Former Rockies GM Bob Gebhard is returning to the Cardinals as a special assistant to GM John Mozeliak, whom he hired in Colorado. (File)

By Rob Rains

During his first season as the general manager of the expansion Colorado Rockies in 1993, one of the new employees hired by Bob Gebhard was a 24-year-old graduate of the University of Colorado’s business school.

That employee, John Mozeliak, was asked to fill a variety of roles in his first job in baseball, including that of being the Rockies’ left-handed pitcher for batting practice.

What neither Gebhard nor Mozeliak could know then, or predict, was that it was the beginning of a friendship that now has reunited them 24 years later – with Gebhard’s career coming full circle. Mozeliak, beginning his 10th season as the Cardinals’ general manager, recently hired Gebhard as one of his senior special assistants.

“Geb has been someone who has been a mentor and someone that helps me quite a bit,” Mozeliak said. “I feel like this is a great opportunity to both work together and for him to be a very positive contributor to our baseball operations.

“He’s done so much in the game and has worn so many hats. I just think he will be a great compliment to the rest of our front office and scouts and player development personnel.”

Gebhard, now 74, returns to the Cardinals after spending the last 12 years working for the Diamondbacks. He spent five years, from 2000 to 2004, working as a special assistant to GM Walt Jocketty in St.Louis after leaving the Rockies GM job in 1999.

Gebhard still had one year remaining on his contract in Arizona but decided it would be better for new GM Mike Hazen to put his own staff together. During Gebhard’s 12 years with Arizona, the team had six general managers.

“For the last 12 years Mo and I have stayed in contact,” Gebhard said.

“We’re good friends and always talked. I had 12 good years in Arizona, but I thought the new GM kind of wanted to start fresh. I asked for permission to talk to the Cardinals and Mike was kind enough to give me permission. I called Mo and we put together something.”

Gebhard does not have a complete job description but he will be available for whatever assignment Mozeliak gives him – in one way a similar job Mozeliak had under Gebhard all those years ago.

“He did everything possible around that building,” Gebhard said. “As an expansion team we all had to wear a lot of hats. Mo wore a lot of hats. When Walt left to go to St. Louis he asked permission to take Mo with him and had a better job offer for him.”

Mozeliak remembers that time in his life fondly.

“I found the whole thing very intimidating because I didn’t have a professional background at any level,” Mozeliak said. “I will say that at the time the Rockies’ infrastructure was smaller so you got to know people a little easier. I do remember Geb being a very intimidating figure but also one that over time you could warm up too. I think back to my time with him and it’s always been very positive.”

Mozeliak said he can see Gebhard – beginning his 53rd year working in baseball – being asked to evaluate players for the amateur draft, doing professional scouting and serving as an extra resource in observing the Cardinals’ minor league players.

“Obviously I’ve known him a long time and when you look at sort of the responsibilities that we have and where we are in terms of evaluating skill sets, he was just a great addition,” Mozeliak said. “He doesn’t oversee a department or run a specific one but he will get a view from many different levels of the organization and certainly be a critical part of assessing a lot of where our minor league system is and give us a fresh set of eyes.

“Our relationship has been extremely positive and I think he understands my appreciation for him and the respect I have for him. I think he’s glad to have a voice again in a baseball department.”

Gebhard pitched in 31 games as a reliever in the majors with the Twins and Expos – winning one game in his career - before moving into the front office in Montreal in 1976. He served in several capacities, including several years as the farm director, before becoming an assistant general manager with the Twins under Andy MacPhail from 1987 to 1992, when he was hired in Colorado.

Gebhard, who will continue to live in Denver, was in St. Louis this week for the organization’s meeting of amateur scouts.

“I’ve been through so many cycles and have seen so many changes in the game, but you still have to evaluate players,” he said. “It’s a tough job because you’re dealing with humans. Some develop and get better, some don’t, and some get hurt.

“If you buy a car and it doesn’t work you take it back; it’s under warranty. But when you draft a player there’s no warranty with it.”

Other than his personal and professional friendship with Mozeliak, one of the reasons Gebhard said he wanted to come back to the Cardinals was the stability of the organization.

During his tenure in Arizona, the only two GMs who lasted more than four years were Josh Byrnes and Kevin Towers. To find six GMs of the Cardinals, you have to go back to John Claiborne, who had the job from 1978 to 1980. Since 1984, the organization has had only three GMs – Dal Maxvill until 1994, Jocketty from 1994 to 2007 and Mozeliak.

“When we talked about me coming back I started looking through the media guide and saw how many faces I still recognized that were there 12 years ago, which speaks highly of the organization and Mr. DeWitt,” Gebhard said. “They are able to hold onto good people and there are a lot of good people over there.

“It’s a pretty well-oiled machine. Anything Mo wants me to do, any way I can be helpful, I certainly am willing to do.”

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