Revisiting the Cardinals' decision to hire Mike Matheny over current Indians manager Terry Francona in 2012

On Saturday night, the Cardinals dismissed longtime manager Mike Matheny.

This, then, is as good of a time as any to remember that the Cardinals chose Matheny over current Cleveland Indians skipper Terry Francona. In fact, the Cardinals were so set on Matheny that Francona's interview served as a "courtesy" per an old Bernie Miklasz column:

Francona received a courtesy interview from the Cardinals, but had no real chance to dislodge Matheny as the front-runner for the St. Louis gig.

With the benefit of hindsight, it's safe to say the Cardinals erred.

On paper, Matheny's reign was a fruitful one. He won more than 55 percent of his regular season games, guided the Cardinals to four consecutive playoff berths earlier in his tenure, and went 21-22 in the postseason while winning the 2013 National League pennant. Unfortunately for Matheny, those accomplishments have always felt to have been earned in spite of him.

Indeed, Matheny's record has always overstated his managerial ability. He developed a reputation for oddball tactical decisions, particularly as it related to handling a bullpen, and showed no inclination to grow or adapt to a changing league. Further, his leadership qualities -- supposedly his strongest suit -- were questioned, especially within the past year, as Yadier Molina and Dexter Fowler were among those who become entangled in public spats with him.

Francona, meanwhile, has found even greater success in Cleveland. He's won 56 percent of his games since getting the job before the 2013 season, and has a 12-9 record in the playoffs -- including, of course, a 2016 run that included the American League pennant. Francona has also shown a willingness to try brash new strategies: His usage of Andrew Miller throughout the '16 postseason helped inspire a new wave of bullpen strategy.

Lest anyone think that a preference for Francona was incomprehensible at the time, remember that he was coming off a fantastic run with the Boston Red Sox. He'd overseen eight consecutive winning seasons that had netted the franchise a pair of World Series titles. His dismissal stemmed from a disappointing 90-win effort and rumors of clubhouse discord. Following Francona's firing, there were leaks concerning his personal life and alleged abuse of painkillers. It's at least possible those rumors scared the Cardinals away from Francona.

Still, Matheny was far from a certain quantity. He'd never managed at any level before landing the gig -- and that was considered a good thing. His youth was supposed to allow him to connect with the modern player, while his fresh eyes would permit him to avoid ossification in tradition and old-school thinking. Obviously neither theory came to fruition.

There's no way of knowing how differently the last six-plus years would have unfolded had the Cardinals opted for Francona over Matheny. But it's a what-if scenario that the Cardinals and their fans are left pondering today in the light of the post-Matheny era. 

CBS Sports Staff

R.J. Anderson joined CBS Sports in 2016. He previously wrote for Baseball Prospectus, where he contributed to five of the New York Times bestselling annuals. His work has also appeared in Newsweek and... Full Bio

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