As the St. Louis Cardinals head south to Spring Training there are many old faces waiting to greet the current players and staff. It appears General Manager John Mozeliak has begun a process of reconciliation and even healing in some cases. There are several former Redbird players and a former manager who are serving in official capacities as Spring Training instructors. Some of these players have been out of the fold longer than others. Some are here just for instruction and ceremonial purposes while others are assuming a more vital position within the organization.
Cardinal greats Whitey Herzog (Dorrel Norman Elvert Herzog) and Ozzie Smith (Osborne Earl Smith) are slated to appear in advisory and instructor roles at this year’s camp. Manager Mike Matheny has sought Herzog’s guidance since assuming the position as Manager. I feel that this is a smart move on the new manager’s part. He has sought the counsel of one of the most successful and popular managers in franchise history. In his eleven years as Skipper of the Redbirds Whitey amassed a .530 (822-728) win percentage along with 3 pennants and a World Series Championship. He revolutionized the game with the way he coached his speedy teams. Matheny will do well to learn a little about playing small ball from the White Rat.
As I wrote about this past weekend the organization has extended an olive branch to the Hall of Famer since Tony LaRussa has departed. Ozzie has made the rounds on local TV stations and has been cordial about the circumstances that lead to his retirement and his strained relationship with LaRussa. It appears that he is relishing his opportunity to rejoin the organization in a much greater capacity than his recent past. I for one welcome this. While I am a LaRussa fan, this is one of the decisions I disagreed with. I didn’t necessarily disagree with the change in role while Ozzie was playing, I did disagree with how it all went down. Royce Clayton at the time was not leaps and bounds better than Ozzie, but Ozzie’s performance was declining. I applaud Ozzie for maintaining his role within the community when it would have been easy for him to be bitter and pull back.
One of the more interesting subplots unfolding is the inclusion of standout Centerfielder Jim Edmonds. Edmonds will be donning the number 15 jersey as an instructor when Spring Training begins. However, there have been rumors swirling that he is about to assume a larger role within the organization. I am guessing that we will see “Jimmy Baseball” take an advisory position of some sort. His years of experience with several clubs could make him a valuable resource as an evaluator of talent. The fact that Mozeliak is publicly declining to comment on what future role Edmonds may have with the Cards, it all but assures me that something is in the works. Edmonds maintains a high profile in St. Louis and is a fan favorite. With 21 Gold Gloves between Edmonds and Ozzie there is some quality defensive instruction that should be taking place.
While Matheny served a role in the organization prior to ascending to the Manager position it was not well known what he did. I wondered whom Mozeliak would pick to replace Matheny in his old position? I thought he might look outside the club, but if he looked within the family I thought it could possibly be Ozzie, Larry Walker, or even Joe McEwing. One name I did not think of was Ryan Franklin. Franklin has been hired as a special assistant to Mozeliak. He will advise Mozeliak on personnel and perform regional scouting duties from his home in Oklahoma. This move to the front office apparently came to fruition at while visiting two World Series games in Arlington. It was announced at the Winter Meetings but was overshadowed by the departure of Albert Pujols. This is an interesting pick, but Mozeliak has an eye for talent and I feel that he must see something in the former Redbird reliever.
Mozeliak seems to be making all the right moves. He has either been waxing nostalgic or has made some calculated moves to bring former greats into the fold. I am a big believer that success breeds success. If you surround yourself with winners that will often become the expectation. This is a great thing for a club in transition. I have two views of these moves. Part of it may be my sometimes-pessimistic nature. Mozeliak is either hedging his bets that if things go south with the team it is hard to hate former greats, or he is righting some wrongs committed by the prior regime. By installing former fan favorites it solidifies the fan base. It is hard to dislike people you know, trust and have built a relationship with over the years. The other part of me believes Mozeliak is not only a shrewd evaluator of talent but he feels that these people can actively contribute to the success of the organization but he feels these guys have been left out in the cold the past few years. If you are going to make bold moves, now is the time. As the Birds are coming fresh off a World Championship and have lost vital parts of that success to retirement or free agency there are not great expectations. While I feel there is a chance with the talent in place to make a run and we should dominate a weak division maybe Mozeliak is preparing us for the worst. If the worst is a division championship and a chance to repeat I don’t think anyone will complain. If the Cards fall short it is a great group of guys who we know, which will pick up the pieces. Neither is a bad option.