ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Cardinals are replacing a manager who’s third on the career victory list with a man who’ll be writing his first lineup card on opening day.
Mike Matheny, a former catcher with the Cardinals who had been a minor league instructor, will be introduced as Tony La Russa’s successor at a news conference Monday.
“I think he’s going to be a great leader,” Jim Edmonds, a teammate of Matheny’s with the Cardinals, said Sunday night in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “If he goes out there and does what he’s capable of doing and they put the players around him, he could be the manager for the next 20 years.”
The 40-year-old Matheny played for St. Louis from 2000-04 and won three of his four Gold Gloves. He became a team leader playing for La Russa, who retired after leading the team to his second World Series title in 16 seasons.
Matheny’s playing career blossomed after he signed a one-year free-agent deal to be the backup catcher in St. Louis. Though a career .239 hitter, Matheny did enough defensively to earn a starting job.
Matheny was one of six men the Cardinals interviewed to replace La Russa.
They also talked to Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, longtime Cardinals third-base coach Jose Oquendo, former Boston manager Terry Francona, Triple-A manager Chris Maloney, and Chicago White Sox coach Joe McEwing.
General manager John Mozeliak declined to comment on the hire aside from a one-word text to The Associated Press: “Tomorrow.”
Francona was the only candidate who had major league managing experience. He left the Red Sox after the team collapsed in September.
Oquendo coached for La Russa the last dozen years after playing the final decade of his career with the Cardinals and has had a handful of interviews for managing openings.
The Cardinals received permission to interview Sandberg, manager of the Phillies’ Triple-A team.
Former Cardinals outfielder Chris Duncan, who played for La Russa and is on local sports talk radio, thought the Cardinals would go with Francona because it gave them the best chance to retain momentum from their unlikely World Series run. The Cardinals won the NL wild card on the final day of the season and were underdogs against the Phillies, Brewers and Rangers, but have a solid returning cast with or without free agent Albert Pujols in the fold.
“I think Matheny will be a great manager, given time,” Duncan said. “He lacks managing experience, but it shows a lot about his character that the Cardinals hired him.”
Matheny was with the Giants when his career was ended by concussions in 2006.
“He’s a great leader, and an even better person,” Edmonds said. “I think this is great. There’s nobody that’s going to work any harder than Mike.”
Matheny’s coaching staff could include some familiar names.
Pitching coach Dave Duncan, who was La Russa’s right hand all 33 seasons, has one year remaining on his contract. The Cardinals have considered promoting Maloney in recent years, and Oquendo also could stay.