Jocketty and LaRussa

Dave · September 19, 2007 at 10:22 am · Filed Under Mariners 

In an article that was co-published in a St. Louis newspaper this morning, Larry Stone gives words to the rumor that Buster Olney has been repeating on sports radio in recent days, suggesting that the Cardinals GM/Manager tandem of Walt Jocketty and Tony LaRussa could end up in Seattle this winter, replacing Bill Bavasi and John McLaren. As with all of Stone’s articles, it’s worth reading, even though the only connection to the story right now is Olney’s public assertions and some long running rumors about the future of the Cardinals franchise.

For those who haven’t heard, here’s the basic deal in St. Louis.

Walt Jocketty got his start in baseball under the Sandy Alderson regime with the Athletics, coming out of the same tree that would later produce Billy Beane, Paul DePodesta, J.P. Ricciardi, and the popularity of the Moneyball theories, but Jocketty is, at heart, a scout. He was hired to run the Cardinals in 1995, and a year later, brought in Tony LaRussa, whom he knew well from his days in Oakland, and the two have held their current positions ever since, achieving significant success.

Several years ago, Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt initiated some organizational changes with the franchise, including bringing in Jeff Luhnow, a guy with a strong business approach but no real baseball experience, to institute some of the new wave of analysis into the Cardinals organization. They overhauled their scouting department, shifted towards an extreme emphasis on drafting college players, and Luhnow created an “advisory board” of well known statistical analysts, including fantasy guru Ron Shandler and uber-stathead Mitchel Lichtman (inventer of the UZR defensive system, which we’ve quoted here frequently), though that board is mostly now defunct. Luhnow has steadily been given more power over the past few years, and he’s often seen as a trusted advisor to Cardinals ownership.

This has, naturally, created the perception of a divide in the orgnaization. Jocketty, LaRussa, and Duncan are all old school, despite their ties to the A’s organization, and they’ve garnered significant success through traditional evaluative methods. They are among the most respected men in the game. Luhnow’s group is far more aggressive in adding new evaluative techniques to the organization and approaches the game from a very different direction than the Jocketty guys.

It’s been rumored for years that Jocketty is unhappy with the fracturing in the organizational structure, and that Bill DeWitt has been grooming Luhnow to take the GM job when it becomes available. However, Jocketty has denied these claims and is under contract through the 2008 season. He wouldn’t be the first to deny the existance of a problem that actually exists, but it’s not quite as simple as stating that he’s leaving the first chance he can get.

With LaRussa’s contract expiring, however, and the close ties between GM and manager, it has fueled plenty of speculation that the two will make themselves something of a package deal this winter, and if LaRussa leaves St. Louis, Jocketty will attempt to follow him out the door. Popular reports have tied the two to division rival Cincinatti, where a major investor in the Reds is a former part-owner of the Cardinals, and has ties to both Jocketty and LaRussa.

Among the backchatter in baseball, it’s about a 50-50 split on whether Jocketty will actually attempt to get out of his contract and leave at the end of the year, though most expect LaRussa to leave either way. And, yes, the Mariners are still considered an attractive option for a lot of people, despite the struggles of the franchise the last four years. If the Mariners made their GM and manager positions available, it’s nearly a given that the big name executives would be fighting for a chance to interview for the position.

So, yes, there might – and I stress might – be something to Olney’s assertion. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Jocketty/LaRussa tandem are in Seattle next year. However, that’s a long way from saying it will happen, or that it’s even likely to happen. As of right now, the Mariners aren’t giving any indications that Bavasi or McLaren are going to lose their jobs at years end, and a month ago it was a given that the front office had done enough to earn themselves another chance in 2008. I wouldn’t go registering LaRussa for the local chapter of PETA just yet.

There’s also the issue, of course, of whether this a move the organization should be looking to make. There’s no doubt that Jocketty and LaRussa have long track records of success, and they undeniably come with credibility and respect within the game. However, they are also undeniably traditional evaluators who would bring many of the same evaluative techniques to the organization that are presently held. They are cut from the same cloth as Woody Woodward, Pat Gillick, and Bill Bavasi, though its pretty easy to argue that they’re more adept at getting results from that approach.

If you were hoping for an organizational overhaul, however, with the franchise finally adjusting some of the philosophes that have been holding them back for years, Jocketty and LaRussa would not represent that kind of sea change. The culture shift that many of us see as imperative for the long term success of the organization would not occur in a change of power from Bavasi to Jocketty. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be considered, but it should certainly be a factor in the decision making.

It’s an interesting story, but remember, it’s based mostly on speculation, and at this point, it’s more smoke than fire.


72 Responses to “Jocketty and LaRussa”

  1. DC_Mariner on September 19th, 2007 1:54 pm


    You didn’t say it, but it was implied. I see your argument that if the manager is able to get away with breaking the law, the players may feel that it is ok for them to do it as well.

    But I don’t think that LaRussa not being punished has anything to do with his control over the team, the punishment would have to come from above. And LaRussa could override that lax culture by being a disciplinarian.

    But really, we are just speculating have no idea cause we aren’t in the clubhouse. So who knows haha

  2. Chris Hafner on September 19th, 2007 2:04 pm


    I’m not sure I care about a manager’s personality so much as his qualifications and performance. I’m NOT saying I want some wife-beater or racist or whatever, but just because a guy rubs people the wrong way isn’t a huge issue for me.

    I agree with the gist of what you’re saying, but these things don’t exist in a vacuum. If the guy rubs people the wrong way and can’t hold down a job, then that’s a factor that mitigates his performance. And if his personality disrupts the team to the point that it hurts the team’s performance, then that should count against him too.

    Though I’d guess this happens less than most media people expect.

  3. scott19 on September 19th, 2007 2:04 pm

    50: Interesting point, since Billy Martin never seemed to have a hard time finding work as a manager.

  4. scraps on September 19th, 2007 2:29 pm

    Billy Martin didn’t have much trouble getting fired, either.

    Dave, I agree that the worshiping of Girardi is at least way premature. But,

    then being such a tremendous prick that he could no longer coexist with his bosses and got himself fired

    is somewhat mitigated for me by the fact that the bosses who fired him are among the biggest pricks in the game.

    If Davey Johnson was a realistic possibility, how would you feel about him? He was a consistent winner who also couldn’t get along with his bosses.

  5. the other benno on September 19th, 2007 2:32 pm

    Well, Baker blogs today that Chuck Armstrong told him that Bavasi was re-upped for 2008 earlier this summer, they just didn’t feel the need to tell anyone.

  6. scott19 on September 19th, 2007 2:32 pm

    We could probably add Bobby Valentine to that list as well.

  7. scraps on September 19th, 2007 2:35 pm

    That Bavasi was extended doesn’t mean he can’t be fired.

  8. The Ancient Mariner on September 19th, 2007 2:43 pm

    I also wonder about Jocketty re: the farm system, since the Cards have had one of the worst in baseball for much of the last decade or so, iirc. Obviously that doesn’t land directly in the GM’s lap, it’s the scouting director, etc., but the GM hires and fires those guys, and bears ultimate responsibility for their success (or lack thereof) in their positions.

  9. firova2 on September 19th, 2007 4:39 pm

    From Will Clark to Mark McGwire to Larry Walker to the second baseman of the week, Jocketty has been very willing to bring in vets at any point of the season. The price has sometimes been prospects. The cupboard isn’t entirely bare, but that system’s biggest impact player since Pujols has been Ankiel, converted from pitching. They won the title, but with an aging, beat-up, 83-win team.

  10. schmicky on September 19th, 2007 5:30 pm

    Still alot of smoke and very little fire to see. Anybodies guess at this juncture, I’d say.

  11. JesseNYC on September 19th, 2007 6:02 pm

    I’m no great fan of Tony LaRussa’s, and I fully appreciate Dave’s comment about the potential opportunity cost of bringing in these guys, but the thing that sticks out in my mind about his Cardinals tenure (perhaps in part because my best friend is a Cards fan) has been his ability to make real impact trades, including at the deadline. Granted, the Mulder trade seemed like a colossal blunder at the time and it seems even worse now, but he was also able to get Mark McGwire for nothing, Jim Edmonds for almost nothing, Larry Walker for nothing, and Will Clark for nothing.

    And this is pure front office-turbation (but that’s the nature of this thread, isn’t it?), but if Dave Duncan were part of the package, I’d be still more intrigued, given his record of success with reclamation projects from Dave Stewart to Chris Carpenter. He’s not Leo Mazzone, but he’s always seemed like one of the best in the business, to me. (Wasn’t he an M’s pitching coach at the start of his coaching career?)

    And even if Tony’s in-game tactics can sometimes make you want to jump off a bridge, at least he knows how to platoon.

    I’d love to see Kim Ng or Chris Antonetti get a shot with this organization as much as most other regular USSM readers, but as a previous poster pointed out, that’s seriously unlikely to happen as long as Chuck and Howard are around. If we have to have old-school guys, I’d rather have Jocketty and La Russa (and Duncan) than what we have now. Put another way, if there was a rumor floating around that Gillick and Piniella wanted to come to Seattle in 2008, would we be jumping for joy? Probably not. But the franchise did experience its greatest success under those two.

  12. JesseNYC on September 19th, 2007 6:05 pm

    Oops, and by his Cardinals tenure, I meant Jocketty’s, not La Russa’s.

    Also, these are just my impressions, and if anyone out there feels like Jocketty/La Russa is no better, or maybe even worse, than Bavasi/McLaren, I’d love to hear why.

  13. firova2 on September 19th, 2007 7:29 pm

    Dave Duncan and LaRussa are basically joined at the hip, though with Duncan’s son on the Cardinal roster that may not now be the case. I would like to see an analysis of Duncan and what he would bring to this staff. Some say LaRussa/Duncan burn up pitchers, others that Duncan is some kind of miracle worker.

  14. Wishhiker on September 19th, 2007 7:41 pm

    I enjoyed a long section of LaRussa’s Managerial career with the Athletics. What I recall is that he understands statistics much better than the present choices of the M’s have shown that they do. LaRussa would have figured out ways to get Jones starting 3-5 days a week. He understands and uses matchups much more than McLaren/Hargrove have/do.

    Old School read stats too, just not as many.

    I don’t think he’s a bad idea to replace McLaren, as long as he’s happy to do so under Antonetti.

    I don’t know much about Duncan beyond some of those things (well, I guess all now)

  15. msb on September 19th, 2007 7:49 pm

    FWIW, La Russa last month:

    “If Dave Duncan gets a better deal to become pitching coach somewhere else, I’m happy for him.”

    “If Walt’s got something better out there, I would say, ‘You do whatever’s best for you.’ I’ve told the coaches that. If you’ve got something better, the loyalty card is really a bad card to play if you have respect for somebody and are friends with them.”

    Duncan is under contract through 2008 and said Saturday that he has given little thought to his or La Russa’s status.

    “If things change, then I’ll have something to think about,” Duncan said Saturday. “But I really don’t see any reason to think about that now.””

  16. julian on September 19th, 2007 10:04 pm

    I was at a statistics conference a couple of years ago and heard a presentation by a guy who’d been hired by the Cards to do statistical analysis (name was something like Sig Mejdal). He said that the front office was pro-Moneyball, but someone asked him about in-game tactics and he pretty much said that they didn’t have much influence over the guys making on-the-field decisions, i.e. Tony LaRussa didn’t really buy into their methods.

    On a side note, the guy expressed bemusement at the fact that “Someone wrote a book detailing exactly how to win more games and run a team more efficiently, but only a few teams seem to care.” The Mariners, obviously, are NOT one of those teams.

  17. Teej on September 19th, 2007 11:42 pm

    66: Sig Mejdal was the statistical analysis part of Sam Walker’s attempt to win the Tout Wars league in the book “Fantasyland.” Never thought I’d see his name again, but that’s awesome. I forgot he got hired by the Cards.

    That’s a fun read, by the way, for any of you guys who are into roto stuff.

  18. fetish on September 20th, 2007 1:40 am

    I think the opportunity cost argument is a non-starter.

    If Howard Lincoln et al haven’t heard of “statistical analysis” at this point (and let’s not forget, he’s the head of a corporation that could measure it’s revenue in relationship to billions of dollars) then we’re clearly sunk and even the most conservative owner would have fired him years ago.

    Lincoln and the board are clearly aware of the different ‘types’ of GM available – a hire of LaRussa/Jocketty would indicate that they are eschewing a statistics-based approach. It’s not as if Billy Bean’s twin brother is the alternative to Jocketty – the alternative is a guy who (also) fits into the M’s culture.

    As long as Lincoln and the Mariner’s board maintain this viewpoint, there is no ‘opportunity cost’ to hiring a scouting-based managerial staff, because they’re simply not going to hire someone who’s views are not in line with the board.

  19. Dave on September 20th, 2007 6:32 am

    You’d have said the exact same thing before Tampa Bay hired Andrew Friedman, Arizona hired Josh Byrnes, Texas hired Jon Daniels, Toronto hired J.P. Ricciardi, or Los Angeles hired Paul DePodesta. All of these organizations were run by traditional managers and had a history of ignoring statistical analysis, but then turned their teams over to a young, first time general manager and let them reshape the organization.

    You can argue that you don’t think it will happen. You can’t argue that it has no chance of happening.

  20. bermanator on September 20th, 2007 7:03 am


    I may not be phrasing this clearly, so let me know if this makes no sense.

    Of the above five teams, I’m least surprised at Tampa Bay and Toronto, simply because the alternative would be to try to beat the Yankees and Red Sox at their own game. Texas was so bad at doing things the “traditional way” that it made it easy to sell a new approach. I’m not as familiar with the NL teams, so I don’t know the story there.

    While I may be oversimplifying things with the benefit of hindsight, the three AL teams were in a situation that encouraged a paradigm shift in terms of organizational development. The old way clearly wasn’t working, and any good businessman uses that situation to go back to the drawing board and see if there’s a better approach to try.

    Do you think that Seattle’s management is in the same place right now where it realizes it needs a systematic change? Or do you think they are more likely to think that they just need to keep on doing what they’re doing, only better?

  21. eponymous coward on September 20th, 2007 2:13 pm

    Well, the upside to it would be Duncan has a very good record of extracting performance from pitchers- something the Mariners don’t really have a record of doing (see: Meche, Gil, and KC correcting some mechanics). I think “establish the fastball” might go by the wayside.

  22. RoopRoopRoop on September 20th, 2007 3:47 pm

    Clearly the in-game decisions that LaRussa brings to the table would be a clear upgrade over McLaren.

    Would we likely see LaRussa or Girardi managing any differently than they did in the NL? Is there a such thing as an NL manager vs. AL Manager? It seems a good manager would manage with what he’s given. It seems the M’s as a 4-cylindar, powerless machine should have played more station to station/motion baseball. The M’s have given it lipservice but not done it. Would a LaRussa or Girardi bring a style or change their style to meet the roster.

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