As John Mozeliak enters his 10th season as the Cardinals' general manager, he and his team are preparing to do something they have never done: Chase the World Series champion Cubs.St. Louis' chief rival from Chicago snapped its legendary 108-year championship drought last fall, hardly the ending to the season
As John Mozeliak enters his 10th season as the Cardinals' general manager, he and his team are preparing to do something they have never done: Chase the World Series champion Cubs.
St. Louis' chief rival from Chicago snapped its legendary 108-year championship drought last fall, hardly the ending to the season the Cards -- who missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010, and only the third time in Mozeliak's first nine years as GM -- had envisioned when they gathered in Jupiter, Fla., a year ago.
Mozeliak sat down in his office at Roger Dean Stadium to discuss his path to the GM's office, drafting Jose Pujols (and subsequently watching him leave St. Louis), his feelings on the 2017 Cardinals and much more.
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MLB.com: You have one of the more interesting stories when it comes to how you broke into baseball. How did that come about?
Mozeliak: I had a good friend who works for the Yankees now, but was with the Colorado Rockies, by the name of Jay Darnell. He had contacted me, and kind of two-fold said they needed some help down there with the Rockies' expansion team, and also he had a couple of players that were interested in perhaps going fishing. I grew up in Colorado and was connected to that, so he called me and ultimately I ended up taking Bryn Smith out and had a nice relationship with him. That was really my first sort of like foot-in-the-door type of thing. Obviously, it led to an amazing journey and one that, when you think about timing and luck, it was there.
MLB.com: So your first job with the Rockies, you were a batting-practice pitcher?
Mozeliak: I did throw batting practice. I helped out in the video room. Bob Gebhard hired me, and I worked in a variety of different roles for that organization. That's ultimately where I met Walt Jocketty. When Walt got the GM job here in St. Louis, he took me with him.
MLB.com: What did you learn most from those early days with the Rockies that helped you as you made your way through your career?
Mozeliak: When I think back to those times, one of the things that I recognized, and was also fearful of, was my lack of playing background; I thought [that] might not allow me to advance in the game. Going back almost 25 years, the game fortunately has changed. My background was more business, was more in the computer world, so fortunately for me, the evolution of the industry changed. Geb and Walt, those guys gave me opportunities to see the traditional baseball side of the business, but ultimately for me, I think my sweet spot was as the game changed, I was able to go with it.
MLB.com: At what point did the idea of becoming a general manager first enter your mind?
Mozeliak: In '99, I was named scouting director. At that point, I thought it was possible. It wasn't like I was actively pursuing it. Of course, I didn't get named [GM] until '07, so it took a while. But I did interview for my first GM job in '04 with the Reds.
MLB.com: You just led me into my next question. You interviewed for GM jobs with the Reds and Astros before ultimately getting this job. What did you learn from those interview processes that maybe helped you when you finally got to where you are now?
Mozeliak: I think when you go through that, you sort of have an understanding of what your clients want -- meaning your ownership. Both those organizations were in different spots, trying to, at the time, still win. Given where I was coming from, we were having a lot of success with the Cardinals. Trying to just replicate what you do in one particular organization, to try to do it somewhere else, you have to be patient. You may have to go backwards before you can go forward, and sometimes people don't want to hear that.
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MLB.com: You hired Mike Matheny as the manager despite his lack of managing experience. That's occurred more and more, it seems, in recent years. How big of a leap of faith is that, to bring in somebody to lead your team who has never held that position before?
Mozeliak: Certainly there is some risk, there's no doubt about it. I think when you understand your culture and what you have, it's almost more important to have someone that you think will fit into that than necessarily looking at just experience. Bill DeWitt always teases me that he values intelligence more than experience. That was something that I tried to use, too, in my thinking of trying to fill positions. I don't feel like necessarily it's what you've done, but what you're going to do.
MLB.com: You were the scouting director when Pujols and Yadier Molina were both drafted. At what point in their careers did you realize the type of players they were?
Mozeliak: Albert was quite quick. As you remember, he burst on the scene. He spent one year in the Minor Leagues; he started out at a full-season [Class] A club and ended up at Triple-A. He really set his path. The following spring, if Bobby Bonilla doesn't get hurt, maybe Albert's story is a little different, but I think it would have been just delayed slightly. In the end, an MVP-type caliber player from Day 1.
MLB.com: And Yadi?
Mozeliak: Yadi, we had a catching instructor named Dave Ricketts. I remember him telling me after spending 48 hours with Yadi that we had a Gold Glove catcher on our hands. For him, I always believed he was so good defensively, he kept getting promoted. Offensively, he just wasn't ever able to catch up in the Minor Leagues. Subsequently, finally at the big leagues, after maybe a year of a learning curve, he figured that out, too. But I think early on, we realized we had someone special.
MLB.com: There are those who believe sabermetrics are more important than traditional scouting. Do you think scouting has become less important to teams around the Major Leagues, or do you just think that analytics have caught up with it in terms of its importance?
Mozeliak: I can't speak for 29 other teams, but I can just tell you how we think about it. You can't do one without the other, so if you're trying to determine what you should weigh more, you're probably wasting time. If you can strike that right balance of how you think about player evaluations, and [how] you value the analytical world and you value the scouting world, I think that's going to put you in a most optimal place for success. I will say, technology is allowing us to do more and more that maybe even three or five years ago, we weren't able to measure. I do feel like it continues to let us get smarter on how to make decisions, but when you think about the world of scouting, there are some things you still have to do in Latin America, some things you have to do in the amateur world that the tools you might be using at the Major League level or Minor League level don't exist.
MLB.com: MLB's Statcast™ has introduced some metrics into the game over the past couple years. How do you view those? Do you think it has changed the way fans -- and clubs -- look at the game?
Mozeliak: I think fans are starting to understand that more things can be measured -- and they find that interesting. I think that's good for baseball, because you think about the younger generation right now, they tend to like to look at their phones or their iPads. If they're able to read it and see it that way, it might make them more interested in what they're seeing on the field.
MLB.com: We're five-plus years removed from Pujols' free agency. Looking back, how difficult was it to watch him leave St. Louis?
Mozeliak: Obviously, this is one of those hindsight questions. He was an iconic player for the Cardinals. It was arguably an amazing run when he was with us, just on a personal performance standpoint, as well as team success. In a perfect world, you'd like to see the player never have to leave, but our game has changed. It's not the 1950s; it's 2017, and it's a business. As difficult as it was to see him leave, as difficult as it is to see him not wear a Cardinals uniform, in the industry, you understand it's possible.
MLB.com: As a GM, when you're in a situation like that, is it tough to separate emotion from the business or is that just something you have to train yourself to do?
Mozeliak: It is. To do this job well, you have to separate, but it's hard. There's always a personal element to this business. We're not selling tires; we're dealing with baseball players, and baseball players are human. You get to know these individuals and some of them you become friends with, so there is that connection or tie. I always try to explain it to people that aren't in the industry: If they were working with their best friend and all of a sudden they had to end the relationship -- the business relationship -- would that be something they welcomed or would it be a challenge? Most people would find that challenging.
MLB.com: You serve as the national trustee for the Foundation Fighting Blindness. How did you get involved with them and why was that important for you?
Mozeliak: A father reached out to me, told me a story. He has a son, Jack Morris, who at the time was probably 7 or 8 years old and was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease. The story was heartbreaking. They had recently painted a boat with glow-in-the-dark paint, they went in the bathroom to look at it. The dad showed it to Jack and Jack's like, "I don't see it." Dad realized something was wrong and that's when [Jack] was diagnosed. Getting to know the family, getting to know young Jack, it was just something that I felt like if I could help with, I would. It's grown into a much larger commitment and it's something I'm proud to support.
MLB.com: What was it like for you to watch the Cubs win the World Series last fall?
MLB.com: You knew that was coming.
Mozeliak: Obviously, there's a lot made out of our rivalry and what have you. I looked at it as it was a great series. It was, I think, great for baseball that you had two teams that hadn't been in the World Series for a while competing. As much as I would have preferred to see the St. Louis Cardinals in there, I thought it was an entertaining seven games.
MLB.com: Do you like the challenge of having a team like the Cubs in your division?
Mozeliak: I would say this: When you look at the last 15 years of the Cardinals, there's always been some team. Milwaukee was strong for a while, Cincinnati was strong, Pittsburgh has been strong. There's always somebody competitive. I think the difference between the three teams I just mentioned and Chicago is just resources. We sort of always joked that there's a sleeping giant out there -- and it's been awoken.
MLB.com: With them having gone as long as they did without winning, it was always them chasing the World Series -- and you were one of the teams usually in their way. Do you feel like you're chasing them now?
Mozeliak: I think that's fair. I mean, obviously, they won. I think we finished 17 games behind them last year. I would say that's chasing. Just from a credibility standpoint, we're still a well-respected organization, but their most recent success would mean we have some work to do.
Mark Feinsand is an executive reporter for MLB.com.