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Cardinals manager Mike Matheny possesses excellent leadership skills, but needs to continue to show progress on his ability to make strategic decisions during games, his boss, general manager John Mozeliak, told Cardinals bloggers.

Mozeliak and Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III were among those who addressed bloggers and answered their questions during the club’s 2014 Blogger Event on June 22 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

Asked to assess Matheny, the Cardinals’ third-year manager, Mozeliak cited Matheny’s leadership, saying the manager “understands people, relates very well.”

As for game management, Mozeliak said of Matheny, “That’s the evolution we are watching.”

In summary, Mozeliak said of  Matheny, “There’s no one else we’d rather see” as Cardinals manager.

Other newsworthy highlights of the session:

BALLPARK VILLAGE

DeWitt said revenue generated from the entertainment complex next to Busch Stadium “mostly goes to pay for that investment.”

Asked whether revenue from Ballpark Village would be reinvested in baseball operations, DeWitt said, “It’s too early to tell.”

DeWitt said expansion of Ballpark Village could include options such as a residential tower, office tower, hotel or retail complex.

OSCAR TAVERAS

Mozeliak said he told Matheny that if Taveras is with the Cardinals “you have to play him.”

Taveras, the outfield phenom, was sent to Class AAA Memphis after a short stint with the Cardinals.

Said Mozeliak: “He is an amazing player. He is going to hit. I imagine next time he’s here, he’s here for good.”

JULY 31 TRADE  DEADLINE

Mozeliak: “What we don’t want to do is make irrational decisions … July 31 is when irrational decisions are at their height.”

2014 CARDINALS SEASON

Mozeliak: “It hasn’t gone as planned … We thought it was going to be an offensive club.”

MEDIA GUIDE

Ron Watermon, Cardinals vice president of communications, said the franchise soon will debut a digital version of its media guide that will include a video of the Cardinal Way. He said the Cardinals will seek feedback from bloggers about the usefulness of the digital guide.

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ST. LOUIS — The Cardinals are spending millions of dollars on memorabilia in an effort to ensure their planned hall of fame and museum is first-rate. They also are getting a big assist from Stan Musial.

stan_musial23Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III and team general manager John Mozeliak met with invited bloggers for 45 minutes on Sunday afternoon, April 28, 2013, as part of the club’s annual Blogger Event.

Relaxed and talkative, DeWitt and Mozeliak answered every question asked of them in a lively and unrestricted question-and-answer session with bloggers in a Busch Stadium executive conference room.

DeWitt said the long-awaited Ballpark Village next to Busch Stadium “is on track for opening in spring of next year.”

“We’re really moving fast,” DeWitt said. “We should see steel come up in three or four weeks.”

Ballpark Village will have three anchor tenants, DeWitt said. Those are:

— Cardinals Nation. This will feature a Cardinals hall of fame and museum, bar, restaurant, store and party deck with a view into Busch Stadium, DeWitt said.

In addition to including Cardinals already in the National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y., the Cardinals Hall of Fame eventually will honor 50 to 70 other Cardinals, DeWitt said. He added the club still is working on the criteria for induction.

“We’ve been on the lookout for Cardinals memorabilia to buy for the museum,” DeWitt said. “We’ve spent $2 million on Cardinals memorabilia to beef up this museum.”

DeWitt added that one reason the club was confident it could house a museum was because of the quality of its Stan Musial collection. “Stan donated a substantial amount of his great memorabilia to the Cardinals in the late 1960s and early 1970s,” DeWitt said. “We’re very fortunate to have a collection of Musial stuff.”

— Brew Pub. This will showcase the international brands of Anheuser-Busch and may include a shuttle to the brewery for tours, DeWitt said.

— Live Marketplace. This will include a music stage and will be a place for special events. It will be enclosed, with a retractable glass roof, DeWitt said.

Asked whether the museum would include the St. Louis Browns uniform of midget Eddie Gaedel that belongs to DeWitt’s father, who was a Browns batboy and who now is the Cardinals’ owner, DeWitt explained that the uniform is at the National Baseball Hall of Fame but that “it would be fun” to see it displayed in the Cardinals’ museum for a while.

Two other topics discussed by DeWitt:

— Whether the Cardinals will settle on blue caps or red caps with their road uniforms: “It’s likely we’ll use blue caps on the road against teams that have red as the primary color in their outfits and we’ll use red caps against teams not wearing red.”

— On the future of Memphis as the Cardinals’ Class AAA affiliate: “We intend to be in Memphis for a long time as our Triple-A club.”

Here were answers from Mozeliak to some of the wide array of baseball questions he was asked:

— On whether he agrees with national media comparisons of Cardinals outfield prospect Oscar Taveras with former big-league standout Vladimir Guerrero: “I understand the comparison. Both are from the Dominican Republic. Guerrero was a free swinger, though I think Taveras is a little more disciplined. But, with Oscar at age 20, I think of two other hitters: Albert Pujols and J.D. Drew. Then there’s Oscar.”

— On the progress of Taveras and two other premier Cardinals prospects, pitcher Michael Wacha and second baseman Kolten Wong: “These guys are major-league ready. We just don’t have a spot for them … My job is to create opportunities for these guys. We’re not afraid to promote from within.”

— On whether it is inevitable that the designated hitter will be adopted by the National League: “I don’t feel it is. I don’t see it on the horizon. I’m not overly concerned if we switch to it. I hope we don’t.”

— On Cardinals rookie starter Shelby Miller: “A special arm who will be a front-of-the-rotation type in the future.”

— On developing a shortstop: “Looking three or four years down the road, no one jumps out at shortstop. We’ll look into the draft now or look to the international market to address that.”

— On whether he sought advice from Stan Musial, who was general manager of the 1967 Cardinals, on how to do the job: “I never did. My interactions with Stan were in social gatherings. A gentleman I did speak with about it was (former Cardinals and Mets general manager) Bing Devine. Bing was a very good mentor to me.”

Previously: Cardinals executives candid with bloggers

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I got a glimpse into the inner workings of the Cardinals organization and I was impressed by what I saw.

The Cardinals hosted their invitation-only 2012 Blogger Event on Sunday, Sept. 9, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. General manager John Mozeliak and team president Bill DeWitt III, son of the owner, met with select members of United Cardinal Bloggers in the Busch Stadium Conference Center, an elegant area ringed by glass-enclosed conference rooms that overlook the statues of Cardinals legends at the ballpark’s front entrance on Clark Avenue.

Mozeliak and DeWitt appeared relaxed and approachable, seated before the bloggers about an hour before the Cardinals began their game against the Brewers. They treated the bloggers with respect and answered them with candor.

Both of these progressive baseball executives opened their remarks by showing they understand how social media and credible bloggers benefit the Cardinals.

Mozeliak said the bloggers produce an “amazing amount of insight and content” about the franchise and complimented the bloggers for “the new ideas and nuances you bring to the table.”

Mozeliak reads the blogs. He said Cardinals bloggers generate “almost too much” information because there isn’t enough time in a day to read it all.

“You truly have a passion for a topic we hold close to our hearts,” Mozeliak said.

DeWitt said the Cardinals’ front office is seeking to become “an outreach organization at the social media level” and soon would develop ways to be more proactive in sending news and information direct to bloggers and through social media. He indicated more information from the front office may be geared for retweeting on Twitter rather than first being sent directly for mainstream media use.

Mozeliak and DeWitt also answered questions from the bloggers. The questions were smart and thoughtful and so were the answers.

Among the highlights:

— Mozeliak admitted it “has been a frustrating year from a baseball standpoint” for the Cardinals. He said the Cardinals knew there was a risk in counting on aging players such as pitcher Chris Carpenter, first baseman Lance Berkman and shortstop Rafael Furcal and that the breakdowns by those players because of injuries have been “an Achilles heel.”

With Berkman, for example, Mozeliak said, “Last year we rolled the dice and won the lottery. This year we lost all our money. That’s the cost of this game.”

— Mozeliak sees a bright future for the Cardinals because of a strong farm system that is stocked with talent. “We have a lot of depth. It is the strength of our organization,” he said. While some suggest the Cardinals should use the depth to make trades, Mozeliak sees it differently. “I look at those chips as assets (to be kept),” he said. That matches with an organizational philosophy to “focus on the long view” rather than the short view.

— DeWitt said the Cardinals, unlike the Astros, likely would have rejected $50 million to $60 million to move to the American League in 2013, partly because “I hate the designated hitter rule. My dad does, too.”

— Asked to assess the performance of first-year manager Mike Matheny, Mozeliak replied, “He has done an amazing job.” Mozeliak explained that Matheny’s “leadership is superb” and that the rookie manager “commands the respect of the players.” He indicated Matheny will be around for a while, calling the investment in Matheny “a long-term decision.”

— Mozeliak indicated the Cardinals work to prepare their minor leaguers for success because “St. Louis demands winning.” He cited outfielder Jon Jay and first baseman Allen Craig as examples of players whose success in the minors prepared them to handle well the pressures of performing for the Cardinals.

— The Cardinals are experiencing “challenges internally” about which avenues to take in investing in international player development and the franchise “doesn’t have a concrete path going forward.”

— Regarding Dave Duncan, the pitching coach under former manager Tony La Russa who resigned to tend to his ailing wife, Mozeliak said, “Dave is where he needs to be. Tony is where he wants to be.”

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A bonus to being able to interview Cardinals broadcaster and ex-pitcher Rick Horton at Cardinals Legends Camp Jan. 27 was the chance to watch a few innings of a game between former players and the campers at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla.

Because the public isn’t allowed to attend the games, there were only about five people in the stands — likely friends or relatives of the players. So the event took on a “Field of Dreams” aura as Hall of Fame players such as Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith and Bruce Sutter stepped onto the field in crisp, white Cardinals uniforms to play inside a ballpark so empty it might as well have been an Iowa cornfield.

Sitting along the right-field line in the warm sunshine, I regrettably had only about 20 minutes to watch the action before having to return to my day job.

Pitching for the Cardinals was Dave LaPoint, the left-hander nicknamed “Snacks” who was a member of the 1982 World Series champions’ starting rotation.

Brian Jordan and Tom Lawless and Tom Pagnozzi were among those in the field. Sutter coached first base. And playing shortstop, wearing the familiar No. 1 and still looking to be in big-league shape, was The Wizard, Ozzie Smith.

In the home half of the first inning, Smith, batting second, stepped into the left side of the batter’s box against a right-handed camper. The first couple of pitches missed the strike zone. Smith, giving the camper his money’s worth, swung at several subsequent pitches out of the strike zone, fouling off one offering after another until he got one to his liking.

When the right pitch came, Smith uncoiled and launched a high fly ball into medium right field, near where I was sitting. The camper stationed in right looked into the sun and staggered, trying to follow the ball’s flight and gauge where it might land.

He extended both arms, the glove on his left hand turned up, and prepared for the ball to fall. It landed halfway up one arm, near the edge of his shirtsleeve. With arms still stretched outward, he brought them together as the ball rolled toward his hands as if on a conveyor belt.

For a moment, it appeared the ball might travel down his arms and into the glove. But then it slipped off his wrist and off his glove and toward the outfield grass. The fielder lurched forward, reached out with his bare right hand and snagged the ball, just as it was about to hit the ground.

“Out!” was the umpire’s correct call.

Ozzie Smith, who had circled first base and was headed to second, flashed a smile and headed back to the Cardinals’ third-base dugout, taking a good-natured razzing along the way from campers and Cardinals teammates.

Witnessing that gave me a sense for the special vibes that come from Cardinals Legend Camp. The retired players clearly enjoy being together again and being on the ballfield.

“That’s the neat thing about this camp _ the access to the players,” said camper Joe Pfeiffer, a Cardinals account executive. “These players want to be here. It’s genuine _ which makes it better for the campers.”

The camp, which was launched with significant help from broadcaster and former pitcher Al Hrabosky, is in its 12th year. Rick Horton has participated in 10 of the camps.

“It’s just been a blast every time I come down here,” Horton told me. “The fun we have here is unprecedented. Anything else I do the entire year _ nothing is as fun as this camp.”

Proceeds from the weeklong camp benefit Hire Heroes USA, a non-profit group that helps military veterans and their spouses find jobs after the completion of their service time.

“They do phenomenal work with job placement and counseling for people who are trying to get back into the workplace after their military service,” Horton said. “They really try to encourage businesses to hire heroes, people who have given an awful lot to our country, and kind of give them a head start into assimilating into a nice job opportunity.”

Asked about pitching in a camp game the day before, Horton described the feeling of being reconnected with former Cardinals teammates and the special bond they maintain.

“Sometimes we wonder, ‘Whose fantasy is this, really?’ ” said Horton. “I fielded a ground ball back to me yesterday. I turn around and throw the ball to Ozzie Smith. He jumps straight up in the air, avoids the slide and throws on to first base for a double play. I got to tell you, it was a rush for me. 

“I know I’m getting out a dentist or a doctor or a lawyer, but just to be on the field with Ozzie again _ I really want to be a part of that. Playing is what gets us back to the relationships we were in 25 years ago. So that’s part of the magic of this.

“The campers see us transform into players again. They see us get into that persona again. It’s a thing that’s very special, very meaningful. It’s a part of our lives that will never really go away and this gives us a chance to celebrate it.”

Previously: Rick Horton discusses the 2012 Cardinals

Previously: Rick Horton pays tribute to Bob Forsch

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In participation with a United Cardinal Bloggers project, here are my choices for the top 5 iconic moments in Cardinals history:

1: STAN MUSIAL’S FINAL AT-BAT

What happened: In a fitting ending to an illustrious career, Stan Musial went out like he came in. Playing in his final big-league game on Sept. 29, 1963, against the Reds at St. Louis, Musial broke a scoreless tie in the sixth by smacking a single past second baseman Pete Rose, scoring Curt Flood. Lifted for a pinch-runner, Musial left to a thunderous ovation. He finished his final game with two hits and a RBI. Boxscore Ever consistent, Musial began his career in similar fashion, getting two hits and two RBI in his big-league debut on Sept. 17, 1941, against the Braves at St. Louis. Boxscore The Cardinals won both games by the same score: 3-2. For his career, Musial had 3,630 hits (1,815 at home and 1,815 on the road).

Why it qualifies: The final at-bat brought to a close the career of the greatest Cardinal. No Cardinal has been more outstanding.

Fun fact: After being lifted from the game, Jim Maloney, the Reds pitcher who gave up the two hits to Musial, went to the St. Louis clubhouse to seek out the retiring Cardinal and tell him, “It was a pleasure watching you play ball.”

Top quote: “It was a great day and I’m grateful that I was able to do something well in my last game.” _ Stan Musial to the Associated Press.

2: THE STRIKEOUT OF TONY LAZZERI

What happened: On Oct. 10, in Game 7 of the 1926 World Series at New York, the Cardinals led 3-2. In the seventh, the Yankees loaded the bases with two outs against starter Jesse Haines, who split a finger on his pitching hand. Cardinals manager Rogers Hornsby called on Grover Cleveland Alexander to relieve. Alexander had pitched a complete game the day before in the Cardinals’ Game 6 victory. Boxscore Facing rookie Tony Lazzeri, who had 18 home runs and 114 RBI that season, Alexander struck him out on four pitches. Alexander shut down the Yankees with 2.1 hitless innings, earning a save to go with two World Series wins and preserving the 3-2 St. Louis victory. Boxscore

Why it qualifies: By defeating the Yankees and winning their first World Series championship, the Cardinals transformed from a perennial also-ran into an elite franchise in the National League.

Fun fact: Alexander faced seven batters in Game 7. None of the first six hit the ball out of the infield. The seventh, Babe Ruth, walked with two outs in the ninth and was thrown out attempting to steal.

Top quote: “I knew he was all rattled and nervous and would go after anything, so I gave him a low curve a foot and a half from the plate and he swung and missed.” _ Grover Cleveland Alexander to The Sporting News, describing the pitch on which he struck out Tony Lazzeri.

3: DAVID FREESE’S HOME RUN

What happened: On Oct. 27, in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series at St. Louis, third baseman David Freese, whose two-out, two-run triple in the ninth tied the score, delivered a game-winning home run to lead off the 11th. The Cardinals rallied from deficits of 1-0, 3-2, 4-3, 7-4 and 9-7 against the Rangers to win 10-9 in 11 innings. St. Louis became the first team to score in the eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th innings of a World Series game. The Cardinals were within one strike of elimination in the ninth and 10th innings, and survived. Boxscore

Why it qualifies: The home run capped the most dramatic World Series comeback victory in Cardinals history. It advanced the Cardinals to Game 7 and they clinched their 11th World Series title.

Fun fact: Freese became the fourth Cardinal to receive the World Series Most Valuable Player Award, joining pitcher Bob Gibson (1964 and 1967), catcher Darrell Porter (1982) and shortstop David Eckstein (2006).

Top quote: “Your Game 6 performance, David, will turn out to be one for the ages.” _ Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, in presenting the World Series MVP Award to David Freese.

4: ENOS SLAUGHTER’S DASH TO HOME PLATE

What happened: On Oct. 15, in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series at St. Louis, the Cardinals’ Enos Slaughter was on first base with two outs and the score tied, 3-3. Harry Walker hit a line drive that dropped into center where Leon Culberson (who had replaced an injured Dom DiMaggio) fielded the ball and threw to the cutoff man, shortstop Johnny Pesky. Slaughter rounded third and dashed toward the plate. Pesky appeared to hesitate before throwing to the catcher as Slaughter slid home safely. The daring baserunning gave the Cardinals a 4-3 victory and the championship. Boxscore

Why it qualifies: Slaughter’s hustle symbolized the smart and sound Cardinals teams that dominated the National League in the 1940s. The Cardinals won four pennants and three World Series championships in the decade and finished second five times.

Fun fact: Slaughter credited third-base coach Mike Gonzalez for waving him to home plate as soon as he reached third. It was redemption for Gonzalez, who was criticized after Game 4 when two Cardinals baserunners he waved home were thrown out at the plate.

Top quote: “They say if Pesky hadn’t held the throw I would have been out by a country mile. I don’t know about that. I know the throw to the plate was a little wide, up the third-base line. I also know I had to score.” _ Enos Slaughter to International News Service.

5: OZZIE SMITH’S HOME RUN

What happened: In Game 5 of the best-of-seven National League Championship Series on Oct. 14, 1985, at St. Louis, shortstop Ozzie Smith snapped a 2-2 tie with a one-out home run in the ninth against Dodgers reliever Tom Niedenfuer, giving St. Louis a 3-2 victory. Boxscore It was the first home run Smith hit left-handed in eight years as a big-leaguer.

Why it qualifies: The blast (along with broadcaster Jack Buck’s memorable call of “Go crazy, folks! Go crazy!”) symbolized the spirit of manager Whitey Herzog’s 1980s Cardinals clubs and helped clinch Smith’s reputation as a Hall of Fame legend.

Fun fact: Niedenfuer said the pitch was supposed to be up and in to Smith, but instead was down and in. That mistake enabled Smith to drop the head of the bat on the ball and golf it over the right-field wall.

Top quote: “All I was trying to do was get the ball down the line, into the corner. Fortunately, I got enough to put it out. It was exciting.” _ Ozzie Smith to the Associated Press.

Previously: Stan Musial ranks with best walkoff homer hitters

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In participation with a United Cardinal Bloggers postseason roundtable, we asked the question, “Who is your No. 1 choice to replace Tony La Russa as Cardinals manager, and why?”

The majority of respondents chose Rays manager Joe Maddon (a lifelong Cardinals fan). He received full support from 11 bloggers and partial support from four others.

Cardinals coach Jose Oquendo and former Phillies and Red Sox manager Terry Francona (whose father, Tito Francona, played for the Cardinals in 1965-66) also got prominent consideration. Oquendo got full support from four bloggers and partial support from one other. Francona got full support from three bloggers and partial support from one other.

One of the most original suggestions was former Cardinals catcher Tony Pena, who has managed the Royals and is a coach with the Yankees.

Here are the responses:

(more…)

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