Thirty years ago, the Cardinals forced out general manager Joe McDonald, friend and working partner of Whitey Herzog. The move signaled to Herzog, the Cardinals’ manager, that he, too, was vulnerable and could be ousted if his club didn’t contend in 1985.
Herzog responded by leading the Cardinals to National League pennants in two of the next three seasons (1985 and ’87), securing his reputation as an innovative winner and capping a managerial career that would lead to his election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
On Jan. 3, 1985, Cardinals owner Gussie Busch said McDonald, the franchise’s general manager since 1982, had resigned and would remain with the club as a consultant. While vaguely acknowledging McDonald had made “a number of contributions to the team,” Busch also said “a change was needed to build the club into a pennant winner.”
In The Sporting News, Rick Hummel noted that Busch’s statement “did not sound as if the move (by McDonald) was voluntary.” McDonald, 55, confirmed as much, telling the Associated Press he intended to “look for another job” and was “too young to retire.”
After the Cardinals won the World Series championship in 1982 with Herzog as manager and McDonald as general manager, they finished fourth in the six-team NL East in 1983 and third in 1984.
Expectations were the Cardinals would finish out of contention in 1985, too. After the 1984 season, closer Bruce Sutter had become a free agent and bolted the Cardinals for the Braves. McDonald then dealt the club’s top run producer, right fielder George Hendrick, to the Pirates.
Concern about the direction the Cardinals were headed was one reason Busch was unhappy with McDonald. Another: Busch was irked that McDonald hadn’t informed him about personal problems plaguing Cardinals outfielder David Green, who was entering a treatment center.
In his book, “That’s a Winner,” Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck wrote, “McDonald made the mistake of not informing Mr. Busch before the story was in the news. Busch had made it clear he did not want to be surprised by anything he heard about his team. He wanted the information first _ and that was one of the reasons McDonald was fired as general manager.”
In a story headlined “Herzog’s Future Could Be In Doubt,” Hummel wrote, “Now that Joe McDonald has resigned, or been fired, as the St. Louis Cardinals general manager, what will become of manager Whitey Herzog, McDonald’s close friend? … Herzog couldn’t be blamed for wondering what the future of the Cardinals is … His input in the organization seems to have been lessened considerably in the past couple of years.”
A three-man executive committee of Busch, attorney Lou Susman and chief operating officer Fred Kuhlman played a larger role in key Cardinals decisions.
Wrote Hummel, “Herzog and McDonald found it increasingly difficult to work within that framework because they had to get approval from the executive committee on most proposed transactions and, as often as not, they could not find all three members of the committee in town at the same time.”
In his book “White Rat: A Life in Baseball,” Herzog said, “I’d never seen an organization that was as screwed up as ours was when 1985 began.”
Met as Mets
McDonald and Herzog worked together in the Mets organization from 1966-72. In 1967, Bing Devine, the former Cardinals general manager who had become a Mets executive, named McDonald director of scouting and Herzog director of player development.
Herzog went on to become a big-league manager. McDonald became general manager of the Mets in 1975, replacing Bob Scheffing, and held that position through 1979 until new ownership replaced him with Frank Cashen.
McDonald and Herzog were reunited in 1980 when McDonald joined the Cardinals as assistant to Herzog, who was both general manager and manager.
In February 1982, Herzog, tired of negotiating player contracts, suggested to Busch that McDonald should become general manager. Busch agreed and the announcement was made in April 1982.
Life after Cardinals
After the Cardinals ousted McDonald, they contracted with Tal Smith, a consultant and longtime baseball executive, to assist them in a search for a replacement. On Feb. 25, 1985, Dal Maxvill, the former Cardinals shortstop, was named general manager.
Meanwhile, McDonald pursued his plan to find another front-office job.
In 1987, McDonald joined the Tigers as director of player development. He replaced Bill Lajoie as Tigers general manager in 1991 and held that position for two years before he was replaced by Jerry Walker.
After leaving the Tigers, McDonald became a scout for the Angels, Rockies and Red Sox. He was a Red Sox scout when they won World Series championships against the Cardinals in 2004 and 2013.