CINCINNATI -- To anyone who has followed Walt Jocketty's career, the scenario he undertook on Wednesday should sound pretty familiar. About 13 years ago, in the fall of 1994, Jocketty was hired as Cardinals general manager after he was an assistant GM of the Rockies. At the time, St. Louis had been without a postseason visit since 1987. During his 13 years seasons in the shadow of the Gateway Arch, the Cardinals went to the playoffs seven times and won the World Series in 2006. Now, Jocketty is being called upon to perform a similar turnaround in Cincinnati, where the Reds have endured seven straight losing seasons.
"Back then it was a little harder to do," Jocketty said. "This organization is further along than St. Louis was when I took over in 1995. There really weren't a lot of prospects in the organization, and a lot of money hadn't been spent in player development and scouting. This organization has a better base to work from. "There are a couple of things we may have to do yet. But I felt when we started the season we had a club that could be a contending club. I still believe this division is very winnable." Before he even warmed his new office chair, many around baseball had already praised the 56-year-old Jocketty for his ability to evaluate talent, make deals and delegate responsibility. "Today, a lot of GMs do a lot of things by e-mail, but he's always a guy who will pick up the phone and make a call," said Brewers GM Doug Melvin, who goes back to the 1980s working as a Jocketty peer and friend while both climbed the Minor League front-office ladder on their way to becoming big league executives. "He's very good at using the people he has," Melvin said. "He'll get the opinions of a lot of people: managers, scouts, special assignment scouts. He relies on his people to help him out. He's not afraid to make deals. He's a risk-taker. He brought in [Mark] McGwire to St. Louis, gave up some prospects. He got Jim Edmonds. He traded Kent Bottenfield after he won 18 games. He's not afraid to deal."
If you've been hired by, or worked for Jocketty in your career, there's a good chance he'll be in your life for years. For example, he remains close to Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who scouted for the Cardinals during a break from managing.
"I found out that a good general manager listens to his people," Leyland said. "I think good managers listen to their coaches. I think that all goes hand in hand. You obviously try to hire good people, and when you hire them, if you have all the answers yourself and don't want their opinions, then you should be running it yourself. And Walt Jocketty [listens]. Plus, he's a great humanitarian. He's one of the best human beings you'll ever meet. His track record is pretty impressive. I really enjoyed working with him."
And of course, there's Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who joined St. Louis in 1996 and won the NL Central division in his first season.
La Russa and Jocketty were one of the longest-running manager-GM tandems in the game until Jocketty left the Cardinals in October. During his tenure, Jocketty was named Major League Baseball's Executive of the Year by The Sporting News in 2000 and 2004 and Baseball America in 2000.
"His track record speaks for itself," La Russa said. "It was just a matter of time before he was back in a position that he's proven he can do very well. There isn't anything that he has a tough time with. He's strong at everything."
While he's not planning on any significant short-term moves, expect Jocketty to rely on his track record as leverage as he tries to speed improvement on the Reds. Like manager Dusty Baker, he wants to start by changing the culture of a franchise use to losing.
"The main thing to try and build an organization is you have quality people and build off of the quality people," Jocketty said. "You bring in quality players. You develop an attitude and philosophy of success and try to be positive all the time. Too many organizations tend to be negative and a take a negative approach."
Under Jocketty, the Cardinals didn't have the reputation for consistently developing players, but St. Louis did produce one of the game's biggest stars in Albert Pujols, among others.
With the Reds brimming with young talent such as Jay Bruce, Homer Bailey, Joey Votto and Johnny Cueto, Jocketty doesn't sound like he's going to raid the cupboards to acquire aging veterans in Cincinnati.
"I like building from within," Jocketty said. "You look at the guys still in St. Louis that are the key to the club over there -- Pujols, [Yadier] Molina, [Rick] Ankiel on the player side. You have [pitcher Adam] Wainwright, who was brought over from the Braves but really kind of finished off in our system. That's where you build your nucleus from. Then you add to it, whether it's through trades or free agency, depending on what you're capable of doing."
During the mid-90s, Jocketty ran the club with a modest payroll and gradually accumulated assets. The trade for McGwire in 1997 and his pursuit of Roger Maris' single-season home run record in 1998 brought fans to Busch Stadium and elevated revenues.
"My first year in St. Louis, our payroll was $28 million," Jocketty said. "In time, what we were able to do, we generated more revenues, and it enabled us to increase our payroll. We went from drawing a little over two million fans to drawing three and a half million fans. That's how to raise your payroll. You have to generate the revenue first and a reason for fans to come to the ballpark to generate the revenue. The best way to do it is winning."
An old-school GM that eschews statistic-driven analysis and evaluation, Jocketty resisted changes by owner St. Louis Bill DeWitt that replaced longtime aide Bruce Manno with Jeff Luhnow as head of scouting and player development.
"It was something I wasn't really on board with or felt comfortable with," Jocketty said. "So we had a mutual parting of the ways. The first few weeks, the first couple of months, I just vegged as much as I could. I didn't even follow baseball or what trades were being made."
His unemployment didn't last long.
In January, Reds owner/CEO Bob Castellini -- a former Cardinals minority shareholder -- reached out to Jocketty and named him as a special advisor who reported directly to him, and not GM Wayne Krivsky.
At the time, Jocketty liked the idea of not being in the GM grinder, calling his new post a "full-time, part-time job" that lacked the headaches. He could commute between Cincinnati and his home in St. Louis, where his son, Joey, is still a high school junior and daughter Ashley attends college.
"Bob had talked to me about next year after the season to kind of ease my way back into working again, possibly being president of baseball operations at the beginning of the year going into next year," Jocketty said. "He just asked me [Tuesday] night if I was ready to do it now.
"This is a very tough job. There's a lot of pressure and a lot of day-to-day pressure of wanting and needing to succeed. That's one of the things I wanted to talk to my wife and family about. They saw the toll it took on me. They also said they could see I was ready to get back."
|"There isn't anything that he has a tough time with. He's strong at everything."|
|-- Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, on Reds new GM Walt Jocketty|
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Reporters Jason Beck, Adam McCalvy and contributor George Von Benko contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.