A strong-armed catcher, Matheny was better known for his work behind the plate than at it. Though he excelled at shutting down the opposition’s running game, he struggled to win a full-time job until joining the St. Louis Cardinals in 2000.
Matheny reached the big leagues in 1994 with the Brewers, but spent the season shuttling back and forth between Milwaukee and Triple-A New Orleans. He took over as the club’s primary catcher in 1996, but never hit better than .244 in his five years with the Brewers
After appearing in 50 games for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1999, he signed a free-agent deal with St. Louis that December and overcame a poor spring training showing to win a spot on the Cardinals’ roster in 2000. Once the regular season began, Matheny proved to be one of the NL Central Champions' most pleasant surprises. While playing a career-high 128 games, he turned in his strongest offensive season, establishing personal bests with a .261 batting average, 109 hits and 47 RBIs. He also led all of baseball by throwing out 52% (46 out of 90) of enemy baserunners, and was honored for his defensive excellence with the NL Gold Glove award.
Sadly, Matheny’s season came to an unexpected end when he severed two tendons and a nerve in his right ring finger on a hunting knife he had received as a birthday present. The resulting surgery forced him to miss the entire post-season.
Fully recovered from surgery the following year, Matheny continued to excel behind the plate but saw his batting numbers sharply tail off.
Contribute your recollections of Mike Matheny by clicking here.
FROM THE BASEBALL CHRONOLOGY
»May 31, 1996: The Indians bang 18 hits to beat Milwaukee 10–4, but the biggest hit is when Albert Belle decks Brewers 2B Fernando Vina with a vicious forearm in the 8th inning to set off a two-team brawl. Belle was on first after being hit with a pitch. In the 9th, Milwaukee reliever Terry Burrows throws three inside pitches before he finally plunks Belle. Tribe reliever Julian Tavarez then throws a pitch behind the back of Mike Matheny, who charges the mound. Both benches clear and during the brawl Tavarez slams down ump Joe Brinkman and Belle knuckles Brewer Steve Sparks. Belle, Tavarez, and Matheny will each receive 5-game suspensions for their brawling.
»October 12, 2002: Three Cardinals home runs help St. Louis to a 5–4 win over the Giants, who lead their NLCS by two games to 1. Jim Edmonds, Eli Marerro, and Mike Matheny clout round–trippers for the Cards while Barry Bonds adds one for SF. Chuck Finley gets the win for St. Louis.