Cardinals take off interim label for Mozeliak

Wednesday, October 31, 2007 | 9:01 p.m. CDT; updated 4:30 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

ST. LOUIS — John Mozeliak’s month-long stint as St. Louis Cardinals interim general manager was a strong selling point that he could be their long-term solution.

The 38-year-old Mozeliak had been the team’s assistant GM for five years before Walt Jocketty was dismissed Oct. 3. During the search process, he moved swiftly to retain three pitchers, then got Jocketty’s job and a three-year contract on Wednesday.

“I can tell you I was extremely impressed with what he got done,” team president Mark Lamping said. “We didn’t miss a step, we took a step forward.”

Mozeliak has been with the organization more than a dozen years. His hiring, along with the two-year contract manager Tony La Russa signed nine days earlier, signifies a belief last year’s 78-84 record was a misstep rather than a downward trend for the 2006 World Series champions.

But Mozeliak said he won’t be a Jocketty clone. The new GM might be more impulsive than his predecessor, and unlike Jocketty, he doesn’t mind including other organizational points of view in the decision-making process.

“I think moving forward and thinking ahead I will be my own man,” Mozeliak said. “The biggest thing I learned from Walt is he was a very patient man, and I do admire that.

“I do think he and I are very different people, and hopefully in the next few years you can see why.”

As interim GM, Mozeliak picked up an $8 million option on closer Jason Isringhausen, re-signed starter Joel Pineiro to a two-year, $13 million deal and re-signed reliever Russ Springer to a one-year, $3.5 million deal.

High on his agenda now is deciding whether or not to pursue shortstop David Eckstein, who has filed for free agency. The Cardinals also are in the market for another starting pitcher and an outfield bat.

“I’d say he’s high-energy, proactive and he wants to accomplish things,” chairman Bill DeWitt said. “Mo has been instrumental in our success this decade. He brings a great deal of strength to all areas of our operation.”

The Cardinals interviewed three other assistantGMs: Chris Antonetti of the Indians, Peter Woodfork of the Diamondbacks and Rick Hahn of the Rockies. Also interviewed was Jon Weil, manager of minor leagues for the Rockies.

Antonetti was the other finalist.

“I am very fortunate to be in a great personal and professional situation in Cleveland,” Antonetti said. “I feel privileged to have been considered for the opportunity in St. Louis.”

Jocketty was dismissed largely because of friction in the front office with Jeff Luhnow, a team vice president in charge of amateur scouting and player development. Luhnow, who has been the point man for the franchise’s increased presence in international scouting, was not a candidate for the GM opening.

“I think a lot of that’s been overrated,” Mozeliak said. “I will say this: My working relationship with Jeff has been outstanding.

“What he’s done to this point has allowed us to make better decisions as we move forward and it would be ludicrous for me to ignore that.”

Jocketty helped the team reach the postseason seven times in 12 seasons, one of the best stretches in franchise history.

Mozeliak, who joined the organization in 1995, has interviewed for GM openings in Cincinnati and Houston. He has a scouting background, beginning his career with the Cardinals as an assistant in scouting operations and rising to director of baseball operations in 2001 and scouting director in 2003-04.

“You don’t necessarily dream about being a general manager, but as you work in the game you start to have aspirations,” Mozeliak said. “I really welcome this opportunity.”

La Russa returned despite speculation he would leave following Jocketty’s dismissal. He and Jocketty had worked together since they were at Oakland in the 1980s, and Jocketty hired La Russa before the 1996 season.

DeWitt said La Russa approved of the hiring.

“Tony was very supportive,” DeWitt said. “I stayed in touch with him regularly on the various candidates and spoke with him again last night. He’s looking forward to working with the group.”

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