Webster Groves is home to multiple Pulitzer Prize-winning novelists, U.S. Representatives, a Hall of Fame baseball broadcaster and a world-record holding sprinter. It can now add General Manager (GM) Michael Girsch of the St. Louis Cardinals to that list.
In 2004, Girsch found himself with two newborn twins and the idea of an academic paper on the valuation of draft picks in Major League Baseball.
“I decided around the winter of 2004 that I was going to work on this [academic paper] . . . and sent it out May of 2005,” Girsch said.
The project would take place in his spare time after his job at Boston Consulting Group (BCG).
Girsch sent the finished project to all 30 teams in the MLB and heard back from three people; Oakland’s David Forst, Texas’ Jon Daniels and St. Louis Cardinals’ John Mozeliak.
“It was a very thoughtful evaluation on our current, at the time, draft system,” Mozeliak said. “The industry is always trying to move beyond solely a subjective approach and his paper interested me as it attempted to place dollar figures on players and potential performance.”
In the fall of 2005, Girsch received an offer from the St. Louis Cardinals to be coordinator of amateur scouting. Around the same time, his wife found out they would be having their third child.
Girsch, a lifelong Chicago native, had to move his family for his new job with the Cardinals. Not knowing where to go, he relied on a friend living in Belleville, Illinois to give him some advice.
“I said, ‘I have no idea, where should I live?’ He summarized it as, ‘find Kirkwood on a map, draw a circle around it and just stay near Kirkwood. You can be any place within a few towns of Kirkwood, you’re fine,’” Girsch said.
After a long, strenuous search for a place to stay, a search that Girsch said had his wife on the verge of tears, they settled on a house in Glendale. The family stayed in the house for 18 months before moving into Webster Groves.
The move, leaving BCG for an entry level position with the Cardinals, was not financially attainable for Girsch and his growing family. Girsch did not tell BCG he took the job in St. Louis until after they told him his year-end bonus so he could make the move financially possible.
Girsch remained coordinator of amateur scouting for two years. At the end of his second year in 2007, he was promoted to the director of baseball development. In 2011, Girsch was promoted to assistant GM. June 30, 2017, Girsch was promoted to GM after Mozeliak was promoted to newly made position President of Baseball Operations.
Mozeliak said it was time for Girsch to be promoted and said Girsch has the right characteristics for the new position.
“This is a hard position to train for, as there are many different requirements that are hard to prepare for,” Mozeliak said. “He has a strong understanding of the industry and has enough self-awareness to know what he needs to work on.”
When Girsch first started working with the Cardinals, he was mistaken for an intern by new draftee Jon Jay.
In 2006, the Cardinals drafted Chris Perez in the first round and Jay in the second round. After the two were finished playing in the College World Series, Girsch had to pick the two up at the airport and take them to their physicals before they signed their professional contracts.
Years later, in 2011, Jay was celebrating a World Series Championship and reminded Girsch of the day he picked Jay up from the airport.
“We win the World Series and I go out onto the field and I run into Jay,” Girsch said. “Jay says, ‘remember when you were an intern and picked me up my first day?’ And I was like, ‘I wasn’t an intern. I was full time. You weren’t even a pro player yet.’”
The two stayed in contact through passing after Jay was traded, and Girsch said they will always be connected because they came into the game at the same time.
That same season, Girsch was involved in one of the biggest player decisions in organization history: letting Albert Pujols leave St. Louis.
Girsch was able to observe the negotiation process after being promoted to assistant GM nine months prior.
“We were in the winter meetings, [Mozeliak] and Bill [DeWitt III] were having calls two or three times a day with the agent about what we could offer, what they wanted,” Girsch said. “It was an intense negotiation just to observe from my role.”
Girsch’s role in the negotiation process was more analytical, a role he said really did not factor into a decision of this magnitude.
“It wasn’t an analytical question. This wasn’t a question of what the numbers said. It was, what’s it worth to the organization? What’s it worth to Mr. DeWitt and the legacy of the Cardinals to have this guy be a Cardinal his whole career?” Girsch said. “We try to be impartial and non-emotional in analyzing decisions because it’s just the best way to make decisions, but this was totally the opposite. It was almost entirely about emotions and legacy and impact on the organization.”
Girsch said they reached the “puke point” in the negotiations because of the money being discussed.
“If [Pujols] said yes, I might have thrown up, and if he said no, I might have thrown up,” Girsch said. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to happen.”
Pujols decided to accept the offer to go to the Los Angeles Angels.
Mozeliak and Girsch were in a hotel suite at the baseball winter meetings when they found out Pujols’ decision. They made the decision to forgo the final day of the meetings to avoid announcing that Pujols would not be re-signing with the Cardinals.
“It’s not our announcement to make and if we go down there, people are going to ask what the status is and we can’t lie,” Girsch said. “We immediately decided we’re getting out of here.”
Girsch was sent to get the car to take them to the airport. He recalled going down the elevator with a well-known baseball reporter who, thankfully, did not recognize him.
The two got on a plane and by the time they reached St. Louis, news broke about Pujols’ decision and St. Louis media was waiting when they arrived.
“It was the most memorable single moment,” Girsch said. “It probably will be, barring some other craziness, for most of my career.”
Girsch said one of the best things about his job now compared to his previous job as a consultant is there are winners and losers. Winners are recognized for doing well.
“If you do a good job and things go well, there’s a freaking parade,” Girsch said. “I never had a parade at the end of a consulting engagement. At no point had I ever had a million people show up and throw ticker tape.”
Riding down the street in a pickup truck with people throwing ticker tape and a World Series trophy in hand is Girsch’s ultimate goal. And he hopes to do it again in St. Louis.
“My ultimate goal is to celebrate a World Series again,” Girsch said. “That’s why we do this. If you’d asked me a year ago what my ultimate goal was, I would’ve probably said to win a World Series in St. Louis again. My ultimate goal, personally, just for me, I don’t really care what my title is or what my role is. I want to be an important part of the decision-making process for a World Series winner.”