Books for the Birds: The Matheny Manifesto

51ra6cljqjl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Recently, on a road trip from LA to Albuquerque to visit friends and attend the amazing Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, I listened to the Audible audio book of The Matheny Manifesto. I can’t say it really satisfied my thirst for knowledge in the desert, but it was diverting enough to help pass the time.

The book is mostly devoted to Matheny’s philosophies on coaching youth sports, rather than on his professional career. The titular manifesto refers to a letter he wrote to the parents who asked him to coach a team. The letter laid out his rules and the conditions under which he’d accept the job – the main one being that parents had to keep quiet at the games, no criticizing the kids or questioning the coaches, not even any cheering. He makes it clear that he didn’t call the letter a manifesto – the parents pronounced it thus, and it eventually went viral under that name. However, reading the book, you do get the feeling that Matheny has absolute beliefs and doesn’t want to be questioned on anything.

I felt the parts about coaching kids had good insights, but the chapters just went on too long and got very repetitive. The passages about his own childhood and growth as a ballplayer and manager were more interesting to me. I thought he could have gone deeper into his feelings about the concussion that ended his career. The book doesn’t go deep in general when it comes to discussing his relationships with other players or family.  It’s a very surfacey book. It almost reads more like the book proposal than an actual book. And given his strong Christian faith, it’s not surprising that the book often comes across as preachy.

The later chapters that concern Matheny getting the job as Cardinals manager got to be somewhat irritating when he talked about how he had assembled his “personal board of directors” that he consults when he has to make important decisions or needs coaching for big events like his interview with the Cardinals. Everyone on the board is male, not surprisingly. It just seemed kind of egotistical to refer to a “personal board” – why not just say “my friends”? You don’t get the feeling from reading the book that he has friends, other than John Mabry (who helped him coach the youth team before helping him coach the Cardinals). Calling people “my personal board of directors” just makes it seem like a one-way relationship where they are mentoring him.

I was really struck by this passage in Chapter 3, where Matheny talks about “conditional love,” warning that it’s important to treat players well even when they are in a slump.

“What hurts is when an everyday, journeyman player goes on a hot streak or even has an all star half season, suddenly he’s looked at in a different light…maybe he’s developed a fan club or a cheering section, the press has taken a liking to him…for a time, everyone wants a piece of him…then comes the inevitable slump or the player just settles back into his realistic performance level. He’s still a quality ball player, still a big leaguer, still a professional player but because he’s not the standout he was last week, he doesn’t get the same attention from anyone anymore including his manager. Manager, boss, parent, whoever treats a player, a subordinate or a kid that way is exhibiting a simple, shallow personality trait: conditional love. And I don’t know one recipient of it who can’t see right through it.”

Listening to this, I could only think about Brandon Moss, and Matheny’s insistence on keeping him in the lineup during his historic slump in the second half of this season. Now I guess I understand why he did it, but I still don’t think it helped Moss, and it definitely didn’t help the team.

In Chapter 8, Matheny talks about being a kid and being frustrated about lack of playing time one Summer.  He complained to his parents who told him: “Sometimes life isn’t fair, but the coach is the coach and he’s always right, even when he’s wrong.” While first baffled and angry about the comment, Matheny decided to just train harder and ended up getting back in the lineup. Cardinals fans can see this stubbornness in Matheny today, and this year many of us felt frustrated by it. Unfortunately we can’t train harder to change things. All we can do is vent on Twitter.

He talks a lot about his Christian faith and his drive to be kind, never swear, drink or fight. That’s all admirable in life, but there have been times when I think more fire from the manager might have sparked the Cardinals. Matheny lacks the aggressiveness to challenge an umpire to the point of getting tossed and doesn’t seem to want to retaliate when his players get hit by the pitcher (resulting in some key injuries this season). I wouldn’t say nice guys finish last in baseball, but it does seem that having a bit of an edge might be the difference between just contending and winning. La Russa rescued puppies, but he still had the edge!

The audiobook is not read by Mike, but the guy who reads it conveys the appropriate tone of humblebrag. Overall, I found there were enough insights into baseball and anecdotes about managers such as Phil Garner and Tony La Russa and many Cardinals greats like Molina, Pujols, Wainwright to make the book a must-read for Cardinals fans.  It definitely gave me a better undestanding of why Matheny does the sometimes inexplicable things he does. But you may want to skim over a lot of the youth sports stuff. And I wish there was some insight into why changing the lineup everyday is a good thing to do – is that a hold over from coaching little league and making sure everyone gets to play?

 

Thoughts I Had While Rereading 192 Haikus I Wrote About The Cardinals’ 2016 Season

I’ve been writing haiku summaries of Cardinals games since 2006, on and off – honestly, more off than on. This is the first season where I’ve written a haiku about every single game, including Spring Training – that’s 192 haikus!  I’ve compiled them in a single page: The 2016 Cardinals Season – Every Game in Haiku!

Rereading these haikus, I think they function as a Cliff’s Notes to the season. Some of them are a bit obscure and I don’t remember their context, but they tell me the gist of what went wrong and right this year.

It really hurts to miss the playoffs after making it the past six years, especially when we only missed by one game. Rereading these haikus, I see so many games we lost by a run, or a blown save, or a blown start, or an error, or failure to hit with runners in scoring position. Sad to think if we had won just one more game we would have been in playoff game with the Giants last night.  But I doubt this team would have gone deep into October.

Highlights…

  • Aledmys Diaz – He was certainly a surprise with his early season heroics and off-the-charts hitting. His injury really dampened our playoffs chances. But we will never forget his emotional first ever grand slam, coming just after he lost his childhood best friend Jose Fernandez. That was baseball magic!

9/27/16 – Cards 12, Reds 5

Diaz says he will
play hard to honor Jose,
promptly hits grand slam!

 

  • Bullpen
    • Seung Hwan Oh – He really rose to the occasion, taking over from Rosenthal as closer and was mostly lights out.  Plus he and his translator Eugene are a fun pair, especially when dressed as Mario and Luigi during rookie hazing.
    • Matt Bowman, Miguel Socolovich, Zach Duke – These guys were pretty solid.

 

10/1/16 – Cards 4, Pirates 3

Gyorko’s jack wins it!
Holliday and bullpen show
great tenacity.

 

  • Starting Pitching
    • Carlos Martinez – We owe this guy so much. Looking back at the haikus, I see so many great performances from him where we either didn’t hit or the bullpen blew a lead. I love his passion for the game and his filthy stuff.

      6/11/16 – Cards 5, Pirates 1

      C Mart dazzles, throws
      near-complete game. Holliday
      hits a three-run jack.

    • Alex Reyes – He has amazing stuff and pitched so well in pressure situations toward the end of the season.

      9/18/16 – Cards 3, Giants 0

      A stellar Reyes
      unspools seven shutout frames,
      ensures series split.

    • Luke Weaver – While he had problems, he shows so much promise that I expect him to be a big contributor next year, either as a starter or reliever.
  • Home Runs – I can’t count how many times the words “homer” or “jack” appear in these haikus, because the Cardinals hit so many homers this year. They hit 225 home runs, setting a team record and notching the second most homers in the league after Baltimore. It was so much fun to watch!

    4/8/16 – Cards 7, Braves 4

    First win of the year
    comes with MLB record:
    Three pinch hit homers

  • Jedd Gyorko – I loved watching this guy! He reminds me of a 70s player who just does his thing without ego or fanfare. He hit so many key home runs, leading the team with 30 jacks.

    7/20/16 – Cards 3, Padres 2

    Gyorko homers twice,
    dominates his old team. Cards
    take double header!

  • Randall Grichuk – He hit 24 homers. He did struggle early in the year and was sent to the minors, but he bounced back well and was a key contributor toward the end of the season.

    8/13/16 – Cards 8, Cubs 4

    Didn’t make it to
    Denny’s, but Grichuk still got
    a birthday grand slam!

  • Stephen Piscotty – Piscotty was a lot of fun to watch, hitting 22 homers, with 85 RBIs.
  • Yadier Molina – He may be part of our “aging core” but he is still a leader and a terrific player, barely resting at all this season and a true offensive weapon especially after being moved up in the lineup.

    6/9/16 – Cards 3, Reds 2

    Waino settles down
    after rocky first; Yadi’s
    three hits power win.

  • Matt Carpenter – Our lone all-star sparked many rallies and hit 21 homers, but he was hampered by injury.

    5/31/16 – Cardinals 10, Brewers 3

    Leake cruises. Carp gets
    four hits for second straight day.
    Fatherhood brought pep!

Lowlights…

  • Bullpen
    • Trevor Rosenthal – Rosey crashed and burned as our closer and Matheny stuck with him a bit too long. Rosey did look good in non-save situations toward the end of the season. I hope he can bounce back in some capacity.

      6/3/16 – Giants 5, Cards 1

      Tight game implodes in
      ninth when Rosey walks three in
      a row and all score.

    • Broxton, Williams, Siegrist, Maness, Tuivalala, Kiekhefer – These guys were disappointing more often than not and kept me continually stressed out.

      7/15/16 – Marlins 7, Cards 6

      Six runs (four homers!)
      ought to be enough but Cards’
      bullpen was a sieve.

  • Starting Pitching
    • Jaime Garcia and Michael Wacha were totally erratic. Wacha could not come back with any effectiveness after his injury.

      5/19/16 – Cards 13, Rockies 7

      Thirteen-run blitzkrieg
      led by Carp doesn’t hide fact:
      Wacha is struggling.

      7/30/16 – Marlins 11, Cards 0

      Mercy rule needed.
      Fish get four off Jaime in
      the first, keep swimming.

       

    • Mike Leake was totally lackluster.

      6/25/16 – Mariners 5, Cards 4

      Leake gave up five quick
      runs, must have felt as blue as
      his throwback jersey.

    • Often our starters would give up first inning runs. Many times they staked the opposing team to three or four runs early in the game and our offense couldn’t make it up.

      5/24/16 – Cubs 12, Cards 3

      Wacha gives up six
      runs in the first. Our starters
      don’t give us a chance.

  • Injuries – We sustained key injuries to Diaz, Holliday, Lyons, Wong, Peralta, Wacha, Carpenter, Rosenthal. We didn’t have Lance Lynn due to Tommy John surgery. Mike Leake missed games due to shingles!

 

7/8/16 – Brewers 4, Cards 3

Villar’s walk-off hit
wins it; Wacha, Holliday,
Rosey exit hurt.

 

  • Defense – the team made 107 errors – 6th worst in the league. It was the sloppiest Cardinals baseball I’ve seen in my life.

 

6/30/16 – Royals 4, Cards 2

Three errors and hot
Morales doom Cards as Royals
lock up series win.

9/16/16 – Giants 8, Cards 2

Uhh… Giving up six
unearned runs is no way to
earn a wild card slot.

  • Management – I know I have been spoiled as a Cardinals fan, getting to see Whitey Herzog, Joe Torre, and Tony LaRussa manage for so many years, but I just don’t feel Mike Matheny has the right level of aggressiveness. He left pitchers to hang themselves too many times. He changed the lineup so much that the team never got comfortable working together. His devotion to the veterans and the short leash he held on younger players like Grichuk and Wong was frustrating. And there is just no excuse to have kept playing Moss every day when he was in a historic slump and we were battling for a wild card spot. That was simply maddening!

 

9/8/16 – Brewers 12, Cards 5

Matheny froze while
Jaime and Mayers floundered.
Let the bullpen work!

  • Jhonny Peralta – He had a disappointing season once he came back from his injury, but Matheny kept him in the lineup faithfully. He ended the season with only 29 RBIs in 289 at bats.

The jury is still out…

  • Brandon Moss – He hit 28 homers, yet had a historic slump in the final two months of the season that really damaged our playoff hopes. His average over the last 30 games was .089! He broke out of the slump a bit in the final week, but I just don’t know what to expect. I feel Matheny did him (and us) no favors by keeping him in the lineup every day.

 

6/8/16 – Cards 12, Reds 7

With our sad pitching,
Moss knows he may need to hit
two homers per game.

  • Jeremy Hazelbaker – He started the year on a hot streak. I was kind of hoping he wouldn’t do so well because his last name takes up so many haiku syllables😉  But then he didn’t do much after the all-star break – of course, he didn’t get many chances either, as he seemed to fall out of favor.

 

3/17/16 – Tigers 5, Cards 4

Hazelbaker’s big
homer isn’t enough. His
name fills haiku space.

 

  • Adam Wainwright – He definitely wasn’t his usual self but he rose to the occasion on most of the times we really needed him. His performance was definitely vexing.

4/10/16 – Cards 12, Braves 7

Five-run ninth caps sweep
of Braves. Cards found their bats. Hope
Wainwright finds himself.

And so we have a team that ended the season with a record of 86-76, finally achieved the mark of being ten games over .500 on the last day of the season, and was eliminated from the playoffs on the last day of the season. I can look back at the haikus and see so many blown opportunities that I would never blame the Dodgers’ failure to take one game from the Giants in their final series as the reason we didn’t make the playoffs. Our fate should always be in our own hands.

It was an often frustrating season but I feel lucky we have a team that did give us many thrills and kept things exciting all the way through September. They displayed a lot of fire in the final weeks and I hope that will carry over into next season.

Game Haiku – 10/2/16 – Cards 10, Pirates 4

Sweeps by and of Bucs
bookend the season. Cards scored
ten runs, played with heart.

Game Haiku – 10/1/16 – Cards 4, Pirates 3

Gyorko’s jack wins it!
Holliday and bullpen show
great tenacity.

Game Haiku – 9/30/16 – Cards 7, Pirates 0

C-Mart shuts out Bucs.
Moss breaks slump. Holliday’s home
run brings tears, hope, joy!

Culinary Cardinals: Nick Leyva’s Jalapeño Cornbread

img_4101Monday was a stressful day of television – the presidential debate, the Marlins first game after the passing of Jose Fernandez, and a Cardinals game, with their wild card status remaining uncertain. So, I decided comfort food was needed. I made some chili in my crock pot (using this recipe), and I tried out Nick Leyva’s wife Chele’s recipe for Jalapeño Cornbread.

Here’s the recipe:

1 1/4 cups white cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
1 Tbs sugar
1/2 Tbs salt
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup cooking oil
1 can (8 oz) cream-style corn
3-4 jalapeño chiles, chopped
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 large onion grated

Stir together cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. In separate bowl, beat eggs lightly; stir in milk and oil. Add liquid mixture to cornmeal mixture. Stir in corn, jalapeños, cheese, and onion. Pour batter into 9″ x 11″ pan. Bake 25 minutes (or until it tests done) at 425 degrees.

“Rather than chop the jalapeños (Messy!), put them in a blender with a little of the jalapeño juice. No big pieces this way. Also rather than greasing the pan with margarine, pour a thin layer of oil in the pan. Makes the bottom crispy!”

img_4097The recipe was easy to make. I probably should have followed her advice to pulverize the jalapeños, but instead I diced them and left some sizable chunks. I also made the mistake of touching my nose after chopping the peppers, and my nose felt like it was on fire for a couple hours!  Maybe Donald Trump did the same thing and that would explain his sniffling?

I thought this cornbread just tasted OK. It would really need butter to make it more palatable.  I like my cornbread a bit sweeter. If I made this recipe again, I’d probably add more sugar.  My boyfriend Dave and a friend who watched the debate with us both enjoyed the cornbread, and Dave ate all the leftover cornbread over the course of the week. He said it was best used as a base in the leftover chili.

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Nick Leyva was a Cardinals minor leaguer before being tapped by Whitey Herzog to join the coaching staff, where he worked from 1984-1988. Notably, he was the first base coach for the NL champion team in 1985 and the third base coach for the NL champion team in 1987. He went on to manage the Phillies in 1989. At age 35, he became the youngest manager in MLB in 22 years, since Dave Bristol led the Reds in 1966. After two unspectacular seasons with the Phillies, he was fired just 13 games into the 1991 season, when the team opened up with a 4-9 record. He moved around and continued to coach and now is the first base coach of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

It’s cute that Nick and Chele named their son Casey. I googled around but couldn’t find any updates on Chele or Casey. I guess Casey didn’t grow up to be a ball player despite his name and lineage. Chele also has a recipe for Corn Chowder in Cooking with the Cardinals. I guess corn is her thing.

Here’s a pic of Nick restraining Joaquin Andujar. I’m looking forward to getting to Joaquin’s fiery recipes!

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KANSAS CITY, MI – OCTOBER 1985: Joaquin Andujar of the St. Louis Cardinals is restrained by coach Nick Leyva after his meltdown in game 7 against the Kansas City Royals during the World Series at Royals Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri in October of 1985. (Photo by Focus on Sports via Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Joaquin Andujar;Nick Leyva

Game Haiku – 9/29/16 – Cards 4, Reds 3

Reyes rocks! For once,
bad call helps Cards – Yadi’s walk-
off (ground rule) double!

Game Haiku – 9/28/16 – Reds 2, Cards 1

Cards squander scoring
chances. Ninth: Wong hits lead off
triple, stays at third.

Game Haiku – 9/27/16 – Cards 12, Reds 5

Diaz says he will
play hard to honor Jose,
promptly hits grand slam!

 

Game Haiku – 9/26/16 – Reds 15, Cards 2

A new circle of
hell: watching this game and the
debate at same time

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