The Cardinals have their man -- or, at least, John Mozeliak has his man -- as they named Mike Matheny to the vacant managerial spot yesterday. Matheny has plenty of admirable qualities, to be sure; he's well-respected by the players, has intimate knowledge of the Cardinal organization, and doesn't look too bad in a suit. If you care about that sort of thing. Which I totally don't.
On the other hand, Mike Matheny possesses exactly zero of another quality usually considered vital to be a successful manager: experience. No managing at any level. No full-time coaching at any level, either. He's hung out at a couple spring trainings and served as a part-time assistant to the GM, with responsibilities that mostly centered around the minor leagues. Not exactly a slam-dunk on the resume, you know?
There is another candidate, though, who had most or all of the other qualities Matheny has, along with a healthy dose of big-league coaching experience, and that candidate is Jose Oquendo. Long seen as the manager-in-waiting under Tony La Russa, Oquendo was passed over in spite of organizational ties and a ridiculous tenure advantage. So, we must ask the question: Did the Secret Weapon get screwed?
Jose Manuel Roberto Guillermo Oquendo Contreras has been with the Cardinals in a coaching capacity since 1997, when he managed the team's rookie ball affiliate in New Jersey. He joined the major league club in '99, serving as bench coach for one season before moving over to third base, where he has since set a variety of MLB records for being ignored by runners. Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure the only time anyone has ever actually paid attention to Oquendo's signs was that time he waved a car through a drive-thru window for a commercial.
Still, Oquendo has 14 years in the organization coaching to go along with his playing career, making him as much of a long-term fixture in Cardinal red as pretty much anyone short of Red Schoendist. Mike Matheny wore the Birds on the Bat for five years as a player, has served as special instructor in spring training since 2008 (for approximately two weeks each spring), and did the special assistant thing for just one year.
Choosing a major league manager isn't like promoting from within at most companies; I fully understand that. You probably shouldn't pick the face of your franchise the same way K-Mart promotes to head cashier. Still, Jose Oquendo has been a part of the current iteration of the Cards' franchise for almost a decade and a half; watching the club hire a guy with about eight weeks of experience coaching practice games to a position that Oquendo applied for has to come as a bit of a slap in the face.
Matheny spent his career at catcher; Oquendo played every position on the field, including pitcher! That's like nine times the experience. Plus, Oquendo wouldn't even need a pitching coach. He could teach everyone on the roster to sidearm 83 mph fastballs up there and never have to worry about running out of arms. Think about that: a 25 man bullpen. Hell, I'll bet La Russa would come back out of retirement to manage a team like that.
I won't bother going down the race path; someone will, I'm sure, but it won't be me. You want to hire the nice religious kid from Ohio instead of the Puerto Rican dude? Hey, far be it from me to question your motives. (See what I did there? That's what we in the writing business like to refer to as having your cake and playing the race card too.) Seriously, though, I really don't think race has any place in this discussion, though I still think Oquendo's weak English probably doesn't help him any.
Oquendo even has past managerial experience, having the Puerto Rican team in the World Baseball Classic twice. Managing a professional baseball team is tough, sure, but this guy managed a whole country. Twice. He's like a manger and a two-term president all wrapped into one.
So did Oquendo get screwed? Well, he's paid his dues for fourteen years and then gets passed over for a guy whose entire coaching career is less than the length of a cell phone contract. You tell me if he should feel a little bitter.
I will say this one last thing, though, and then let it be: no one has ever campaigned for Mike Matheny to get into the Hall of Fame. Jose Oquendo, however, most definitely has had such a campaign launched on his behalf. And if Oquendo is good enough for the Sklars, then I just can't imagine how the Cardinals could pass him by.
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