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Taking flight : the St. Louis Cardinals and the building of baseball's best franchise / Rob Rains.

Rains, Rob. (Author).
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Location Call Number / Copy Notes Barcode Shelving Location Status Due Date
Newburgh Chandler PL - Chandler Branch Library 796.357 RAINS 2016 (Text) 39206021397417 NonFiction Available -

Record details

  • ISBN: 9781629370859
  • ISBN: 1629370851
  • Physical Description: xv, 255 pages : color illustrations ; 24 cm
  • Publisher: Chicago, Illinois : Triumph Books, 2016.

Content descriptions

Summary, etc.:
"While there are 30 teams in Major League Baseball, all striving to reach the World Series every year, there are very few which realistically go into any season with the actual possibility of getting there. The St. Louis Cardinals, however, have enjoyed that success with different managers, different players and different people performing key roles in the organization. Written by veteran sportswriter and Cardinals insider Rob Rains - the author of 31 books, including 17 on the Cardinals - Taking Flight will answer two basic questions - what makes the Cardinals different from other organizations, and why are they so successful? Rains will examine the organization's minor league and scouting departments to determine how those departments interact during the course of a season and illustrating how all decisions are made with a common goal in mind - the success of the major league team. Perhaps the most important man in the history of the organization was George Kissell. Hired by Branch Rickey in 1940, Kissell would spend the next 69 years in the organization, 60 of them as a coach, instructor, and caretaker of the team's farm system. Among the future managers who came under Kissell's tutelage were Sparky Anderson, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and the Cardinals' current manager, Mike Matheny. Kissell's imprint is still everywhere on the Cardinals' organization, nearly five years after his death. So too is the work of longtime coach and catching instructor Dave Ricketts, the man who first trained Matheny and later, Yadier Molina. It is the men such as Kissell and Ricketts, who worked for years without fame or notoriety, who helped mold the Cardinals into the franchise it is today. They are not alone"-- Provided by publisher.
Subject: St. Louis Cardinals (Baseball team)
SPORTS & RECREATION > Baseball > General.
TRAVEL > United States > Midwest > West North Central (IA, KS, MN, MO, ND, NE, SD)

Taking Flight

The St. Louis Cardinals and the Building of Baseball's Best Franchise

By Rob Rains

Triumph Books LLC

Copyright © 2016 Rob Rains
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62937-085-9


Foreword by Whitey Herzog,
1. John Mozeliak,
2. Mark DeJohn,
3. Mike Shildt,
4. Mitch Harris,
5. Trey Nielsen,
6. Collin Radack,
7. Dirk Kinney,
8. Derek Gibson,
9. Brian Hopkins,
10. Paul DeJong,
11. Moises Rodriguez,
12. Alex Reyes,
13. Aledmys Diaz,
14. Matt Slater,
15. Jacob Wilson,
16. Rowan Wick,
17. Davis Ward,
18. Arturo Reyes,
19. Jordan Swagerty,
20. Ben Yokley,
21. Oscar Mercado,
22. Jack Flaherty,
23. Austin Gomber,
24. Blake McKnight,
25. Xavier Scruggs,
26. Carson Kelly,
27. Oliver Marmol,
28. Steve Turco,
29. Travis Tartamella,
Photo Gallery,


John Mozeliak

The Colorado Rockies were just beginning their inaugural season in 1993 when John Mozeliak answered a phone call from a friend who had gone to work as the team's video coordinator.

Jay Darnell had coached Mozeliak in American Legion ball for three years in Boulder, Colorado. He was calling to see if Mozeliak, who had graduated about a year earlier from the University of Colorado with a business degree, would be interested in becoming one of the Rockies' batting-practice pitchers.

Mozeliak had the only real qualification that mattered to the team — he threw left-handed.

At the time, Mozeliak said, "I was still trying to decide where I was going and what I might do. It started with a very simple phone call."

Mozeliak was soon throwing BP to Andres Galaragga, Dante Bichette, and the rest of the Rockies, and, gradually, found himself getting more involved in other assignments in the organization.

"It was something I didn't think would necessarily lead to a career," Mozeliak said. "But I was getting exposure to different elements of the baseball operations department. I started to realize that maybe I could help contribute to the department along the way. The one I was most interested in at the time was scouting because your playing background did not necessarily impede you from having success."

Mozeliak worked with Rockies general manager Bob Gebhard and assistant GM Walt Jocketty for more than two years.

In 1994, Jocketty was hired as the general manager of the Cardinals, and he offered Mozeliak a chance to move to St. Louis and work as an assistant in the scouting department.

"Before I accepted the job with Walt, what I wanted to know was that he would allow me to learn more about how decision-making worked in baseball," Mozeliak said. "I didn't want to just come in and help with the infrastructure, software, or the computer system, and in a year or two find myself going nowhere. "That was the trade-off of me coming to the Cardinals."

It turned out Mozeliak didn't need to worry about "going nowhere." He steadily rose through a variety of jobs in the front office, becoming assistant GM to Jocketty in 2003.

"I was very fortunate to work with a lot of people who gave me opportunities," he said. "Getting exposure to a lot of different elements of the organization, that all helps define me today."

Mozeliak worked as assistant scouting director, scouting director, and director of baseball operations prior to his promotion to assistant GM.

That was the same year Cardinals chairman William DeWitt Jr., the head of a group which agreed to purchase the Cardinals from Anheuser-Busch in 1995, hired a young business executive, Jeff Luhnow, to fill a new position, vice president of baseball development.

"Mr. DeWitt made a conscious effort to redirect the organization and take a more analytical approach, ramping up the scouting department," Mozeliak said. "In turn we were able to have success in the draft, not only at the top but throughout the draft with a sophisticated approach of using scouts and statistics in a joint effort."

The change was not entirely smooth, however, with different factions — the analytics side and the baseball side — often at odds with each other. One of Mozeliak's jobs was to be a buffer between the two sides, but by the end of the 2007 season, DeWitt knew he could not tolerate the acrimony in the front office any longer. Jocketty was dismissed, and a month later, the 38-year-old Mozeliak was named the 12th general manager in franchise history.

It has been under Mozeliak's leadership that the Cardinals have continued to emphasize the blend of analytics, scouting, and player development as a means to achieving success at both the major-league and minor-league level.

"For our major-league success we have to have four strong pillars and we typically define them as international, the amateur draft, player development, and our baseball development group," Mozeliak said. "If those four legs are strong, the major-league team will be as well."

The Cardinals were perhaps at the forefront, and certainly had more success than other teams, in figuring out the proper way to blend the old-school and new-school approaches to analyzing data and player evaluations, on both the amateur and professional side.

"The simple way to think about it is we were just trying to increase our odds for success," Mozeliak said. "Ultimately the more we dove into this and took a more analytical approach we realized we were just strengthening our own decisions or having more positive outcomes.

"It's always fluid because you are always learning and things change, but I will say from just a disciplinary standpoint we know that sticking to this gives us the best chance of highest probability for positive results."

The Cardinals also underwent a change in leadership on the player development side, a department now headed by Gary LaRocque, who was first hired as senior special assistant to Mozeliak in 2008 after a long career with the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers.

"Under Gary I think you are seeing this system producing at a very high level," Mozeliak said. "He has been able to optimize how we do our business at the minor-league level. He has a very detailed curriculum for each player that does allow us to optimize their success."

The Cardinals, unlike many teams, actually own four of their seven minor-league franchises — the Triple A Memphis Redbirds, the Double A Springfield Cardinals, the high Class A Palm Beach Cardinals, and the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Cardinals. Only the low Class A Peoria Chiefs and rookie-level State College, Pennsylvania, Spikes and Johnson City, Tennessee, Cardinals have independent ownership.

"I don't think owning those franchises moves the needle all that much, but it does help," Mozeliak said. "The reason being, we in essence control the environment of what our players are in. If there is ever a breakdown or something isn't going as we would like, we can look at ourselves and make a change."

Another well-publicized ingredient to the organization's success has been the entire "Cardinal way" concept. Some people have characterized it as more of a moral standard, but it really is, Mozeliak said, just an organization-wide operating philosophy that emphasizes fundamentals and doing things the right way.

"A lot of people ask me what 'the Cardinal way' means," Mozeliak said. "I usually summarize it as, we understand and have great appreciation for our history, we understand what our job is today, but we also have an eye on our future. That's really what that means to me.

"When you are looking at a way to position your messaging, it just grew into 'the Cardinal way.' It's not something where we were trying to create our mission statement along those lines. We are really just trying to build our foundation from the bottom up of what we want our players to learn and understand.

"Not every team has that first part (our history). We inherited that. Look at the '20s, '30s, '40s — success. Fifties tough, '60s success, '70s tough, '80s success, '90s tough, and now currently success. What it shows you is a pretty good road map to capture a fan base."

Cardinals fans have indeed responded to the team's success. The team has drawn more than 3 million fans for each of the past 12 seasons and did not have a single crowd of less than 40,000 for any home game in the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

Mozeliak is smart enough, however, to realize that just because the Cardinals have achieved that success does not mean it is endowed to them in perpetuity. Other teams have noticed what they have done, and are quickly closing the gap.

"I think in general the league is catching up to us," he said. "I do still think we have a small advantage, but it's shrinking. It's the competitive nature of our business. Other people look at the best practices and try to copy and replicate. Our front office will continue to be challenged as we work hard for employee retention. We have a talented group and teams continue to look at us (to fill their) front office jobs."

Other teams no doubt envy the Cardinals' continuity at key positions in the organization. Since DeWitt bought the club 20 years ago, the team has had only two managers, Tony La Russa through 2011 and then Mike Matheny, and two general managers, Jocketty through 2007 and then Mozeliak. Most of the team's key scouting and player development personnel have worked in the organization for years.

"Not having to re-teach is important. You have people who understand what is expected," Mozeliak said. "For the most part I get a sense that people enjoy doing their jobs here."

One of the few positions which has been in flux over the years is scouting director, where Luhnow left to become GM of the Houston Astros, Dan Kantrovitz left to become assistant GM for the Oakland A's, and Chris Correa had to be let go after he was linked to an FBI investigation into a breach of the Astros' internal computer database.

Former Cardinals pitcher Randy Flores was hired by Mozeliak to serve as the new scouting director in August of 2015, another example of the organization looking for ways to take something it is doing well and try to do it even better.

"I don't think many people saw it coming, but I have a great appreciation for his business acumen and I think from a scouting standpoint he understands the game," Mozeliak said. "There will be an intense learning curve for him but I think from a leadership and management standpoint he will fit right in."

It was a decision, Mozeliak admits, designed to keep the Cardinals moving forward as an organization.

"I think what is most important to all of us who are part of that decision tree is that we understand this is a very fluid environment, a very competitive environment, and we need to adapt and change with it," he said.

"As the industry changes, as the competition changes, we have to stay in the forefront or on the cutting edge of innovation and understanding that collaboration with our group is important. Bill (DeWitt) and I both understand what today looks like, but we also have an eye on tomorrow."

That vision for the Cardinals of tomorrow is also the focus of all of the managers, coaches, roving instructors, and scouts whose job it is to identify and mold the players who will soon be wearing the Birds on the Bat, trying to continue to make the Cardinals baseball's best franchise.


Mark DeJohn

Being fired turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened in Mark DeJohn's baseball life. It was the reason he got to spend 22 years with George Kissell.

"He was an amazing guy," DeJohn said. "He was a guy you just loved being around."

Kissell became a friend and mentor to DeJohn after the two met in 1986, when DeJohn was hired by the Cardinals as a minor-league manager. Years after Kissell's death his lessons are still being passed down to players through instructors and managers in the farm system such as DeJohn.

DeJohn has spent all but one of the last 30 years working for the Cardinals. One of the biggest reasons was the presence of Kissell.

"One of the things I tell guys all the time is that I wish they could have experienced George," DeJohn said. "Our managers would absolutely love him. The one thing you didn't want to do was get him mad. That's when he would go, 'Let me tell you something. I haven't told you everything I know.'"

What it didn't take long for DeJohn to learn after he came to work for the Cardinals was that Kissell knew a lot.

Originally drafted in the 23 round by the Mets in 1971 as an infielder, DeJohn spent nine of his 13 years as a minor-league player at the Triple A level, both for the Mets and the Detroit Tigers. His playing career in the majors lasted for 24 games with the Tigers in 1982, in which he had four hits in 21 at-bats.

"I tell players now that, yeah, I played in the big leagues, but that wasn't my goal when I started," he said. "I got there because people liked me."

Once he started working for the Cardinals, it didn't take DeJohn long to realize that Kissell liked him, too.

The story of how DeJohn came to work for the Cardinals definitely includes a couple of odd twists and turns.

DeJohn might never have joined the Cardinals if things had worked out better for him when he was in his first season as a minor-league manager in 1985, having been hired by the Tigers following his playing career to manage their Double A team in Birmingham.

"They kind of made some promises to me and didn't fulfill them," DeJohn said. "They brought in somebody to watch us play a doubleheader in Orlando and it turned out it was Art Howe. They said if he wanted the job they were going to give it to him. I got mad and told the farm director to tell the general manager that I was mad and was going to look for a job in another organization at the end of the year.

"They called me the next morning and said, 'You can start looking now, you're fired.' It was a mistake on my part. I let my emotions take over instead of just calming down. It was almost like the Lord was leading me to the place where I needed to be. And Howe didn't take the job anyway."

It was May, a bad time to be looking for a coaching or managing job in the minor leagues.

"When I look back at it I can't tell you how devastated I was," DeJohn said. "It was a bad feeling driving home (to Connecticut). I couldn't find a job. We all think we're wanted by everybody. I was lucky to get back in."

After not knowing what his future held, DeJohn got a phone call from Art Stewart, the longtime scouting director of the Kansas City Royals. They had an opening for a coach at their short-season club in Eugene, Oregon,, if DeJohn was interested. He immediately said yes.

What DeJohn didn't know then was how getting that job was going to lead him to Kissell and the Cardinals.

"The Royals' field coordinator was Howie Bedell," DeJohn said. "As far as I'm concerned he gave me the best advice I could possibly get. He asked me one day when we were sitting in the clubhouse in Eugene what my goals were. At that time I was younger, and I said I wanted to manage in the big leagues one day.

"He said, 'Well, how are you going to do that?' I said I didn't know. He said, 'Well, listen, what I would suggest you do is become the best baseball person you can possibly be — learn all facets of the game. And the way for you to do that is get with a good organization and stay there.'

"He named about four organizations, not mentioning the one he was with, and then he stopped and said, 'But if you really want to know baseball, get over there with George Kissell and the Cardinals.'"

DeJohn had spent time in the Instructional League with the Mets and Tigers and knew of Kissell.

"I always thought of him as a grumpy old man," DeJohn said. "Jim Riggleman helped me get the job and Lee Thomas hired me to manage in Savannah, Georgia, in 1986. Then I found out George was 66 years old. I thought, He's ready to retire. He wasn't even close. What I didn't know was the kind of energy he had."

DeJohn spent his first six years with the Cardinals managing in the minor leagues, moving from Savannah to Springfield to Johnson City to Louisville. After leaving the organization for one year, he returned, and after serving for six years as a coach on Tony La Russa's staff in the major leagues, went back to managing in the minors and spent time in New Haven, Tennessee, New Jersey, State College, and Batavia before becoming the field coordinator.

Kissell always floated through the organization, watching, listening, and offering advice when it was needed to both managers and players alike.

"He was like your father, like your grandfather, like your older brother," DeJohn said. "He was like that uncle you would love to see. He was just a special guy. He always treated me like I was his adopted son. It kind of bothered me in a sense but then I found out he was a hell of a dad. You just loved it when he came around."

Every time Kissell was around, DeJohn soon found out, a story usually followed.

"I'll never forget the time he came on the road with us that first year I was in Savannah," DeJohn said. "We were playing the Blue Jays in Florence, South Carolina, and we lost a tough game, in the ninth inning or something. I was mad, because you are real competitive when you are young.

"We were on the bus going back to the hotel and as we got closer George said, 'Hey Mark, when we get back to the hotel I'm going to get you a couple of aspirins. That was a real tough loss tonight.'"

As DeJohn remembers it, their conversation continued back and forth, with DeJohn insisting that he did not take aspirins and didn't want any aspirins and Kissell repeating that he was going to bring them to his room.


Excerpted from Taking Flight by Rob Rains. Copyright © 2016 Rob Rains. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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