CHICAGO -- There have been dozens of lessons learned by Cardinals rookie manager Mike Matheny as he nears the November anniversary of his hire. One that hasn't come so unexpectedly is the blame that he has found himself taking when a fan base is disgruntled by a tactical decision or team underperformance.
Perhaps overwhelming for other managers, Matheny, at length, discussed on Sunday why he is proud to make that a part of his job description. He is happy to endure whatever he needs to, Matheny said, for the sake of maintaining a cohesive clubhouse.
"I've had coaches come up to me and get on me about taking more [heat] than I ought to take," Matheny said. "I've had bosses tell me sometimes that I take more than I ought to take. But I know without question that's the way I'm supposed to go about it for these guys."
After beginning the year by reading all that was written about him and the club, as well as listening to sports talk radio shows, Matheny has stopped. Others read and listen for him, passing along only information that they feel is critical Matheny knows is on the airwaves or in print.
But even if there is blame that Matheny feels may be unjustified, he sees taking it as his responsibility. That was something he learned was a managerial necessity by watching his predecessor Tony La Russa. Matheny spent five years playing under La Russa in St. Louis.
"I remember as a player, sitting there thinking that Tony is wearing this when he shouldn't be," Matheny said. "But the fan base was all over him, when we knew at the time that he was a potential Hall of Fame manager, and just beating up every decision that he made. I was on the side that had more information to know what was going on. It was surprising to me about how much he took from people who knew the game.
"So with that background knowledge, I understand that's part of the gig. ... I would much rather be that punching bag then for it to happen to the guys. Because I know they follow it and when they see me taking the bullet for them, that builds us up collectively and builds them up individually. For me, I just wear it."
There are several factors that have led to Matheny being regularly second-guessed by fans and media members this season.
Scrutiny was going to come with the territory (regardless of the team's play) given that Matheny got the job without having any] professional managerial experience. He also had the task of following in the footsteps of La Russa, a tactician to the core.
The club's underperformance had only magnified the reason to find blame. Matheny has also chosen not to deflect criticism when he could have. He can be coy in explaining his reasoning for certain decisions, sometimes to protect a player or coach, sometimes in an attempt to keep a competitive advantage.
In doing so, that opens an opportunity for those outside the clubhouse to conclude that a decision is ill-advised when perhaps it was nothing more than ill-described.
All of that, Matheny said, is OK, as long as it means that his players know that he has their backs.
"People have a vested interest in this team," Matheny said. "They've invested their resources to come to the games or to buy paraphernalia. They've invested their most valuable resource, which is their time. ... When you make an investment, you're going to be emotional. And if you know the game, you're going to have opinions in certain situations. And if your opinions don't match up with mine and mine don't work, you're going to be upset.
"So your natural reaction is you're going to really not be too happy with me. I get that. That's part of it. But there are reasons I do what I do and my responsibility is to win baseball games and then my responsibility is to these guys in the clubhouse, to make sure I'm doing what's right here. Unfortunately, outside of that, there are going to be some people not necessarily happy with some of the decisions that are made along the way."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.