Baseball91's Weblog

October 27, 2010

The Cardinal Way

For more than three years, the St. Louis Cardinals have been on a downslide since the departure of general manager Walt Jocketty, with conflict within the organization. Last Monday the St. Louis Cardinals fired bullpen coach Marty Mason, the longtime right-hand man of pitching coach Dave Duncan and popular with both starting and relief pitchers. John Mozeliak’s move might indicate why there was hesitation on the part of Tony LaRussa to announce his return for another season.

William DeWitt, Jr., the current Cardinal president was born August 31, 1941, when his father was general manager of the St. Louis Browns. With a bachelor’s degree from Yale and an MBA from Harvard, in 1974, Dewitt joined Cincinnati investment firm Gradison & Co., and in 1979, he founded the investment firm Reynolds, DeWitt & Co.. along with long with Mercer Reynolds. At the age of 24, he had been a participant in a group headed by Cincinnati newspaper publisher Francis Dale that brought the Reds from his dad, William DeWitt, Sr. The son of longtime baseball executive Bill DeWitt, he witnessed his father’s career as the general manager of the St. Louis Browns at the time of his birth. In 1948, his dad along with his uncle Charlie, the Browns’ traveling secretary, bought control of the St. Louis Brown. In 1951, they sold the team to Bill Veeck but remained in the front office until Veeck accepted an offer of $2.475 million for his 80 percent of the Browns which then moved in 1954 to Baltimore. His father than served as assistant general manager of the Yankees, and as president and general manager of the Tigers through the end of the 1960 season. His father then replaced Gabe Paul as the general manager of the Cincinnati Reds, as the Reds won the National League pennant in 1961. A few months later, DeWitt purchased 100 percent of the Reds from the Powel Crosley estate, as young Bill DeWitt attended Yale. His father led the team for another five seasons, until he sold out to a group led by Cincinnati newspaper publisher Francis Dale, in a group which William DeWitt, Jr., participated. Bill DeWitt, Jr., still presently lives in Cincinnati where Walter Jocketty landed.

With better connections among other ownerships at the time than Bud Selig, William DeWitt, Jr., in 1995 led a group which bought the St. Louis Cardinals from the Gussie Busch family for $150 million. The current managing general partner and chairman of the Cardinals, Bill DeWitt Jr. had acknowledged “a little different philosophy and vision with respect to some baseball issues,” at the time that Walt Jocketty was fired.

That departure of Walt Jocketty. The firing was three years ago and Tony LaRussa was still having to address the different philosophy of DeWitt and the other members of the organization to the press. One questions was about the relationship between the Cardinals’ minor-league development and the club’s major-league coaching staff.

John Mozeliak is one out of three concerning Central Division crowns since taking over for chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. DeWitt had said about his firing of Jocketty, “There was clearly tension that was reported widely, not only locally but nationally in the organization. While I’ve said on several occasions that tension is in every organization, I do think it got to the point with the Cardinals that is was counter-productive. We couldn’t achieve our objectives given what was going on inside the organization.”

If the objective was to win the Central Division, Walt Jocketty was back with a pennant in Cincinnati, as he had won in Saint Louis in 7 out of 13 seasons as general manager. Though it normally takes 5 years for a plan to jell, the Reds had assembled the missing pieces in 3 years.

Jocketty had taken exception to a promotion in 2006 of Jeff Luhnow, who had been head of amateur scouting, promoted to oversee both scouting and player development, at the expense of Bruce Manno, Jocketty’s choice. In baseball, general managers get to hire their own people. “He clearly didn’t agree with the decision,” DeWitt said. “I think he said that publicly. I think that my view is that one person should run both: procurement, development and international. Three things, but international is really procurement. And he felt it should be split.”

John Mozeliak replaced Jocketty, who had been the farm director of the Oaklnad A’s when LaRussa and his coaching staff first came together under the rein of Sandy Alderson in Oakland from 1983-1997.

Tony LaRussa had added Mart Mason to his Duncan – McKay staff which had been together since his days in Oakland. He would not comment on the firing of Marty Mason, acknowledging only that he knew the move was coming before he left the ballpark a few days after the end of the regular season. It had been reported by the beat writers that La Russa expressed in recent weeks prior to the announcement of his one year contract that he would return unless hearing something from the front office about the makeup of his coaching staff or a management’s approach that changed his mind. After a week of discussions with John Mozeliak and chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., this makeup of his coaching staff was believed to be the final detail. Mason was frequently credited as the go-to man by pitchers for mechanical issues. It was Mason with the working relationship between the pitchers, while Duncan was long known as a “red-ass” since his playing days in the American League.

The club made a formal offer last week, and La Russa told reporters at Busch Stadium that he hoped to have answer for the club by early this week. La Russa said 15 years is a long time for one manager in “one place,” that the organization might benefit from “freshness.” With the freshness introduced by DeWitt when he got rid of Jocketty, organizational unity, specifically, is still in question. It can be a little confusing for awhile when a winning general manager is fired, one year after winning the World Series. La Russa who has a strained relationship with the St. Louis press, when he met this week with the St. Louis media, was asked to address the confusion. “I don’t think we were ever very far from the Cardinal Way. It’s too ingrained. The Cardinals Way to play – it’s real basic. We never got too far away from that. But there were some rough moments. I think Mo (GM John Mozeliak) has recognized that. … It was a little confusing for awhile. It was never too confusing. The Cardinals are the Cardinals.”

Or were. The Cardinals fired bullpen coach Marty Mason, pitching coach Dave Duncan’s longtime right-hand man. You always had to wonder about an organization that fired hitting coaches and pitching coaches –especially long-time coaches. A part of the Cardinal organization for 25 seasons, Mason has worked under La Russa for the past 12 seasons after working as a Triple-A pitching coach from 1997-1999. He had also pitched in the minor-leagues within the Cardinal farm system. The wonderment was about what ownership understood about the team they had bought. After all of that time, Mason must have had a pretty good idea of that “Cardinal way.” Pitching had always been his livelihood. Reportedly, Mason had made clear to Mozeliak his misgivings about the integrity of the player development pipeline, an opinion, the St. Louis beat writer wrote, that made him vulnerable to being axed.

As Dave Duncan with his red ass “is typically viewed as stoic, pensive and even intimidating to some younger arms, Mason served as a folksy buffer also adept at breaking down a pitcher’s delivery,” per the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Though the Cardinals dropped to sixth in National League relief ERA (3.73) last season, a year after ranking fourth (3.67), it was not as if Mason lost all of his knowledge in one season but demonstrates an ongoing power struggle within the organization, unchanged since that departure of Walt Jocketty.

The team’s power struggle was over Moneyball. Ironically, it is the former Oakland A’s people who are fighting the Moneyball concepts of Jeff Luhnow. The “stat-heads” of Jeff Luhnow, in conflict with the “baseball men.” Smart baseball lifers, like the father of the current Cardinal chairman living in Cincinnati. The one from Harvard, who brought in Luhnow. Jocketty was fired as GM in 2007 because he couldn’t accept losing authority to Luhnow. When Jocketty left, so did Bruce Manno, longtime director of player development, who took a job as assistant general manager for Braves in Atlanta in September of 2007. Long-time scout Jerry Walker (one of the best in the game), former general manager Cam Bonifay of the Pirates, and Mike Squires —who played for LaRussa in Chicago and is now a Reds’ scout. Baseball lifers.

Marty Mason was fired because of his criticism of Jeff Luhnow’s player-development system. This internal competition on the field and in the front office is all about who is smarter. The guys with the Harvard MBAs or the baseball lifers. The irony it happened in St. Louis with the son of William DeWitt, Sr., and with these baseball lifers who left an Oakland opening for Billy Beane’s method, which Sandy Alderson silently takes credit for –when LaRussa and Jocketty left the Bay Area franchise, the A’s were feeling more and more like Cinderella.

With information managers reinventing the game, under the one-time part owner of the “Big Red Machine” – William DeWitt, Jr. – with his own a bachelor’s degree from Yale and an MBA from Harvard, there was an unending conflict with his on-field staff, and the evolving problem that John Mozeliak had not recognized with the Cardinals Way, which was left to the on-field braintrust which had come out of Oakland to now save, along with any hard-core baseball people left employed by the Cardinals.

Moneyball. The concept had come out of programmed trading on Wall Street. John Henry in Boston had made his money managing a hedge fun; he hired Bill James as a stats guy, and soon the Red Sox were hiring Harvard stat guys like Theo Epstein. And Bill DeWitt wanted to apply the Moneyball concept to the Cardinal front office. After all, he had made his own fortune as a money manager. Programmed trading on Wall Street was not about the management of a company, but movement of a stock upwards.

Mason was hardly alone in his anti-Luhnow sentiment. DeWitt brought in Luhnow – an outsider with only a business background in integrating data-based analysis – to help shape the future direction of the team in the fall of 2003. With a steep learning curve, with very little baseball experience, placed in charge of the curriculum, Luhnow worked under his brown nosers– now general manager John Mozeliak, now farm director John Vuch, with other baseball lifers forced to perpetrate alongside the stat-heads: White Sox first base coach Dan Radison who has since left the St. Louis organization, Dyar Miller, Roger Smith, Chuck Fick, Joe Rigoli, Enrique Brito, and Charlie Gonzalez. Co-operate or be gone. DeWitt wanted to implement the “Moneyball” concept, empowering Jeff Luhnow in a dramatic way, so what baseball lifer would want to work for the Cardinals? The criticism directed at the Cardinals this year was about a lack of depth in their minor league system, as well as a lineup with a lack of depth day-to-day. When you ran a baseball organization with a nerd, the overall lack of depth in understanding the game was going to eventually surface. Because programmed trading was not about the management team of a company, but movement of a stock upwards. If it worked on Wall Street, it should work in St. Louis like it had once in Oakland.

Then came the September 2010 announcement of an adjustment of Luhnow’s authority. Luhnow would be concentrating with his analytical group of four full-time, highly experienced employees on scouting and the draft, no longer supervising the minor leagues. Maybe the change was based upon that dramatic drop in the market indexes in a matter of minutes in May 2010, demonstrating the flaws in programmed trading, which could send the movement of a stock downward. However, John Mozeliak and Jeff Luhnow apparently were able to save face by claiming the scalp of Marty Mason at season’s end. When Luhnow had control of player development, he implemented the “best curriculum and the best faculty” to turn the raw material into Major League players. “The curriculum and organization of the faculty starts with our coordinators across each discipline, and we have some of the best and brightest in the game,” Luhnow had said. With Tim Leveque analyzing thousands of current and past pitchers, and Dyar Miller heading the study of pitching, teaching the movements, the rhythm, and the tempo that great pitcher’s tend to have that keep them relatively injury free and pitching at the highest level over a long career. With Dan Radison on the hitting side. This was the Cardinal way of development under Luhnow. When after a few years of this approach, the a big-picture issue in St. Louis was pitching, pitching health, pitching development, pitching, pitching, and pitching. With the missing impact player.

This week John Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt announced that La Russa did finally make a decision about whether he’d return for the 2011 season. With St. Louis. He would. With a one year contract for a 16th season as manager. The decision had less to do with length of time, than a baseball life.

At least Dave Duncan would be back for two years, alone with his communication problem with his younger pitchers, along with his red ass. And Red Schoendienst. Mr. DeWitt has not resolved the cumulative tension — in a game of cumulative tension– that John Mozeliak has with the “Cardinal Way” which came in conflict, via Oakland, with the old school. With a new curriculum assembled by the nerdy scouting director. “Tension is in every organization, I do think it got to the point with the Cardinals that is was counter-productive.” That tension seems to have come from the guy with the Harvard MBA.

Computers had changed the personal side of baseball and, as much as programmed trading had changed Wall Street, were now changing baseball personnel. With an emphasis on bigger, stronger, faster, so came the computers. While some players tried steroids to get stronger, other organizations were taking a shot at programming their scouting departments and even player development, to see who was qualified to be a big league front office employee. From his home in Cincinnati, DeWitt had taken away the livelihood of the one guy who had been with St. Louis over 25 years, and who did not have to pay lip service to the “Cardinal Way,” while the usual humane LaRussa tried to stay busy with another animal rights issue on the ballot in November. Because figuring out humans was much too complicated without a computer.

If the objective was to win, why had Walt Jocketty been fired? That Cardinal Way from George Kissell through Whitey Herzog never really had to be changed.

You teach me baseball and I’ll teach you relativity…you will learn about relativity faster than I learn baseball. –Albert Einstein

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FOOTNOTE on how to mess up a baseball organization.




  1. If you live in Houston, you know that Jeff Luhnow has been hired as a general manager. I would suggest that with very little baseball experience, he is still an impostor whose associated success with the St. Louis Cardinals carried over from Walt Jocketty.

    Beware the language of an outsider, in coverups and fraud syndrome. He is unqualified for his job, and his comments reflect how little he really knows. The New York Times quotes Luhnow, “Aggressiveness is rewarded in OUR game. And I think that’s good. There are certain areas of OUR game where that’s really important. But it’s definitely a conundrum for coaches and players to figure out how to find that optimal balance. When a player in A ball looks at strike three and has to go back to the dugout, it is not a good feeling. But it is possible that was the right decision to make because it’s a pitch that maybe 50 percent of the time would have been called a ball and he’d have been walked; if he had made contact, there’s a high probability it would have been a dribbler he wouldn’t have done anything with.”

    Comment by baseball91 — April 1, 2013 @ 4:48 PM | Reply


    UPDATE ON JEFF LUHNOW: Since Luhnow came aboard as the Astros GM in December 2011, his team has posted a 146-278 record. The organization has drawn considerable skepticism in its player evaluation for its heavy reliance on “advanced metrics,” instead of having real baseball people in their decision-making process. After his junior year of college, J.D. Martinez had been a 20th round selection in 2009, reaching the big leagues rather quickly in 2011. After 252 games mostly as an outfielder with Houston – rushed to the big leagues after the Astros traded Hunter Pence? – J.D. Martinez was released by the team in spring training in 2014. Picked up by Detroit, he is now, according to USA Today, “a key figure with the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers, batting .327 with 13 homers and 44 RBIs.” As an organization, Luhnow takes great pride that team today leads the majors in base on balls — maybe because if forced into arbitration, he will not have to pay his league leaders.

    Comment by baseball91 — July 26, 2014 @ 10:36 PM | Reply


    UPDATE ON JEFF LUHNOW: Revisionist history occurs in a very short period in the society of the United States. Jeff Luhnow, now the Astros GM, indicates in a Sports Illustrated interview with Ben Reiter, “I actually got along very well with EVERYBODY with the Cardinals,” he said. Could you believe anything Luhnow said?

    Luhnow stressed to Sports Illustrated that he left St Louis only because of a promotion to GM of the Astros, denying any tumult in the Cardinal organization. Luhnow came aboard as the Astros GM in December 2011. He got married in January 2012. “A lot of THEM came to my wedding,” he said about a time when he no longer worked for St Louis. Luhnow noted the presence of the Cardinal owner, their general manager, an assistant general manager, “other executives,” and scouts.

    Bless all those workers in Memory Care Units in St Louis.

    Comment by baseball91 — June 19, 2015 @ 6:19 PM | Reply

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