Who’s running my team: St. Louis Cardinals

One of a series of articles looking at the front office structure of each major league team. Today, we take a closer look at the St Louis Cardinals.

St Louis Cardinals

  • Chairman and Chief Executive Officer: William O. DeWitt Jr.
  • President of Baseball Operations: John Mozeliak
  • Vice President and General Manager: Mike Girsch

DeWitt, who led a group that purchased the St Louis Cardinals late in 1995, bears one of the game’s legacy names. A native of St. Louis, his dad, William O. DeWitt Sr., could trace his baseball – and Cardinal — connections back to 1916 when he began working for a young GM named Branch Rickey. The elder DeWitt moved across town to run the Browns in the 1940s, and in the 1960s he owned the Cincinnati Reds.

The younger DeWitt earned degrees from Yale and Harvard and managed several investment-related businesses before leading the syndicate that purchased the Cardinals from Anheuser-Busch.

As ownership’s representative, he has consistently maintained a low profile, preferring to let his top management people do what they do best. In selecting those people, DeWitt has shown good judgment. One of his first actions was the decision to maintain Walt Jocketty, hired as GM just one year earlier.

Jocketty hadn’t established himself yet, but he soon would. In DeWitt’s first full season and Jocketty’s third, the Cardinals won the NL Central and reached post-season play, something they would do six more times during his tenure. Jocketty’s Cardinals topped it off with a victory in the 2006 World Series.

When Jocketty left, DeWitt resisted any urge to change a winning formula, instead of promoting Jocketty’s chief assistant, Mozeliak. He ran the front office through 2017, overseeing four more division titles, six more post-season appearances and victory in the 2011 World Series.

More or less as a reward, prior to the 2018 season and without much fanfare DeWitt promoted Mozeliak to his present position and elevated his top aide, Girsch, to the general managership. Girsch oversaw the winning of the 2019 NL Central title.

The commitment to stability and consistency, as opposed to wave-making, has been a Cardinal trademark under DeWitt and Mozeliak. It is considered close to a mortal sin in St. Louis for the Cardinals to finish below .500, a fate that has befallen them only once during DeWitt’s ownership. In mid-season 2018 they fired Mike  Matheny for daring to approach .500; the team was 47-46 when he was let go.

In fact, Mike Shildt, who replaced Matheny, is only the third field manager since DeWitt took over: Tony LaRussa, then Matheny, then Shildt. Stability.

The St Louis Cardinals have the distinct advantage of operating in a baseball paradise; in fact, they may be the only MLB franchise in a half-century to have run an NFL team out of town. Metropolitan St. Louis may be only the game’s 21st largest in population, but the Cards still drew 3.48 million fans in 2019, ranking second behind only the Dodgers. Nothing new about that: the Cardinals have topped 3 million attendance annually since 2004.

Forbes values the team at $2.1 billion, making the Cardinals the game’s seventh most prized franchise. Revenues hit $356 million in 2019, also seventh highest, and representing an 82.5 percent increase from a decade ago.

The market’s outsized devotion to the team is a big help. That market generated $855 million worth of value in 2019, 40 percent of the Cardinals’ worth. There are teams that do a better job of extracting value from their home areas, but all of those areas have at least 900,000 more people than St. Louis.

In the new Busch Stadium home, the Cardinals occupied downtown in 2006, they have found another revenue producer. With its modern commercial tie-ins to its surrounding ‘ballpark village,’ Busch III means $428 million to the team, making it too the seventh most productive entity in its class.

Since Mozeliak replaced Jocketty prior to the 2008 season, he and Girsch have – based on Wins Above Average — injected 11.3 games worth of talent into the team’s veins annually*. Beyond that, the front office has shown a willingness to make the tough calls when they needed to be made.

Never was that trait more in evidence than in Mozeliak’s winter 2012 decision not to pursue superstar Albert Pujols once it became apparent that the cost of keeping Pujols would stretch to 10 years and $240 million.

As personally popular as Pujols was in St. Louis, Mozeliak understood that entering his age 32 seasons Pujols would never be worth that kind of investment…and he hasn’t been. Within two seasons the Cardinals were back in the World Series. Pujols’ top-heavy Angels have played just three post-season games since his arrival. They lost all three.

The Cardinals’ consistent success must drive their big-city rivals up in Chicago daffy. Financially, it should be no contest. The Cubs dominate a much larger market, they have a more valuable franchise, and they usually spend more. Since 2010, the Cubs have poured about $175 million more into player salaries than their county cousins downs south.

Yet over that same time period, the St Louis Cardinals have averaged 8.2 more victories per season than the Cubs. They have won more division championships (4-2), made more post-season appearances (6-4), and offset Chicago’s 2016 World Series win with one of their own in 2011.

Next: Rays: Reacquaint yourself with Jose Alvarado

*This calculation is obtained by determining the net impact of player transactions on team performance for the season(s) in question. Wins Above Average is a zero-based offshoot of Wins Above Replacement; thus, the final figure suggests the degree of positive or negative movement in the standings attributable to front office moves.

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