Thoughts on Matheny, Rams, Blues and Ball State

Good morning and happy Friday…There’s been a circus of events taking place in the St. Louis sports world and here at Ball State, so let’s dive right in:

When the Cardinals announced the hiring of Mike Matheny as the successor to Tony La Russa, a few thoughts popped into my head. First, it was the right choice for a multitude of reasons. Secondly, Matheny has proven himself to the Cardinals, the fans and the organization.

Rooting against Matheny would be foolish. His interview with general manager John Mozeliak and chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. was thoroughly impressive and ultimately led to his hiring. Throughout his playing days in St. Louis, Matheny has earned the respect from current and former teammates, staff, fans, various media personnel and countless opponents. Matheny is an all-around leader.

Does this mean Matheny will be a successful manager? Absolutely not. Don’t forget that Matheny has zero coaching experience in the big leagues. He served as an instructor for the team over the last two seasons, but was Mozeliak’s and La Russa’s right-hand man. Matheny and La Russa spent countless days talking baseball in terms of philosophy and coaching among other things. When debating whether Matheny will be a good manager, the truth is simple: One can’t determine this outcome. There’s no evidence to base an opinion off of. Sure, Matheny possesses great leadership skills, which could carry over to his managerial days, but this job is one of the hardest in all of sports. Not to mention filling the shoes of TLR is a daunting task altogether. The pressure can be extreme and the expectations are higher than ever. As much as I hate to say this, there is no clear cut way of knowing how this will pan out. Sure, it’s a gamble and a huge one at that. Of course there were other options for Mozeliak and DeWitt Jr. to explore, but Matheny was the chosen one, which says a lot. Mozeliak is willing to take the risk, placing all of his marbles on Matheny’s potential. Of course, if it backfires, it’s all on Mozeliak.

Baseball analysts and other hardcore media experts will try jump to conclusions on Matheny’s hiring. That’s a given. The Cardinals will be ripped for hiring a guy who some say “took the easy route” into managing, leap-frogging over other potential managers who have waited years for this opportunity. I don’t buy that at all. It’s absurd. How can you be so quick to judge Matheny? There’s no track record to base an argument on. Like I said, it’s certainly a gamble, but I’ll go with Mozeliak and DeWitt Jr’s. decision here. There’s a chance they know more about the situation than I or any other  expert.

With all decisions comes the question of political correctness. This topic is both amusing and frustrating. Critics will ask why Mozeliak gave the job to Matheny while passing on longtime third-base coach Jose Oquendo, who is a native of Puerto Rico. Mozeliak chose Matheny over five other candidates, four of which were white guys. So why did Mozeliak choose Matheny? To put it bluntly, Matheny was already an insider. A close ally, already a member of the Cardinal family. Enough with all of the PC garbage. It’s irrelevant to the situation.

Mozeliak is now the boss. When TLR retired, Mozeliak knew his first chance to gain sole power in the organization would come with his first hire. Other alterations within the organization will likely take place. Consider what Mozeliak has done this past season. He made the risky trades that became a huge factor in the Cardinals’ Cinderella-like run to their 11th World Series championship in franchise history.

Moving on…

Steve Spagnuolo deserves a lot of credit for coming away with a much-need victory over the Cleveland Browns last Sunday. This season has turned for the worst, and critics, including myself have constantly blasted Spags and his staff for the results of what once was thought to be a promising season.

Steven Jackson appears to be in full swing now that he is back in the lineup for the Rams. Over the last three weeks, SJ has racked up 417 yards on the ground. He’s rushed for more than 100-yards three weeks in a row and has been a huge relief for quarterback Sam Bradford, who has struggled with an ankle injury. Jackson has also taken pressure off the offensive line, who continues to have problems with pass protection.

The Seattle Seahawks come to town on Sunday and many will tune out to this one, but make no mistake, this is a huge game for the Rams. At 2-7, a victory would tie the Rams with the Seahawks in the NFC West and put them within reach of the virtually unbeatable 49ers, who have a commanding five-game lead in the division.

Moving on…

What a job Mike Hitchcock has done with the St. Louis Blues. When the Blues canned Davis Payne and lured Hitchcock away from Columbus, a new team has emerged from the dead. Let’s face it, prior to the Hitchcock hiring, the Blues were struggling in all facets of the game. They were 6-7 and falling fast under Payne. Many questioned why general manager Doug Armstrong was so quick to pull the plug on Payne, but the reality is simple; the Blues weren’t producing and Payne didn’t get the most out of the club. I will say this though; It’s sad that when everything goes wrong, the coach receives all of the blame. Shouldn’t the players be held accountable for playing lousy hockey? Just my opinion.

Anyway…Hitchcock, who is a no-nonsense coach, has transformed this team into a contender. At least for the team being. The Blues are 4-0-1 under Hitchcock, and are rolling on all cylinders. The Note have allowed just four goals and have received points in all four games. Against division rival Detroit, the Blues came away with a 2-1 victory at Scottrade Center, and Thursday night’s 4-1 win over the Florida Panthers capped a noteworthy five-game home stand. When up against adversity, this club doesn’t back down like it used to. Rather, they stand together. Midway through the first period of Tuesday night’s game, forward Chris Stewart put a vicious hit on defenseman Niklas Kronwall, and received a game misconduct. The Blues were also dealt a five-minute major. Already down 1-0, it looked as if things were going to get ugly quick. But the PK unit stood their ground, blocking shots at will, killing off six penalties on the night.

Moving on…

The Ball State men’s basketball team came within minutes of pulling off a major upset in its season opener vs. No. 16 Arizona, but couldn’t seal the deal, losing in the final minutes of regulation…Kudos to head coach Billy Taylor for preparing his team. Not only did they hold their own, they could and very well should have won the game. Just 28 seconds into the second half, the Cardinals held an 11-point lead over the Wildcats, who clearly underestimated the underdog Cardinals. So what they didn’t win. Arizona is one heck of a basketball program, historically speaking and honestly, few thought the game would be close, much less witnessing the team from the Mid-American Conference dominate for the majority of the game. If anything, this game should serve as a reminder of what this team is capable of accomplishing this season. Heck, if they can nearly upset the No. 16 team in the country, what would they do to teams within the MAC?

Moving on…

Speaking of basketball, the women’s team is off to a slow start. The Cardinals have dropped three straight to open up the season. Dating back to last season, including the Mid-American Conference tournament, the Cardinals have lost 13 straight. The stat certainly doesn’t sit well with coach Kelly Packard, who is in the midst of her fourth season behind the bench for the Cardinals, and is one win shy of 50 for her career.

Youth has plagued the Cardinals and will most likely trouble them throughout the 2011-12 season. The departures of last season’s leading scorers Emily Maggert and Ty’Ronda Benning leave a huge hole in the offense. With eight underclassmen, Packard is still in search for a winning formula. The Cardinals return to John E. Worthen Arena for a brief two-game home stand, which begins Saturday night against Murray State.

Thanks for reading…

-Poz

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