Like a prince learning from kings, John Mozeliak was mentored by Cardinals royalty. He worked with two of the franchise’s most successful executives, Bing Devine and Walt Jocketty. Because of Devine, Mozeliak can trace a line in his apprenticeship directly to the man who built the prototype of a Cardinals general manager, renowned innovator Branch Rickey.
As general manager of the Cardinals since October 2007, Mozeliak has followed in the tradition of his best-known predecessors, building championship clubs and keeping the Cardinals among the elite franchises in the big leagues.
Mozeliak, who turns 47 in January 2016, is keenly aware of the lineage of Cardinals general managers. He says it is his desire to pay back those who taught him by helping others position themselves to carry on that tradition.
E-mail from Mozeliak
In November 2015, Mozeliak answered questions from Cardinals bloggers by e-mail. The opportunity to ask questions of Mozeliak came about through the efforts of Daniel Shoptaw, founder of United Cardinal Bloggers, and Cardinals communication coordinator Lindsey Weber.
In citing the tradition of prominent figures who have been Cardinals general managers _ men such as Stan Musial, Whitey Herzog, Bob Howsam, Frank Lane, Devine and Jocketty _ I asked Mozeliak whether he ever reflected on that and his role in that legacy.
“I have,” Mozeliak replied. “I have not thought about my legacy, but I have thought a lot about the people that have come before me.”
Jocketty brought Mozeliak to the Cardinals and helped grow his career. Devine provided added value as a sage.
Protégé of Jocketty
Mozeliak, a left-handed pitcher and first baseman in high school at Boulder, Colo., says he grew up a fan of Johnny Bench _ “I tried to be a left-handed catcher, but that didn’t work very well,” he wrote in his e-mail _ as well as George Brett, Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee.
After graduating from the University of Colorado, Mozeliak joined the Rockies as a batting practice pitcher. He worked his way through the organization, earning various roles in baseball operations, and made a favorable impression on Jocketty, the Rockies’ assistant general manager.
Jocketty replaced Dal Maxvill as Cardinals general manager in October 1994. Mozeliak joined the Cardinals after the 1995 season as an assistant in scouting operations.
Mozeliak became Cardinals scouting director in 1999. Jocketty brought Devine back to the Cardinals that fall as a special assignment scout.
Devine served two stints as Cardinals general manager: 1957-64 and 1968-78. His trades during his first term brought Lou Brock, Curt Flood, Bill White, Julian Javier and Dick Groat to the Cardinals. The farm system under Devine’s management developed players such as Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Tim McCarver, Mike Shannon and, during his second term, Ted Simmons, Bob Forsch and Keith Hernandez.
In 1939, when he joined the Cardinals as a 23-year-old office assistant, Devine ran errands for Rickey. (Though Rickey formally had the title of Cardinals business manager, his role was that of general manager and included player personnel.)
Sixty years later, when Devine, 83, rejoined the Cardinals as a scout, he bonded with the scouting director, Mozielak, sharing decades of Cardinals knowledge and experience with the 30-year-old protégé.
‘He taught me a lot’
“I had a unique opportunity to work with Bing and did get to know him and actually traveled to some minor-league cities with him,” Mozeliak said in his e-mail. “He taught me a lot. He was someone who had a unique perspective on the business …
“The economics have changed drastically; how you think about development and creating assets within an organization is different, yet there (are) a lot of truisms that you still have to play the game and play the game right,” Mozeliak wrote. “I remember Bing would always reflect on that with me.”
In his 2004 book, “The Memoirs of Bing Devine,” Devine said of his 1999 return to the Cardinals, “I owe a debt of gratitude to the present Cardinals ownership. They believed I was not too old or too far removed to make a contribution from a player evaluation standpoint.”
Devine praised Jocketty as “a talented and aggressive general manager” and, in a nod to executives such as Mozeliak, he added, “The surrounding personnel are dedicated as well.”
In his e-mail, Mozeliak said of Devine, “I think about my opportunity to spend time with him as just very lucky and as I move forward I hope I can someday help the next generation.”
Efficient and effective
Jocketty promoted Mozeliak to the role of Cardinals director of baseball operations in 2001 and then assistant general manager in 2003. After Jocketty departed because of philosophical differences with ownership, Mozeliak succeeded him as general manager in October 2007, 10 months after Devine had died at age 90.
With Mozeliak as general manager, the Cardinals have won two National League pennants and a World Series title and have qualified for the postseason in six of his eight years in the club’s top baseball leadership role.
I asked Mozeliak in what ways does he anticipate the role of general manager will evolve and how, in 10 to 20 years, it will it be different than how it is today.
“The game has changed in the sense of total revenues … so just understanding this game from a more business perspective is required,” Mozeliak replied in his e-mail. “The demands on the different departments _ whether it’s international, amateur, scouting, or player development _ there are big costs to that, and running efficient and effective departments are critical.
“Most of my time, as boring as it may sound, is not necessarily focused just on the 25-man roster,” Mozeliak wrote. “It’s really making sure that we’re optimizing all those different areas that we touched on. So, I think as general managers’ roles change, it’s more about becoming a more efficient business.”