Hall of Fame debates are part of the process, and part of the appeal. As fans we enjoy a good, spirited baseball argument about a particular individual’s qualifications. We advocate for our preferred candidates. We poke holes in other Hall of Fame resumes. We have strong or salty opinions. The wrangling can be fun. The haggling can be frustrating. But we should keep talking, and make sure to have an open mind.
I want to talk about Walt Jocketty. I think I speak for an overwhelming majority of St. Louis baseball fans when I say, without hesitation, that Jocketty should be in the Cardinals’ Hall of Fame.
The one thing I won’t do is blast the Cardinals for not having Jocketty in there yet. There’s no point in hurling insults. It’s best to have a civil discussion and build the case on facts instead of emotion.
I’m on the red ribbon committee that reviews candidates – for both the modern era, and the “veteran” category. The fans vote on the modern candidates that emerge from the committee screening. The committee selects the veteran for induction. But the panelists don’t have a say on Jocketty.
What would it take to get Walt outfitted in a red jacket? Here’s the official explanation from the Cardinals: “From time to time, the Cardinals organization may opt to induct an individual who was an important figure in Cardinals history such as a coach, broadcaster or member of the front office.”
Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and team president Bill DeWitt III are empowered to make the call here, and Jocketty obviously qualifies. It’s right to have him in the Cardinals’ Hall of Fame along with the esteemed red-jacket honorees that he brought into St. Louis organization through trades and free-agent signings. Jocketty would be the first to tell us that he didn’t do this alone; he would make sure to praise his scouts and front-office associates for their roles in building a successful roster.
But as the St. Louis general manager from 1995 through 2007, Jocketty had a profound, franchise-changing impact on Cardinals baseball. Walt was dismissed after the Cardinals fell apart during an unpleasant 2007 season. The decision to remove Jocketty was made by DeWitt Jr., who wanted to end the hostilities that bubbled between Jocketty and Jeff Luhnow.
DeWitt hired Luhnow in 2003, recruiting him from the corporate world to give the baseball operation a more analytical, data-driven approach to player procurement, development and improved efficiency in roster construction. It was a smart move by DeWitt that paid off as a long-term strategy. But Jocketty’s authority wasn’t the same after Luhnow came in, and Walt resented it. And I understand why he felt that way. Look, these so-called power struggles are nothing new in sports or business.
Last weekend we saw Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson hug in an embrace that let the world know they were on good terms again. This followed a long estrangement after Jones and Johnson worked together to build three Super Bowl champions in Dallas. But Jones – the Cowboys’ owner – wanted to run the football part of the organization. And Johnson, the coach, resisted the encroachment. But the team owner always wins, right? The Jones-Johnson beef went on for 30 years or so until a group of Johnson’s former players – most notably Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith – convinced Jerry that it was time to induct Jimmy into the Cowboys’ ring of honor and unify the Cowboy family. And that happened during halftime of Saturday’s home game against the Detroit Lions. Jones and Johnson were giddy. Everyone was happy.
The contentious sparring in St. Louis happened a long time ago and shouldn’t be a factor in Jocketty’s worthiness for induction. And it shouldn’t matter that Jocketty went to work as the GM for the division-rival Cincinnati Reds after being let go in St. Louis. Walt was friendly with Reds owner Bob Castellini from Casteliini’s time as an ownership partner of DeWitt’s in St. Louis. When you lose one job, you find another. And Jocketty improved the Reds, showing that he still had his fastball as a GM.
If there are any hard feelings — and I’m not saying there are — it’s time to close the wounds, move forward, and recognize Jocketty’s valuable work in assembling a successful, dynamic, championship-winning team that was loaded with elite talent that excited Cardinals fans and made the city proud. The best fans in baseball turned out each summer for an average home attendance that exceeded 3 million. Jocketty’s work was a stimulus for the renewal of Cardinals baseball.
Jocketty has returned to Busch Stadium on numerous occasions to honor Hall of Fame inductees and to participate in reunions of some of the best teams of his GM regime. I can only hope – and I want to believe – that Jocketty and DeWitt have resumed reasonably cordial relations. But both gentlemen are aging. Jocketty, who turns 73 next month, recently survived a health scare and is doing fine. But the episode merely reinforced the thought that it’s time to do away with any lingering unpleasantries. DeWitt and Jocketty are fine men who shared a deep love for Cardinals baseball. And they built a special team that created a proud new era of Cardinals baseball. In early 2024, that should be the only thing that really matters now. Savor the accomplishment, and the sweet memories.
In case anyone needs to be reminded of Jocketty’s brilliance in the GM office, I’m happy to put the information out there. And this isn’t even a complete list.
1. Jocketty hired Tony La Russa to manage the Cardinals, a move that was built on trust from their time working together with the Oakland A’s. I don’t think I have to remind anyone of TLR’s impact on the franchise. But let’s just start with this: two World Series championships, three NL pennants, and more wins than any manager in franchise history. And when Jocketty hired La Russa, it also meant that he was hiring legendary pitching coach Dave Duncan.
2. Jocketty brought John Mozeliak into the organization. And yes, I know that Mozeliak isn’t the most popular guy in town these days, but that has no relevance to a discussion of Cards history. Mozeliak – Jocketty’s assistant GM – has done very well after taking over Jocketty before the start of the 2008 season. And Mozeliak deserves a spot in the team Hall of Fame when he finishes his term as the president of baseball operations.
3. Jocketty and his scouts drafted Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, Matt Morris, J.D. Drew, Skip Schumaker, Jon Jay, Daniel Descalso, Chris Duncan, Allen Craig – and so many others who earned World Series rings or won NL pennants during their careers with the Cardinals.
4. Jocketty traded for Adam Wainwright, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, Mark McGwire, Edgar Renteria, Darryl Kile, Larry Walker, Woody Williams, Todd Stottlemyre, Dennis Eckersley, Fernando Vina, Will Clark, Steve Kline, Fernando Vina, Jeff Weaver, Dave Veres, Chuck Finley, Fernando Tatis, Rick Honeycuttt and Royce Clayton. (The list goes on and on.) And many of these trades were incredibly one-sided; Jocketty gave up little in return for all of this talent that helped the Cardinals win division titles, postseason series, pennants, and World Series.
5. Jocketty’s list of free-agent signings include Chris Carpenter, Jason Isringhausen, Jeff Suppan, David Eckstein, Mike Matheny, Andy Benes, Tom Henke, Reggie Sanders, Ron Gant, Ryan Franklin, Pat Hentgen, Delino DeShields, So Taguchi, Scott Spiezio, Ryan Ludwick, Gary Gaetti, Tony Womack, Mark Grudzielanek, Juan Encarnacion, Josh Kinney and the late-career Willie McGee. I know I’ve left some guys out – but there are so many of them. And that’s a credit to Jocketty.
6. From 1996 through 2006, teams assembled by Jocketty had the No. 2 regular-season winning percentage in the National League and were fourth overall.
7. From ‘96 through ‘06 the Cardinals competed in seven postseasons, a total topped only by the Yankees (11) and Braves (10.) And their 39 postseason wins over that time were the most by an NL team and second in the majors to the Yankees. Jocketty had a masterful touch in assessing talent and filling needs, and that kept the engine thriving. So many of his moves made the team better on the field and also created energy and raised morale.
8. From 2000 through 2006 the Cardinals had the NL’s top regular-season winning percentage (.581) and were third in MLB overall. They qualified for the postseason six times during the seven seasons; only the Yankees (7) made the playoffs more times. Until the superb DeWitt-Jocketty-TLR troika formed a leadership team in 1996, the Cardinals hadn’t made the postseason since 1987, and hadn’t won a World Series since 1982.
9. The Cardinals won two NL pennants and the World Series (2006) in a three-season stretch that began in 2004. And they won 23 postseason games from 2004 through 2006 — with no other MLB team winning more than 13. What a fantastic time for Cardinals baseball. STL’s three-year run included two seasons of 100+ victories. And Jocketty’s roster shaping was a factor in the Cardinals’ 2011 World Series championship; Pujols and Molina were catalysts.
10. Three players brought into the Cardinals by Jocketty are in the Baseball Hall of Fame: Rolen, Walker and Eckersley. Pujols and Molina will one day be enshrined in Cooperstown. Pujols won three MVP awards and is the only player in baseball history to have at least 3,000 hits, 700 home runs, 2,000 RBI and multiple MVP awards. Molina won nine Gold Gloves and was selected to ten All-Star teams and is one of the greatest catchers in MLB history. Carpenter won the 2005 Cy Young award. Wainwright is third in franchise history with 200 wins. Izzy is the Cardinals’ all-time saves leader. Eckstein was the 2006 World Series MVP in 2006.
11. Cardinals Hall of Famers acquired by Jocketty through trades or free agency: La Russa, Edmonds, McGwire, Rolen, Carpenter, Isringhausen. Did I miss anyone? Well, we can add Wille McGee who was signed back to St. Louis before the division-winning 1996 season. McGee played his final four MLB seasons with the Cardinals. And in the future that Cardinals Hall of Fame roster will expand to include Wainwright, Pujols, Molina, Renteria and Morris.
12. How about the number of All Stars? Eighteen Cardinals brought to the organization during the Jocketty regime were selected for the National League All-Star team a combined total of 48 times. The 18 are Molina, Pujols, Wainwright, Rolen, McGwire, Renteria, Edmonds, Carpenter, Morris, Eckstein, Kile, Isringhausen, Williams, Ludwick, Henke, Craig, Franklin and Clayton.
13. Players brought to the Cardinals by Jocketty combined to win three NL MVP awards, a Cy Young award, 30 Gold Gloves and 16 Silver Sluggers. That’s not all. There was a Rookie of the Year, a World Series MVP, two NLCS MVPs, three Roberto Clemente awards and two Hank Aaron awards. And La Russa won multiple Manager of the Year honors.
This is an extraordinary body of work by Jocketty.
Walt is easily one of the most historically prominent figures in St. Louis Cardinals history. And he absolutely, positively belongs in the Hall of Fame.
The final word goes to Tony La Russa, who told me this: “Walt did an incredible job for the Cardinals and was a major reason why we won. When I managed the team, he always went out and filled our needs and did everything he could to make us better. Just look at the record. I’m concerned that he’s been forgotten. He shouldn’t be forgotten.”
Thanks for reading …
A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or grab the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
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For the last 36 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.