St. Louis Cardinals: Digging into the history of Cardinals GMs

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John Mozeliak of the St. Louis Cardinals speaks to the media before the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on April 20, 2017 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
John Mozeliak of the St. Louis Cardinals speaks to the media before the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on April 20, 2017 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /
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UNSPECIFIED – CIRCA 1989: Manager Whitey Herzog #24 of the St. Louis Cardinals walks back to the dugout during a Major League Baseball game circa 1989. Herzog Managed the Cardinals from 1980-90. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED – CIRCA 1989: Manager Whitey Herzog #24 of the St. Louis Cardinals walks back to the dugout during a Major League Baseball game circa 1989. Herzog Managed the Cardinals from 1980-90. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /

Whitey Herzog (1980-1982)

Biggest win: Ozzie Smith

Biggest loss: Terry Kennedy

Total WAR gain: 126.5

Total WAR loss: 70.5

Legendary manager Whitey Herzog took over John Claiborne’s duties as the general manager on Aug. 17, 1980, and brought pitcher Bruce Sutter and catcher Darrell Porter across the state with him from the Kansas City Royals. Sutter and Porter would prove to be very good players for the Cardinals, but it was Herzog’s actions in 1981 that set the stage for the dynamic Cardinals of the 1980s.

In 1981, Herzog traded for shortstop Ozzie Smith, outfielder Willie McGee and outfielder Lonnie Smith. He also re-signed pitcher Joaquin Andujar. The Cardinals’ future WAR accumulated in 1981 was 105, second-best for any team since 1955. Ozzie Smith had a career Cardinals WAR of 57.5, making him the Cardinals’ best trade acquisition via WAR in history.

Catcher Terry Kennedy was the Cardinals’ biggest loss by WAR, as he would go on to be a four-time All-Star. But it was another catcher whom most fans remember being dealt away. Ted Simmons was voted into the MLB Hall of Fame in 2020, and while fans often still look at the deal with the Brewers as a bad one, it wasn’t the mess some believe.

Dave LaPoint, one of the players coming back from the Brewers, put up a WAR of 6.5, and David Green accumulated a WAR of 4.5. Simmons had a 6.1 WAR, and while the other players sent to the Brewers (Rollie Fingers and Pete Vuckovich) amassed WARs that tilted the trade toward the Brewers, it wasn’t as bad a deal as many make it out to be.

Herzog is remembered as one of the greatest managers and general managers in Cardinals history, and deservedly so, as the 1980s Cardinals were threatening to say the least.

Joe McDonald (1982-1985)

Biggest win: John Tudor

Biggest loss: Keith Hernandez

Total WAR gain: 22

Total WAR loss: 33

Joe McDonald assumed the role of general manager after Herzog stepped down to manage full time, and it’s safe to say he wasn’t able to recreate the successes of his predecessor. Pitcher John Tudor was the trade that netted the best results for the Cardinals, as he finished second in Cy Young voting in 1985 and led the major leagues with 10 shutouts. George Hendrick was involved in the trade, going to the Pirates, but his best years were behind him.

McDonald’s biggest whiff by far was trading first baseman Keith Hernandez to the New York Mets. However, McDonald may not have been completely to blame, as Hernandez was said to have had many skirmishes with management, including Herzog.

Hernandez was already an outstanding player when he left the Cardinals, especially in the field, where he would eventually win 11 consecutive Gold Gloves and be widely considered the best defensive first baseman in history. While Hernandez did have a higher WAR in his time with the Cardinals, he still had a very strong career with the Mets. The players the Cardinals received in the trade couldn’t touch Hernandez’s contributions, as Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey pitched to unspectacular results.

Dal Maxvill (1985-1994)

Biggest win: Jose Oquendo, Jose DeLeon

Biggest loss: Andy Van Slyke

Total WAR gain: 80.1

Total WAR loss: 87.2

Maxvill took over as general manager in February 1985, and his first trade proved to be successful for the Cardinals as they acquired utility player Jose Oquendo from the New York Mets for John Young and Angel Salazar. Oquendo would prove to be valuable for the Cardinals with the ability to play nearly anywhere on the field, and he took over as a coach for the team in 1999.

Maxvill also sent outfielder Lance Johnson and pitcher Ricky Horton to the New York Mets for pitcher Jose DeLeon. Oquendo and DeLeon both accumulated a WAR of 14.7 during their time with the Cardinals, but DeLeon’s acquisition proved more costly, as Johnson went on to have a solid career. DeLeon, for his part, was a pretty good pitcher for the Cardinals in 1989 and 1991, although he led the major leagues in losses in 1990.

At the other end was Andy Van Slyke, whom the Cardinals traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates along with Mike Dunne and Mike LaValliere for catcher Tony Pena. Pena would have one All-Star season in St. Louis, but for the rest of his career, he never touched the success he found in Pittsburgh.

Van Slyke, meanwhile, was serviceable with the Cardinals during the first four seasons of his career, but he became a three-time All-Star after his trade to the Pirates in 1987 and had a career post-Cardinals WAR of 30.4.

Maxvill’s time with St. Louis saw the Cardinals struggle among inflating contracts that prevented him from re-signing players such as Terry Pendleton, but his acquisition of Oquendo proved to be valuable not only during Oquendo’s playing career, but during his coaching and mentoring career as well.

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