Team president keeps busy behind the scenes
In special Q&A, DeWitt III offers insight on Ballpark Village, Cards' roster depth
JUPITER, Fla. -- With Presidents Day being celebrated across the United States on Monday, MLB.com took the opportunity to talk with team presidents across Major League Baseball. The following is a Q&A with Bill DeWitt III, who has been the Cardinals' president since March 2008.
MLB.com: For those who may not know the specifics of your position within the Cardinals, can you highlight some of your primary duties and responsibilities as team president?
DeWitt: I oversee all the aspects of the business and operational side of things. That obviously means the game-day functions, all the business and rights holder agreements, sponsorship, accounting, finance, marketing, etc. I do a little bit on the baseball side, but it mostly relates to overseeing the operation of having the employees as a part of our group and budgeting and things like that. I'm usually only at the table with my dad [chairman and CEO Bill DeWitt Jr.] and Mo [general manager John Mozeliak] for strategic larger issues.
The other thing that has been a huge deal for me is Ballpark Village. And we have [organization-owned] affiliates, as you know. We own the [Class A Advanced] Palm Beach Cardinals, and we have the joint venture with the Marlins in Spring Training. All of that falls under me as well. And if we close our [Triple-A] Memphis deal, that would be folded in as well. That's sort of my overarching role.
MLB.com: Can you provide an update on the construction going on at Ballpark Village?
DeWitt: We are full steam ahead, planning on an opening at the end of March. We're gearing toward March 27 as the formal opening of the project so we can have a good week-plus before Opening Day [in St. Louis]. Now, on March 27, every last piece might not be done, but I think we'll be good to go in terms of the big Live! marketplace in the middle. Then the restaurants surrounding it will be in various levels of completion.
MLB.com: Has the winter weather in St. Louis added any wrinkles or unexpected setbacks to the construction plans?
DeWitt: It has been a problem, but we've just been able to surmount the problems and work around them. Our site work is a little bit delayed, and, as a result, will get compressed in the weeks ahead when, hopefully, [the weather] will lighten up for us. In particular, we are doing this Busch [Stadium] II infield park to the left of the building, and that site work is not coming along as quickly as we'd like. But I think we might be able to rush it at the finish line.
MLB.com: Will there be any new tenant announcements preceding that opening?
DeWitt: We have a couple of smaller tenants that we're going to announce. They might come right on the heels of the opening. It might take them another couple extra weeks before they're ready because they got in there late. But I do anticipate a couple more tenant announcements in the near future.
MLB.com: Ballpark Village is set to be the new home of the Cardinals' Hall of Fame Museum. How valuable an addition do you think this museum will be in helping bring the organization's past to life?
DeWitt: I can't tell you how excited I am about the Hall of Fame Museum. What makes the Cardinals special is the great history and tradition, and not only do we have that great history and tradition of a franchise to be proud of, but we also just happen to have the best collection of memorabilia that helps recall and educate that tradition of any team. And I don't think there is a close second place.
We started our museum in the '60s with a giant gift from Stan Musial of the bulk of his great collection of stuff, and we have been growing it ever since. Granted, the last 18 years of our [family's] involvement, we have taken it to another level, but even prior to that, that Cardinal museum that was in the old Busch II, we had some good donations and had developed a nice collection. We had a great foundation, and over the last 18 years, we spent millions of dollars, mostly quietly, building up this great collection of great, authentic game-used jerseys -- Dizzy Dean and Branch Rickey and you name it, all the way down the line -- or other stuff. We have also been very cognizant of getting good things when history is made in the modern era that we have been a part of.
All of that makes me just very excited about this museum experience and what it is going to be like for our fans.
MLB.com: What sort of behind-the-scenes planning went into determining how the Hall of Fame Museum will be structured and the memorabilia showcased?
DeWitt: At the risk of it coming back to haunt me, I have been involved in every last detail of it. We have designed every last detail, from the plaques on the Hall of Fame wall to the interactive exhibits in the museum to the written content within the cases. It has really been a labor of love for me and our museum staff to pore over every last detail on how we want to tell the story.
MLB.com: So much of your time over the last few years has been dedicated to overseeing the Ballpark Village project. Where will your attention turn once the new development opens?
DeWitt: I think that because Cardinals Nation and Ballpark Village has been such a complicated project, both to get it financed and built and then designed, I still feel like I'm in the middle of that. So the idea of opening up is still a foreign concept to me. But I do think it will transition from the building and the design and all of that to the operating part of it. So I think there is probably another stretch of time -- I don't know if it's a year or a few years or what -- where I will be spending quite a bit of time making sure the operations over there run smoothly.
Then, I think, perhaps a chunk of time in my weekly calendar will open to be able to focus on some things that internally here need a little bit more attention.
MLB.com: Turning to the baseball side of things, what most excites you about this club and the upcoming season?
DeWitt: I think for me what is so exciting is that we have depth seemingly everywhere, whether it's pitching or around the horn in terms of our position players. With all due respect to Tony Cruz, at every place except maybe catcher, where there is no replacing Yadi [Molina], I think we've got interesting scenarios. And, in some cases, we have scenarios that you wouldn't mind seeing if something happens to player A or B or C. I have never felt that level of optimism regarding our ability to go with plan B or C depending on what can happen during the season.
MLB.com: Under an ownership group led by your father, the organization has built itself into a perennial contender. What do you credit as the reasons behind that sustained success?
DeWitt: There are so many people involved in making that happen that it's hard to pinpoint a few. But I would point to a couple of factors. Clearly, I think my father's direction to kind of switch gears [in organizational philosophy] about 10 years ago and refocus on our player procurement approach as well as our player development approach, as well as Mo's ability to execute on that plan, has to be first and foremost in terms of why we're where we are.
But you have to give [former manager] Tony [La Russa] credit for doing a great job of leading the troops and Mike [Matheny], as well, for the last couple of years and into this year. Both have been very successful, but with totally different styles. Mike has a long way to go to reach the milestones that Tony had with us, but just the snapshot of Mike's first two years, clearly he has something that allows him to relate to his players and is leading them.
And I think you have to credit the St. Louis fans, too. It may be a little bit of a cliché for teams, but it really is the case in St. Louis that the fans overachieve in their support relative to our market size. And by doing so, we can act like a bigger market than we are. You can compete and win in a small market, and you can compete and win in a big market in baseball. But certainly the probability and the odds of doing so over a long period of time are greatly enhanced if you're acting like a bigger market from a revenue point of view.
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.