Dal Maxvill

February 25, 1985: Dal Maxvill becomes surprising GM choice

On February 25, 1985, the Cardinals made a surprise choice for their next general manager, hiring former shortstop Dal Maxvill away from the Atlanta Braves, where he had been serving as third-base coach.

Maxvill was hired to replace Joe McDonald, who served three years in the role but resigned at the request of the Cardinals’ executive committee in January. Upon McDonald’s resignation, Cardinals president August A. Busch Jr. issued a statement in which he said, “In selecting a new general manager, we will look for a person with a strong baseball operations background.”[1]

While Maxvill had plenty of baseball experience, the Cardinals’ general manager job was his first front-office position. The Granite City, Illinois, native earned a degree in electrical engineering from Washington University before the Cardinals gave him his start in professional baseball in 1960 as a light-hitting but solid defensive shortstop.

He wound up spending 11 of his 14 big-league seasons with the Cardinals, playing for three World Series teams and winning the Gold Glove Award in 1968 despite hitting just .217 for his career. He set a record for the highest career fielding percentage by a shortstop with a career of 10 years or more, posting a .9762 fielding percentage.

Following his playing career, Maxvill coached for the Mets and Cardinals and had been a member of the Braves’ coaching staff since 1982. He also operated a travel agency called Cardinal Travel Inc. alongside former St. Louis pitcher Joe Hoerner.

“I’ve had a chance to do just about everything else in baseball,” he said.[2]

The Cardinals’ search for a new general manager was run by Cardinals CEO Fred Kuhlmann, attorney Lou Susman, and consultant Tal Smith, and it was Susman who first suggested that the team should consider Maxvill for the position.[3] On February 23, 1985, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Maxvill would be interviewed for the Cardinals’ general manager job.[4]

“If I had a chance to do it, I would welcome the opportunity,” Maxvill said. “I sure would welcome the opportunity to talk about it with them.”[5]

The paper also reported that Bob Quinn, who had served more than 12 years in charge of the Indians’ scouting and player development, also applied for the job.[6] Additionally, the Cardinals reportedly considered former Cardinals players Joe Torre and Tim McCarver.[7] However, the Cardinals’ interview with Maxvill obviously went well, and on February 25, the Cardinals announced that they had given Maxvill a one-year contract.

“We were looking for someone who had a strong baseball background,” Kuhlmann said. “Although Dal hasn’t had general manager’s experience, he’s had enough experience in baseball that a general manager should have for the game and its problems. More than that, he knows the Cardinals organization. We were looking for someone with a sense of business ability to go along with his baseball experience, the innate ability to cope with the business aspects of being general manager.”[8]

Although Busch repeatedly called Maxvill “Maxwell” in discussing the hire, he expressed excitement for what his former shortstop could do in the role.

“Of all the people we considered, myself and the other members of the executive committee unanimously agreed that Dal Maxvill has the qualifications we were looking for in a general manager,” Busch said in a team statement. “When he was a player with the Cardinals, Dal was committed to being the best. I’m sure we’ll see the same type of performance from him as a general manager.”[9]

For his part, Maxvill said he wasn’t concerned to receive just a one-year contract, nor was he bothered by the Cardinals’ decision-making structure in which any big decisions would need to be approved by the executive committee.

“I don’t feel restricted by this in any way,” he said. “Ten or 15 years ago, trades could be made without consulting anyone else. But if I had a ballclub, wouldn’t you not want to sign someone to a $4 or $5 million contract without at least discussing it with someone?”[10]

Though he wasn’t part of the hiring committee, two-time former Cardinals general manager Bing Devine, who was serving as president of the St. Louis Cardinals football team, gave Maxvill his vote of confidence.

“Why shouldn’t he be a good general manager?” said Bing Devine, now president of the St. Louis football Cardinals. “He always has done everything better than any of us expected. I think the selection was excellent.”[11]

Maxvill wound up serving almost 10 years in the role before he was fired in September 1994. During that span, he saw the team lose its biggest supporter at the brewery when August Busch Jr. died in 1989, then lose arguably the most popular manager in franchise history when Whitey Herzog resigned in 1990.

In six of Maxvill’s 10 seasons, the Cardinals posted winning records above .500, and in 1985 and 1987 the Cardinals won the National League championship. Over that span, the Cardinals went 814-757 for a .518 winning percentage.

Especially after the passing of Busch Jr., Maxvill often found himself unable to gain approval for requested moves, particularly for free agents. After the 1994 season, he admitted that he came into his final year knowing that the team needed additional pitching to be competitive. Not surprisingly, the team finished with a 53-61 record.

“The pitching we needed was unavailable for an assortment of reasons, mostly money,” Maxvill said. “I feel we had a good nucleus of players, but I knew we didn’t have enough pitching. Sometimes, you have to go with what’s available to you.”[12]

During his tenure as GM, Maxvill’s key trades included sending:

He made some fine trades,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz wrote following the end of Maxvill’s tenure. “But as he became more entrenched, he was less willing to take risks. Maxvill was passive at the worst moments: times when the Cardinals were desperate for a late-season tourniquet to stop massive bleeding. Maxvill’s idea of a daring rescue was Todd Burns.

“Maxvill also overrated his own player development system. He’d hyped it for years, proudly telling us how much money the Cardinals were spending on the farm. While Maxvill didn’t enjoy the freedom of being able to spend at will for free agents, he was given a generous budget for scouting and player development. But the Cardinals weren’t churning out any all-star caliber players, and that shortfall couldn’t be blamed on the brewery.

“Moreover, Maxvill was terrible PR for the Cardinals because he reinforced the organization’s arrogant image. When interviewed, he came across as defensive and hostile. He often made a point of declaring that he didn’t worry about what the fans (and media) think. Well, it’s OK to sneer when you’re on top, but you can’t continue to insult the paying customers when your team is in the tank and attendance is falling.”[13]

Maxvill served out the remainder of his Cardinals contract through 1995 doing some specialized scouting. Afterwards, he also scouted for the Yankees on a limited basis.

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[1] Neal Russo, “McDonald Quits As GM Of Cardinals,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 4, 1985.

[2] Rick Hummel, “Maxvill Back With Cards As GM,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 26, 1985.

[3] Bob Broeg, “Maxie’s Forte: Doing Better Than Expected,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 26, 1985.

[4] Rick Hummel, “Dal Maxvill Candidate For GM Post,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 23, 1985.

[5] Rick Hummel, “Dal Maxvill Candidate For GM Post,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 23, 1985.

[6] Rick Hummel, “Dal Maxvill Candidate For GM Post,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 23, 1985.

[7] “Baseball-Business Mix Boosts Maxvill,” The Sporting News, March 11, 1985.

[8] Rick Hummel, “Maxvill Back With Cards As GM,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 26, 1985.

[9] Rick Hummel, “Maxvill Back With Cards As GM,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 26, 1985.

[10] Rick Hummel, “Maxvill Back With Cards As GM,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 26, 1985.

[11] Bob Broeg, “Maxie’s Forte: Doing Better Than Expected,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 26, 1985.

[12] Rick Hummel, “Maxvill Accepts Fate ‘Like A Good Soldier,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 22, 1994.

[13] Bernie Miklasz, “Lamping’s First Big Decision Right On Mark,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 22, 1994.