The Cardinals picked a good time to be mediocre. In 1994, the Montreal Expos had the best record in baseball when the players decided to strike. They have a very good chance of potentially giving Montreal its first baseball championship. There is no such what if with the St. Louis Cardinals of 1994. Following a 1993 season of 82-80, the Cardinals were 53-61 and a pythag record of 49-65. They were bad.
In 1994, in the midst of the impending strike, Mark Lamping had been hired as president of the Cardinals. Lamping was a Vianney High School graduate who had risen to a sports marketing executive at Anheusher Busch. He was not satisfied with the direction longtime general manager Dal Maxvill had taken the team, as they had not made the playoffs in seven years.
Maxvill played baseball at a Granite City high school. Though in Illinois, it is considered part of the greater St. Louis metropolitan area. He attended Washington University and got a degree in electrical engineering. He signed a contract with the Cardinals in 1960, because at that time, there was no MLB draft.
He first made the majors in 1962, and played parts of 11 seasons, getting traded midseason in 1971. It wasn’t until 1966 that he even managed to make his mark, producing a 2.2 fWAR season in just 134 games. He was a fantastic defender, but absolutely dreadful hitter. His best season was a 90 wRC+ in, ironically enough, the Year of the Pitcher in 1968. In the 1968 World Series, he went 0-22. He had a career 58 wRC+, but 6.9 fWAR, to give you an idea of how good his defense was. He lasted a few more seasons when he left the Cards, and played his last season in 1975.
In 1978, former teammate and Mets manager Joe Torre hired Dal Maxvill as his third base coach, because he thought he could improve the play of his infield defense. Maxvill resigned after the season, citing a desire to be closer to home and to work at his travel agency. But manager Ken Boyer hired him and Red Schoendienst to be coaches for the following two seasons. When Whitey Herzog was hired as manager, he wanted his own coaches and he became a minor league instructor. Maxvill again was poached by Torre, this time manager of the Braves, and he remained there until 1984.
In spring training 1985, Maxvill was encouraged to interview for the general manager position, because they wanted something with knowledge of the Cardinals organization ad a good head for business. They made it to the World Series in 1985 and 1987. One of his first moves was trading for Jose Oquendo.
On the one hand, Maxvill wasn’t a very good GM. His record while general manager was 784-757, which looks a lot less impressive when you realize he had virtually no impact on the 1985 squad that won 101 games and only a little bit more for the 1987 squad that won 95 games.. Of the top 12 players on the Cardinals by bWAR, he signed Bob Forsch and drafted Joe Magrane. The rest were acquired prior to him getting hired.
On the other hand, he was not put in the most favorable position. He had a vocal manager in his ear in Whitey Herzog, who also annoyingly had the cred to back up his words whenever he wanted a player. He was general manager of the Cards a few years prior and extremely responsible for the Cards winning ways in the 1980s. In 1989, Auggie Busch died and he had owners who did not care about winning and had no interest in the baseball team. It became more important to acquire inexpensive talent, because the Cardinals stopped paying for high salaries. Granted, Maxvill seemed to be mostly on board with the ownership group, as he had voiced his concerns about rising salaries.
So on September 21, 1994, Lamping was hired as president of the Cardinals and three weeks later, he fired Maxvill. One of the curious things to me, is that the 1994 strike did not appear to affect the Cardinals organization in the slightest and yet it was a time when the team was in transition. You’d think the two would be correlated, but as far as I can tell, they have essentially no relation.
Lamping was hired before the strike officially happened, but definitely at a point where a strike looked probable, but he wasn’t hired because of the strike. Lamping’s motives for firing Maxvill also seemed not at all related to the strike, but because he wasn’t a very good GM and was coming off seven years without a playoff appearance. The brewery was looking to sell the team at this point and in fact sold it the year after the strike. But they had long been looking to sell the team before the strike ever happened.
Walt Jocketty was hired less than a month later and I’d say that worked out pretty well.
*This was meant to be posted as a “This Day in History” post, but I was in New Orleans that day so you get this a few days later. Kind of an awkward time to post this, but it’s already been written so here you go.