A conversation with Cardinals president DeWitt III
Organization's consistency, future plans among topics covered before Game 5 of NLDS
MLB.com sat down for an exclusive conversation with Bill DeWitt III, president of the St. Louis Cardinals, hours before Wednesday's Game 5 of the National League Division Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
MLB.com: Thank you for taking some time to talk to us prior to Game 5. This is the fourth time since you took over as team president that the Cardinals have made it to the playoffs. What's kind of been unique about this 2013 team? And what really stands out to you about this year?
Bill DeWitt III: Oh gosh. I think the emergence of the young players. I mean, it's remarkable what those guys have been able to do, like Matt Carpenter, Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal, the list goes on and on. I just think, you know, when you have a long-term plan for the team to be competitive every year, sometimes it doesn't match up. You might have more veterans and you're waiting for the kids, or vice versa. This year, it seemed to all come together where the kids were performing at a nice level and coming through the system, but then our veteran core is still the key to this club as well. You've got guys like Matt Holliday, Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina and Carlos Beltran. A great core to build around.
MLB.com: You talked about this core and the farm system, and your dad [Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr.] was very instrumental in setting this direction for this organization. How much did you two talk about the need to really build up a farm system to be able to have sustained success within this organization?
DeWitt: Well, that's something that he deserves credit for along with [general manager John Mozeliak] in terms of how they looked at things going back to about the 2005-06 period, where clearly we won the World Series in '06. That was great, but unfortunately what was coming behind that crowd was not what we wanted it to be. And I think, to their credit, they really realized that, even in the glow of a couple of good runs, and made the changes that were not easy to make down through the system in terms of, you know, those key decision makers and those key staff folks that help us. Not only in the player-procurement area in terms of scouting and drafting, but in the player-development area as you come in through the system and needed to have every level of the organization all on the same page.
MLB.com: When we were in Pittsburgh, a lot was made about the atmosphere there, the crowds. For those who don't get to come to St. Louis in October, how would you describe the excitement within this city for Cardinals baseball, especially at this time of the year?
DeWitt: Oh, I mean, the town is painted red, and I think you see it. My kids, it's funny, they're like, "OK Dad, I'm wearing red this morning." Why? "Oh, it's Cardinal spirit day," you know, usually for a playoff game. I think every day revolves around it, and Pittsburgh is the same way. It's a one-team town in terms of baseball, and obviously they haven't been in it in a while, so I think that extra enthusiasm might have been there for the first game. But St. Louisans are certainly not taking it for granted. They know that these runs don't last forever. You don't win the World Series every year, but they, I think, appreciate the fact that we've been competitive and yet also in the back of their mind know that you got to get there and cheer on the team and be that 10th man that, I think, can really be a factor in the postseason.
MLB.com: One of the things I hear as I travel around, and I'm curious if you hear this from people in baseball circles as well, is just this idea of the Cardinals as the model organization and what you all have been able to do to sustain success. I mean, seven division titles in the last 14 years. What about the model do you think is there for other teams to emulate? And what are you most proud about in how this organization has been built?
DeWitt: I think that the notion of continuity is underrated as it relates to ownership and management -- senior management, managerial level, coaching levels. We've had turnover, we've had change, but if you look at sort of the key figures -- whether it's my father, or Mo, and before him [former general manager] Walt Jocketty. Tony La Russa was here for a number of years in a row, Dave Duncan was here a number of years in a row, and now we've got Mike Matheny, who appears to be on his way to a long run. I think that continuity allows you to sort of play that game of what's important long term and what's important short term, and balance those two things in a way that, you know, has the same consistency year after year. If there's a lot of turnover at the top, sometimes the relationship between building for the long and building for the short can get skewed one way or the other.
MLB.com: Right behind us, we see Ballpark Village coming up. I know this has been a very dear project to you for some time. Can you give us an update on the project? And also, how exciting is it to come to work every day and see it coming up kind of before your eyes?
DeWitt: It's very exciting. It's been a long time coming. I've been working on this project since, probably, longer than I care to admit. But it's approaching a decade of work on it, and to see it coming out of the ground every day, a new element starting to take shape, is really fun. You can see from my table right there, even at this late juncture in the project, we're still making little changes and suggestions as we move from the exterior work and start diving into interiors work. But it's on track. It's not going to be easy. We're going to be scrambling to get ready for April 1, or Opening Day in April, but we'll get there. If we have to speed it up, we will.
MLB.com: As you sit here at this time of year, do you think about what this area could be like maybe next October if the Cardinals are in the postseason? Is there anticipation that that could really bring even more excitement this time of year to this area?
DeWitt: For sure, and I think we've always known and predicted that on a game day, it's going to be hopping over there. The challenge for us and really the vision that we have is for non-game days, and to program events in the live marketplace and to have the restaurants and the other entertainment -- the Cardinals museum, the rooftop seating area, which can have special events in it. Really program events so that we can get almost a game-day-like atmosphere on a non-game day. And so, for example, when the Cardinals are on the road, that's 81 days a year that maybe we create events around those road games, where the live marketplace and Cardinals Nation restaurant, where that can be like your living room, or an alternative to it, anyway.
MLB.com: One of your other initiatives coming into this year was to get that alternate jersey created with the St. Louis across [the front]. What have you heard about the reaction to it? It seems like the team really enjoys wearing it, and I see a lot of fans wearing it. It seems like the reaction has been very positive.
DeWitt: Well, I think the moment where I felt like we were finally there in terms of those questions was when they were about ready to take the team picture this year and the players said, "Let's do the Saturday alternate." I think that was very gratifying because, obviously, they like it. It's amazing how often you see it out there on people's backs in the crowd. I just think it hit the right platform of being new, and it's the Cardinal modern logo, the birds and everything, but that cream color and "St. Louis" across the front and the piping recalls those jerseys from yesteryear that you see a lot of around here, because people recall great teams from those eras. And so I think we captured kind of the essence of a good retro alternative jersey, but have it still be modern enough to be in the current logo portfolio.
MLB.com: Lastly, you come from a long line of baseball men in your family and it's kind of, I imagine, been passed down for many generations. But what is it about this game that just hits you at the core and kind of makes it -- obviously it's become your life -- but also a passion?
DeWitt: I've always just loved the ambiance of baseball. Everything about it -- the ballparks, the rhythm of the game in terms of its hold on whole summer months and going into fall. The fact that it's such a long season creates a rhythm that's unique in all sports. There are other sports that may be faster paced or whatever, shorter season and all that, but something about baseball -- all of the ambiance, all of the tradition -- that is just truly unique. And I think St. Louisans pick up on that, they love it and they embrace this team that's been in this community for 123 years. And you think about it, there aren't many cities that can say that, that one institution has thrived for that long. And you can tell by just the crowd that comes to a ballgame, it's multigenerational. I think that's very gratifying, it makes it fun for me to almost be able to relate to those generations and say, "My parents did that, my grandparents did that and my kids will be doing it, too."
MLB.com: So what are the emotions on a day like today, an elimination game in a few hours. Is it anxiousness? Excitement? What's it like in the DeWitt family?
DeWitt: It's definitely anxious. I think there's a lot of chatter about, "What is the pitcher going to do? What's the lineup? What's this and that?" It's funny how people have little coping mechanisms. A couple of my siblings just sort of say, "All right , well, if we lose, I'm going to be happy because we had a good year." [It's] like [they are] mentally prepared to lose. And then others are like, "We've got to win. We just have to win, can't lose. If we lose it'll be a disaster." Everybody's got their own little way of dealing with it mentally. It's just fun to be a part of it. I like to wake up in the playoffs, in the month of October, no matter if you're ahead in a series or behind in a series or you're facing an 0-3 situations and you're one loss away. You're still alive in October, and that's a good day for Cardinal nation.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.