My Top Five All-Time Cardinal Executives Series continues with the man who preceded John Mozeliak as General Manager of the Cardinals and who guided the team through one of the Most successful eras in their history. This same man actually began his career as a professional baseball executive working for Charlie Finley in Oakland. Walk Jocketty. Walt graduated from the University of Minnesota with Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration. He got his first job in baseball in March of 1980 when he was hired by A’s owner Charlie Finley to be the Director of Minor League Operations and Scouting. A few weeks earlier, Finley hired the man who would lead the A’s to a brief renaissance on the field in the early 1980’s…..Billy Martin!
While in Oakland, Walt overhauled the A’s minor league system from top to bottom and he was instrumental in starting the Arizona Rookie League and the Dominican Summer League. He would then be promoted to the post of Director of Baseball Administration and would hold that post for the rest of his tenure in Oakland. in 1994, he would do a brief turn in Colorado as Assistant General Manager. It was during his time in Denver that he first became acquainted with the man who would one day replace him in St. Louis…..John Mozeliak. After the 1994 Season, the Cardinals had wanted Phillies GM Lee Thomas, a former coach and manager in the minor league system, to be their new General Manager, but he chose to remain in Philadelphia and an October 14, 1994, the St. Louis named Walk Jocketty to be their new General Manager.
One of the first noteworthy moves made during Jocketty’s tenure as GM was the firing of manager Joe Torre, a former Cardinal player, in June of 1995 after the team had gotten their season off to a poor start. He was replaced on an interim basis by Mike Jorgensen, also a former Cardinal player. After the 1995 Season, the Cardinals replaced Jorgensen with the man who would lead the cardinals to one of their greatest runs of glory…..Tony LaRussa. It was also after the 1995 Season that Anheuser Busch, the owners of the St. Louis Cardinals since 1953 decided to sell the team to an ownership group headed by William H. DeWitt, Jr. who comes from a longtime baseball family. Despite the change, Walt Jockey would be retained as the Cardinals’ General Manager.
The 1995 Season saw the Cardinals finish with a record of 62-81 and a .434 winning percentage, their worst record since 1990 when went 72-90 with a .432 winning percentage. Things started off with a bang in ’96 for the Birds on the Bat. Tony LaRussa piloted the team to a record of 88-74 – 26 game improvement in the win column. They would win National League Central Division title – the first of six under Jocketty’s watch. However, they would fall short in their bid to get to the their first World Series since 1987 as they fell in the NLCS to the Atlanta Braves 4 games to 3. The following three seasons were relatively lean. The 1997 team narrowly avoided a 90-loss campaign with a 73-89 record. 1998 saw the Cardinals finish with a record of 83-79 – season highlighted by the Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa Home Run Race. In 2000, the Cards returned to the postseason but they fell to the New York Mets in the NLCS 4 games to 1. In 2001, the seeds for a successful Cardinal future were just beginning to be sewn as a young rookie from Independence, Missouri by way of the Dominican Republic named Albert Pujols was called up to replace an injured Bobby Bonilla on the Redbird roster. Pujols never looked back. 2004 saw the debut of catcher Yadier Molina who has gone on to become one of the greatest defensive catchers off all-time. The following year, he would supplant future Cardinal (and Royal) manager Mike Metheny as the starting Cardinal backstop. Walt also made two very savvy moves during his time as Cardinal GM. Just before the start of the 2000 Season, Jocketty sent pitcher Ken Bottenfield and infielder Adam Kennedy (who would later return to the Cardinals) to the Angels for All-Star Centerfielder Jim “Jimmy Ballgame” Edmonds. On July 29, 2002, he sent infielder Placido Polanco and pitchers Mike Timlin and Bud Smith to the Phillies for All-Star Third Baseman and Hall of Fame candidate Scott Rolen. Also in 2002, former “can’t miss” pitching prospect Jason Isringhausen was rescued from the scrap heap and, for a few years, entrenched himself as the Cardinal closer.
2004 was a huge year for Pujols, Edmonds and Rolen as individuals. Each one of them posted numbers of a .300+ average, 30+ home runs and 100+ RBI’s. This earned them the sobriquet of “MV3”. The 2004 Cardinals also featured a workhorse pitching staff. Chris Carpenter, another one of Walt Jocketty’s savvy moves, having been signed away from the Blue Jays as a free agent in December of 2002, won 15 games and posted a 3.46 ERA. He would win the NL Cy Young Award the following year. The ’04 Redbirds won 105 games, one short of the franchise record set in 1942, blew past the Dodgers in the NLDS, and won a hard fought NLCS against the Houston Astros 4 games to 3. However, they would fall in the World Series, getting swept by the Boston Red Sox who, after losing to the Cardinals in seven games two previous times (1946 ans 1967), won their first World Series since 1918. 2005 saw the Cardinals win 100+ games for the second consecutive year and Chris Carpenter win his aforementioned Cy Young. The Postseason was highlighted by a massive Albert Pujols home run off Brad Lidge that forced one final game at Busch Stadium II. However, their dreams of returning to the Fall Classic would be shattered by the Houston Astros in six games.
2006 was the year the Cardinals opened their brand new home Busch Stadium III. On May 14, the Redbirds went into sole possession of First Place to stay following a 9-1 drubbing of the Arizona Diamondbacks at Busch. They maintained a tenuous grip on the NL Central lead all season long and finished with a record of 83-78 – the worst winning percentage for a division champion since the 1973 New York Mets. 2006 was almost a mirror of 2004. They blew past the Padres in the NLDS and won a tooth and nail NLCS over the Mets. This time, the World Series would be a different story as they triumphed over the American league Champion Detroit Tigers (who they beat in 1934 and lost lost to in 1968) 4 games to 1. 2007 would begin on a sour note as ace pitcher Chris Carpenter would be lost for the season due to Tommy John Surgery. On the plus side, Adam Wainwright emerged as a full time starter and contributed 14 wins, 136 K’s and a 3.70 ERA in 202 innings. Despite the loss of Carpenter, the ’07 Cardinals would never fall completely out of contention. As a matter of fact, on September 6, the cards had a record of 69-68 and were only one game out of First in the NL Central. However, the wheels would come off after a weekend sweep September 7, 8 and 9 at the hands of the Diamondbacks in Arizona. The Cardinals plummeted to a record of 78-84 – their first sub-.500 finish since 1999 and their last to date. October 3, 2007, Walk Jocketty was fired as the Cardinals’ GM due to what the team termed as “divisiveness in the baseball operations front office”. His place would be taken by John Mozeliak who had previously worked with Walt in Colorado.
Walt would not be out of baseball for long as on January 11, 2008, he was hired as a Special Advisor to the Cincinnati Reds. He would become their new GM on April 23, 2008 as Wayne Krivsky was fired. The Reds would win the NL Central in 2010 and would follow that up with another division crown in 2012. In 2015, the Reds named Jocketty to the newly minted position of President of Baseball Operations and in 2016, he was named Executive Advisor to the CEO, a position he continues to hold to this day.