Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 6/12/12
ST. LOUIS When the Chicago White Sox decided on former player Robin Ventura to be their manager last October, they did so despite the fact that he had never managed a game at any level of professional baseball. They also paved the way for the Cardinals to do the same thing with Mike Matheny about a month later. Matheny, hired by the Cardinals in mid-November, also took the helm for the first time despite never coaching at any level. "He claims he took all the darts for me, going through the process first," Matheny joked Tuesday. The rookie managers are facing off this week at Busch Stadium as the Cardinals and White Sox began a three-game Interleague set Tuesday night. Ventura and Matheny had the same agent as players and developed a relationship that continued even once their playing careers were over. Back in the game at the same time and in similar situations, the two have chatted this year as well. "I have a lot of respect for him," Matheny said. "We talked early on. He was obviously a good person to talk to as I was going through the beginning stages of all the hiring and following him. "I really like the way he went about his business as a player and I respect him a lot and continue to keep in touch with him." Matheny, 41, is the youngest manager in baseball while Ventura, 44, is the third-youngest behind only Matheny and the Indians' Manny Acta, who is 43. Ventura retired in 2004 due to arthritis in his right ankle. He returned to the White Sox as a special advisor last June but never spent any time as a manager or coach at any level prior to this season. But he certainly had the credentials to be a big league manager. In 16 big league seasons - 10 with the White Sox from 1989-1998 the left-handed hitting Ventura hit .267 with 294 home runs, 1,182 RBI, 1,006 runs scored and 1,885 hits. The two-time All-Star won six Gold Gloves at third base and hit 18 career grand slams, tying him for the fifth most in baseball history. And he has the White Sox playing surprisingly well. Chicago entered Tuesday's game against the Cardinals with a half-game lead on the Cleveland Indians in the American League Central Division, a spot most didn't expect them to be in at this point in the season. "He's been great," said White Sox slugger Adam Dunn. "He's so consistent day in and day out. He's made it a lot of fun. "He's so laid back that you would have thought this was his tenth or eleventh year managing. It seems like every time he makes a move, the guys pick him up and make him look really good. He's pushing all the right buttons for sure." Said catcher A.J. Pierzynski: "He's very even keel. He doesn't get too high and he doesn't get too low. It's nice. It's just different what we came from with Ozzie Guillen. They each have their own styles and Robin's is more laid back. "He's handled the game situations very well. He's handled the moves and the lineups very well. He knows when to give a guy a day off. In spring training, definitely you could tell some things going on that he didn't really know what was going on but as the season has progressed and he's gotten into it, he's definitely gotten better." Matheny retired in 2006 because of the effects of a concussion suffered due to repeated foul balls off his mask behind the plate. The former catcher won four Gold Gloves, including three in a row from 2003-05. He played 13 big league seasons, including five for the Cardinals from 2000-2004. He saw his playing time cut during the Cardinals National League Championship season of 2004 when a rookie named Yadier Molina broke into the big leagues. Matheny served as a roving catching instructor and special assistant to GM John Mozeliak for the Cardinals in recent years. He also served as a pregame and postgame studio analyst with FOX Sports Midwest. "It still looks hard," Matheny said of comparing the game from behind home plate to the dugout. "I think it's very similar. You're looking at all aspects of it, there's just more to look at. It is the same game, but a lot more moving pieces. "Every day there are surprises. They are all different. I don't expect to have them all figured out or be prepared for them. I've enjoyed it and there have been been some great challenges. Not everything has gone exactly as scripted but we've got a long way to go here and I know that's just part of it. You don't plan out a season like this. There are just too many days, too many opportunities for things to go exactly how you didn't expect them to happen." The Cardinals have been battered with injuries since before the season even started but Matheny had the defending champs just two games out of first place entering Tuesday. Barely two months into their managing careers, both Matheny and Ventura have continued to learn on the fly. And while they've had their ups and downs, both seem ready for the challenges ahead.
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