By Mark Grote–
(CBS) The robust managing resume of Mike Matheny features postseason appearances in each of his first three seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, including a trip to the World Series in 2013 against the Boston Red Sox.
That’s not bad for a guy who entered his interview with the Cardinals after the 2011 season armed only with a resume that read “Little League coach.”
Matheny’s four Gold Gloves in his 13-year playing career as a big league catcher is where his credibility and experience lies, but it’s also part of what nearly ruined him.
“There were 18 months of my life at the end of my career that I couldn’t account for,” Matheny revealed as St. Louis visited Wrigley Field this week. “It was some of the scariest stuff I’ve ever dealt with in my life.”
Matheny was held out of play for the final four months of the 2006 season due to a head injury he suffered while playing for the San Francisco Giants. His doctor refused to clear him to play in 2007.
“When I got that last concussion, it didn’t seem like that big of a deal,” Matheny said. “But, then, all of a sudden, I couldn’t remember things, I couldn’t multi-task and I forgot where I was going all the time.”
It was only then that Matheny began to realize the laissez-faire attitude with which concussions had been treated through the years.
“I can’t tell you how many times I heard, ‘You have just a concussion, tell me what day of the week it is, and your mother’s maiden name and we’ll let you play,’” Matheny said. “Meantime, it’s covering up the fact that this is trauma to the brain. Fortunately, the medical side is catching up with this and saying it’s time to back off when something like that happens.”
It’s a whole new ballgame as it pertains to concussion protocol in 2015. The “mother’s maiden-name card” is no longer acceptable.
Major League Baseball has taken measures to protect catchers from home plate collisions since the beginning of 2014, with a rule that states that a runner may not run out of a direct line to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher, who himself isn’t allowed to block the plate without the ball.
Matheny was outspoken in his support for the new legislation prior to it being put into practice, even meeting with league officials in order to further promote it. Ironic, because there was a time when he never would have supported such an idea.
“I’d be fighting it tooth and nail right now if I was still a player, but with the information I have now and with what the medical world has right now, change is good,” Matheny said. “I know there’s a lot of people that don’t like it, but for me, now that I’m responsible for 25 guys, I say let’s make it a slide play like every other base.”
Many players and coaches around the league don’t like the rule, one which could still be considered a work in progress.
Matheny keeps perspective by cautioning he doesn’t want any of his players to ever forget a year and a half of their lives as he did.
“You’ve only got one chance at this with your brain, so let’s be smart,” Matheny said.
Mark Grote is the Cubs pregame and postgame host on WBBM. Follow him on Twitter @markgrotesports.