ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Cardinals have hired Mike Matheny on a two-year contract as their new manager, with a club option for a third season.
The World Series champions said they are not worried that Matheny has never filled out a lineup card for a major league game.
"Many people may question this hire for his lack of experience," General Manager John Mozeliak said at a news conference Monday to introduce Matheny. "All arrows pointed to Mike. In the end, the decision became very clear."
Matheny replaces Tony La Russa, who abruptly retired after the Cardinals won the World Series last month. Mozeliak said the four-time Gold Glove catcher stood out from a group of candidates that started out with about 35 names and a final list of six that included Terry Francona, Ryan Sandberg and longtime Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo.
The 41-year-old Matheny donned a No. 22 Cardinals jersey at his inaugural news conference in the same room where La Russa stepped down two weeks earlier. He called it "the greatest honor of my life."
"I would say to the Cardinal fans, I can't tell you how excited I am about this opportunity," Matheny said. "I know there's a high level of expectation. If I didn't think I could do it, I certainly wouldn't have walked into the interview process."
The Cardinals expect to finalize the coaching staff by the end of the week. Mozeliak said pitching coach Dave Duncan, who is signed for next season, should be back, and Oquendo also could return.
Mozeliak said the team envisioned Matheny as managerial material when they added him to the organization two years ago. Matheny was a special assistant in player development last year, and and prior to that he had been a minor league instructor.
Mozeliak said he was in contact with La Russa during the interview process.
"I don't know if the word consulting is right," Mozeliak said. "He was someone I kept abreast of the process. I always welcome his opinion."
Matheny is the Cardinals' youngest manager since Jack Krol, also 41, in 1978.
Matheny's playing career blossomed after he signed a one-year free-agent deal to be the backup catcher in St. Louis. Though a career .239 hitter, Matheny did enough defensively to earn a starting job. Matheny was with the San Francisco Giants when his career was ended by concussions in 2006. He said he's been symptom-free for about one and a half years.
Francona was the only candidate who had major league managing experience. He left the Boston Red Sox in September. Oquendo coached for La Russa for the past 12 years after playing the final decade of his career with the Cardinals and has had a handful of interviews for managing openings.
The Cardinals also interviewed Triple-A manager Chris Maloney and Chicago White Sox third base coach Joe McEwing.