had asked him to coach their kids’ team. The team included Matheny’s own 10-year-old son.
Yet Matheny had one problem – the parents. And he told them so, in not just a pointed presentation, but one that explained why he felt the way he did.
“Dear Fellow Parents:
“I’ve always said I would coach only a team of orphans. Why? Because the biggest problem in youth sports is the parents …”
Oh, that’s going to go over well.
And, as a matter of fact, it did.
Once the parents bought into to his thinking, understood the reasoning behind it, all went well.
Call this a baseball version of Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, because Matheny admits that former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden is “the greatest coach in the history of collegiate sports” and his “thoughts and ideas impacted me more than anyone’s.”
With that, Matheny explains that the keys to success, from his perspective, hinge on leadership (the coach is always right – even when he’s wrong), confidence, teamwork, faith, class, character, toughness and humility.
That last one, by the way, is what Matheny needed when Cardinals GM John Mozeliak decided he would be one of five people that he’d call in to interview for the team’s managerial job when LaRussa left.
“I was clearly the least experienced, and had you asked me if I thought I would be chosen, I probably would have said no … I sincerely believed I had nothing to lose … One thing I knew for sure: I wanted the job. All I could do was be myself and not pretend to be something I wasn’t or apologize for my lack of experience.”
Then Matheny went on a ministry trip to the Dominican Republic to do service projects. While he was there, the Cardinals told him he had the job.
Even if many in the media thought he was hardly qualified.
He humbly accepted. And the rest of that history is still being written, no matter how many times the Cardinals knock the Dodgers out of the NL playoffs going forward.
For anyone willing to man up to a manifesto, start by reading this book.
“I once told Mike Matheny that if I ever became a big league manager, I’d want to manage just like he does,” Orel Hershiser says on the book jacket.
Sorry, Don Mattingly.