KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI – Mike Matheny walked through the doors of Kauffman Stadium a year ago to take a job as a special adviser with the Kansas City Royals, an out-of-the-spotlight position that allowed him to take stock of his career and his shortcomings.
He had been fired by the Cardinals earlier in the summer, ending a six-year tenure highlighted by a World Series trip and lowlighted by a three-year swoon that cost him his job.
“When I left,” Matheny recalled, “I went home to my wife and my five amazing kids and I said, ‘I don’t know how to explain it but this is where I’m meant to be.”
Turns out he’ll be calling Kansas City his office for a while.
Ned Yost decided to retire near the end of the season, and the Royals finally made official what many expected: They were handing the job to Matheny, who had spent the year working side-by-side with people throughout the organization, from the farm clubs to the scouting staff.
“He has interacted with leadership of all levels. He’s spent time in our rookie league, with the medical staff, evaluating people for the draft,” general manager Dayton Moore said Thursday. “As Mike interacted with all those people, to a man, they were amazed by his leadership.”
That’s one of many things he spent the past year working on.
Matheny also worked on his people skills. He embraced analytics. He even hired a media consultant to learn how to better deal with the press.
All of those were criticisms that ultimately led to his ouster in St. Louis.
The 49-year-old Matheny went 591-474 with the Cardinals and was the first manager to reach the postseason his first four seasons. St. Louis reached the World Series in 2013, losing to the Red Sox, but Matheny was fired in July 2018 as the team skidded toward a third consecutive season without a postseason trip.
‘”I needed two days. I don’t know why two days,” he said, when asked how long he needed to decompress after his firing. “I loved playing the game, but what I truly found I love to do was coach and manage.”
He will have his hands full managing the Royals.
They are coming off another 100-loss season and are in the midst of a massive retooling effort following their back-to-back World Series appearances in 2014-15. It was a run that culminated with their first championship since 1985 and energized an entire city.
But that team’s foundation reached free agency shortly after beating the New York Mets for the title, forcing the small-market organization to dismantle and rebuild. Wins have been hard to come by, even as the team showed progress with a wave of young position players reaching the majors.
The fact that Matheny spent the past season evaluating the progress of those players, along with a batch of talented pitchers still in the minors, gave him a leg up in the competition for the job.
“They aspire to play for Mike,” Moore said, “and that’s ultimately what sold us on him.”
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5