MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Sports Illustrated cover story? It's not the Cardinal Way

Matheny would prefer to lay low, just go about their business of winning games, a lot of games

Sports Illustrated cover story? It's not the Cardinal Way

Generally, when someone says he doesn't care about his team appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated, this is a result of false modesty or superstition.

Neither of those is the case with Mike Matheny, manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. SI"s cover story this week is "Cardinals Rule," featuring a cover photo of outfielder Jason Heyward.

Talk about a cover jinx. Heyward suffered tightness in his left hamstring even before the issue hit the newsstands. But he is expected to resume play this weekend in San Diego.

The SI article is suitably praiseworthy for a team that has withstood serious injuries to front-line performers to compile baseball's best record.

But that's not Matheny's issue, either. He prefers a quieter environment in which the Cardinals simply win game after game, without much attendant hype, hoopla, or excessive celebration in the media.

"Cardinals rule?" That's a little too much like boasting, especially on a national front page," Matheny says. "That sort of thing doesn't win one single game.

"We can't control it," Matheny adds, pleasantly, but still vehemently. "Focusing on culture, focusing on what we can do, not, 'Hey, we've got something figured out.'

"I know there's an article out in a major magazine talking about this whole thing. I was kind of happy just going along with, 'Let's just do our job.' And then maybe later on, everybody's looking around in late November saying: 'That was impressive what they were able to do, even though so many things happened.' We're not trying to be acknowledged for all the pieces that are going down at times. I think there's a lot to be said for all the people in our organization, the scouts, the development people. There's some consistency throughout this organization that we're proud of right now, and some young players that are taking advantage of the opportunity."

In a moment, you're going to read Matheny saying, "I don't think we're a real popular club." This represents a new level of self-awareness along the Cardinal Way.

No, the Cardinals are not particularly popular with their opponents. Some of this carries over from the Tony La Russa era, when La Russa was fine with having people carrying grudges against him on the grounds that it took their attention away from the task at hand: winning the game.

And we in the media have made much out of the "Cardinal Way," the organizational top-to-bottom culture that holds this operation together. You can raise some snarls in an opposing clubhouse just by speaking those three magic words: the Cardinal Way.

And when a team goes to the NL Championship Series four years in a row, and reaches the World Series in two of those years, that success will generate some envy, some animosity of its own.

So for the manager, again, quieter would be better.

"We don't need anybody else with maybe a misconception with what we do around here," Matheny says. "It's already out there. I don't think we're a real popular club, for whatever reason. Some of it was induced with the whole, 'We've got the Cardinal Way,' which was never intended to be taken that way, either.

"We can't control what any of you write or what's put out there. We just once again try to stay the course with doing what we think is right and hoping that it's relayed in a way that is accurate and really exemplifies what this organization stands for and how the game should be played."

You will not get Mike Matheny to deviate from the mission, or the mission statement. It could be Time, it could be Rolling Stone, it could be National Geographic. It could be coast-to-coast cover stories, global cover stories and Matheny would politely sit still for all the interviews. But he would never succumb to the hype; not for an inch, not for an instant.

This week, the Redbirds met the Giants for the first time since the Giants beat them in the 2014 NL Championship Series. There were numerous questions, asked in numerous ways, all adding up to: "Isn't this series a really big deal?"

Matheny would smile slightly and respond: "Same boring answer."

That "same boring answer" was invariably about how this wasn't any different than any other series, followed by a concise version of all the necessary focus that is required for a Cardinals kind of success.

As many times as you hear this from Matheny it is not actually boring. Because after you hear the remarks, you watch the game, and you see the thought leading to the action. It is a thing of beauty; subtle beauty maybe, but still beauty.

But that thing about the Cardinals getting to November before anybody completely noticed them; it's already too late for that. The Cardinals have only themselves to blame. They have been too good to escape notice.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com.. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.