Cardinals, Jocketty part ways after 13 seasons
ST. LOUIS -- Walt Jocketty is out after 13 seasons as general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, one year after the team won the World Series for the first time since 1982.
"It caught him by surprise," a source close to Jocketty told ESPN The Magazine's Amy K. Nelson. "He didn't think it was going to happen."
Team president Mark Lamping said Jocketty's departure with a year remaining on his contract was a mutual decision and that he'd be paid. Team CEO Bill DeWitt Jr. said Jocketty and the Cardinals had "cordially and respectfully parted ways."
"We were in agreement our arrangement had likely run its course," DeWitt said.
It's unclear how Jocketty's departure affects the status of manager Tony La Russa, whose contract expired after the season. Jocketty hired La Russa in 1996.
DeWitt spoke with La Russa on Wednesday, reaffirming the franchise's commitment to building a competitor after injuries and ill-advised moves led to a 78-win team that collapsed in the final month.
"I think he'll make a decision in the reasonably near future," DeWitt said.
Jocketty oversaw the team make seven postseason appearances, one of the best stretches in franchise history. But he's been unhappy since Jeff Luhnow was promoted to vice president of amateur scouting and player development late last season, placing him in charge of the draft and supervision of the farm system. Luhnow is not a candidate to replace Jocketty because he already has enough responsibility, DeWitt said.
"I'm sure it didn't help any," the source close to Jocketty said. "I just don't understand, to think a year ago they were world champions. He had another year on his contract. He doesn't want to leave the game. ... He's now an excellent GM candidate for another team."
Previously, Jocketty had authority over those areas. DeWitt said the rift began on philosophical terms, growing into personality conflicts.
"I think we had a little different philosophy and vision with respect to some baseball issues," DeWitt said. "There was clearly tension. We couldn't achieve our goals given what was going on."
DeWitt said he didn't believe Jocketty and La Russa were a "package deal." DeWitt noted that La Russa asked him to seek a candidate with Jocketty's qualities when hiring a new general manager.
La Russa said on Monday that he wants to continue managing but wasn't certain if he wanted to remain in St. Louis.
"It was a good conversation," DeWitt said. "We didn't get into his opinion, who we should hire or if we should have kept [Jocketty]."
Neither Jocketty nor La Russa immediately returned telephone messages from the AP.
John Mozeliak, assistant general manager the last five years, was appointed interim GM. DeWitt said Mozeliak, who has interviewed for GM openings in Cincinnati and Houston, could be a candidate for the permanent position.
A team spokesman said Mozeliak wasn't ready to discuss his situation.
Jocketty was hired in 1994 and took over a team that hadn't reached the playoffs since 1987. He hired La Russa before the 1996 season, and the Cardinals reached the NL Championship Series, where they lost to Atlanta in seven games.
St. Louis won six NL Central titles, one wild card and two NL pennants under Jocketty. After failing to spend much on free agents last winter, the Cardinals faded to a 78-84 record this year and a third-place finish behind Chicago and Milwaukee.
As GM, Jocketty has had many successes. He traded three marginal players for Mark McGwire in 1997. A year later, McGwire hit a then-record 70 home runs.
Jocketty acquired Will Clark for the 2000 stretch run after McGwire was injured, and Clark helped lead the Cardinals to the NLCS. His trade with the Phillies brought Scott Rolen to St. Louis; he dealt J.D. Drew to Atlanta for Adam Wainwright, now one of the team's best pitchers; and he acquired Jim Edmonds from Anaheim in 2000 for pitcher Kent Bottenfield and infielder Adam Kennedy.
Jocketty also acquired Larry Walker in a 2004 move that helped get St. Louis to the World Series, where they lost in a four-game sweep to Boston. And last season's trade-deadline pickup of pitcher Jeff Weaver proved valuable when Weaver won a game in each round of the postseason, including the decisive Game 5 of the World Series.
But he failed to make any major additions the last two seasons. The offseason following the World Series championship was a disappointment almost from the beginning.
Ace Chris Carpenter made only one start before a season-ending elbow injury, forcing the Cardinals to use a collection of pitchers who were mostly relievers in starting roles.
The only regular signed was Kennedy, also a disappointment. Kennedy was demoted to a platoon role before a season-ending knee injury in August.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.