The Cardinals on Sunday named former big league catcher Mike Matheny as their new manager and will formally introduce him in a news conference on Monday morning in St. Louis.
Presumably, they've already handed Matheny a guidebook blueprint for replacing an all-time legend (Tony La Russa), taking over a World Series champion as a rookie skipper and making a managerial debut in the big leagues -- not in the minor leagues.
The truth? The only way Matheny's debut job could be any more difficult is if the club loses icon Albert Pujols via free agency.
Wait, hold that thought!
While Pujols was being wined and dined by the Miami Marlins over the weekend, the Cardinals whittled their short list of La Russa replacements to a final one.
The contrast between him and La Russa could not be more stark:
La Russa managed more games than any manager in major-league history after Connie Mack.
Matheny, 40, spent part of last season as a roving minor-league instructor for the Cardinals, and part of it in the St. Louis broadcast booth. He has never been a manager.
He has, however, managed games from behind the plate as a catcher for 13 years in Milwaukee, Toronto, St. Louis and San Francisco. He spent five years behind the plate for La Russa's Cardinals, from 2000-2004, and during that time forged a solid relationship and earned a tremendous amount of respect from La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan.
How much? As Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote earlier this month, La Russa once described Matheny "as the only big-league ballplayer he'd let one of his daughters marry." As Strauss noted then, the fact that the Cardinals would consider allowing Matheny to become their next manager might be nearly as impressive.
Matheny was said by industry sources to have been very impressive when he went through the Cardinal interview process earlier this month. That surely came as no surprise to general manager John Mozeliak and the club, given that Matheny was a clubhouse leader during his time in St. Louis whose leadership qualities were unquestioned.
That, and Matheny's familiarity with the Cardinals organization are the qualities that the club hopes make for a smooth transition. As a player, his attention to detail was evident, among many other areas, in the four Gold Gloves he won -- three of them while wearing a Cardinals uniform. He also helped mentor a young Yadier Molina, a relationship that should grow further and work as one of St. Louis' strengths in 2012.
One key for an inexperienced manager is his staff, and with Duncan expected to return, Matheny will have the game's most respected pitching coach at his right hand.
Another important hire will be Matheny's bench coach, presumably a veteran man with managerial experience. Colleague Danny Knobler is hearing that former Red Sox and Dodgers manager Grady Little is a possibility to join Matheny in St. Louis.
Matheny was chosen ahead of five other candidates: Terry Francona, who most recently managed the Red Sox; Chris Maloney, who managed St. Louis' Triple-A affiliate in Memphis last year; Ryne Sandberg, the Hall of Famer and former Cubs star who managed Philadelphia's Triple-A affiliate; Joe McEwing, who managed the White Sox Triple-A affiliate, and Jose Oquendo, the Cardinals' third-base coach.