Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Matheny Manifesto

As a Cardinals fan, I was thrilled to get my hands on the book The Matheny Manifesto by Mike Matheny. Matheny arrived at the Cardinals about the same time I started paying attention to them. He was then part of four playoff runs over the next five years. So I have a vested interest.

To be honest, the book wasn't quite what I expected. Perhaps I just hadn't thought through my expectations very well, but I had expected more of a biography.

If I'd thought about it I would have remembered the actual Matheny Manifesto that went viral online in 2008. I remembered I'd read it. I remembered I was impressed by it. But I didn't remember the details and that it was aimed at youth baseball parents.

This book will most benefit most parents and coaches of young baseball players. In fact, I'd describe it as a MUST READ! Second, parents and coaches of youths involved in any sport will also put the book down with some great ideas. Third, if you're a fan of the game, the Cardinals, or Matheny himself, you'll enjoy the storytelling that fills the book.

If there's one quote that summarizes Matheny's overall goal in writing the book and in coaching young players, I found it on the second last page (220).
I was honored to be a coach, and now I'm humbled to be a [Cardinals] manager and hopefully a mentor. My goal, my obligation, is to pass along what has been imparted to me. When I get that right and serve my guys without another agenda or motive or need to be acknowledged for it, I win their trust and know I have done my job.
That's what I meant from the beginning  when I said youth sports had to be all about the kids.
Throughout the book Matheny displays a welcome realism in recognizing that athletic success requires talent and and natural ability. He acknowledges that the vast majority of participants in youth sports leagues will never play in college, and even less will play professional baseball. Given this reality he could easily choose to expend his time, energy and experience on his most talented players. However, Matheny never limits his definition of success to on-field results.

As stated in the original manifesto Matheny's main goals are as follows: (1) to teach these young men how to play the game of baseball the right way, (2) to be a positive impact on them as young men, and (3) do all of this with class.

"Class" is an important word for Matheny. It recurs frequently throughout the pages of this book. It seems to represent "old-school" values that Mike holds near and dear to his heart. He insists on his players not protesting calls during a game and shaking hands with the umpires at the end of the game regardless of whether they like the way it was called. He'll rotate all the players through all the positions, giving them an opportunity to gain experience. He won't tolerate parents lobbying coaches for their child's playing time or position, and is just as insistent that parents should do no more than applaud from stands.

When players or parents can't abide by these requirements, they're asked to leave the team. It's that important.

This book did a great job of weaving stories about the youth league that started all this, about Matheny's own youth baseball experience and his time in the Majors, into a book that clearly wants to promote a set of values.  I felt he did all this without ever becoming particularly preachy.

I particularly appreciated Matheny's willingness to spend an entire chapter discussing his Christian faith journey. While explaining his commitment to Christ, he also described the challenges of knowing when to speak up about faith and when to be silent. Can a devout Christian also be a baseball tough guy? Can a Christian manager stand up for his players as they expect him to do? This chapter describes Mike's growth and approach to these questions.

I also appreciated his chapter toward the end of the book discussing the end of his Major League career. Matheny fell victim to concussions. As a sports fan we often hear of players having concussions. The recent NFL law suit has raised the public profile of the issue. Matheny provides a glimpse of what life is like for those dealing with serious concussion symptoms, and the struggle "The Toughest Man Alive" had to work through to change his views of what toughness means.

I am very thankful I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review. They didn't demand that I like it, just read it and write about it. But I genuinely did find this an interesting read and if you like sports I think you will also enjoy the book.

You can buy the book on Amazon HERE.

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