I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. At first take, Mark DeJohn looks and sounds more like a Marine drill sergeant than a baseball coach, what with his shaved head, bushy mustache and jutted-out lower jaw. Yet the 54-year-old Connecticut resident is one of best at what he does, currently managing the Batavia Muckdogs in the short-season New York-Penn League.
In recognition of the job the man known to everyone as simply “DJ” has done both in developing young players and molding them into a championship team, Mark DeJohn is our Scout.com St. Louis Cardinals Minor League Manager of the Year for 2008.
The on- and off-field leader at the first professional stop for at least 14 draftees of the St. Louis Cardinals this June as well as a number of foreign-born players, DJ’s charges included at least seven teenagers, including his then-17-year-old Venezuelan-born lead-off hitter and centerfielder, Frederick Parejo.
DeJohn’s responsibilities are much more encompassing than showing up to sit in the dugout for a couple of hours each day as he and his staff work day and night all summer long to meld youngsters from all over the world into men and professional ballplayers.
As most Cardinals fans know by now, the 2008 Muckdogs not only brought home the crown of the Pinckney Division of the New York-Penn League, but also won the Nader Cup as Batavia took the league finals over the Jamestown Jammers for their first championship in 45 years.
Yet, DeJohn’s job is much more than wins and losses, with the goal being to prepare his players to advance their careers to the next level of play and eventually reach the major leagues. This is an action for which he is very familiar, having been a coach or manager for a quarter of a century now.
Cardinals Vice President of Amateur Scouting and Player Development Jeff Luhnow had this to say upon learning of DJ’s award. “Mark does a terrific job with all the players at this important level. Most of the top draft picks start here so it is their introduction to pro ball, but there are also Latin players and younger high school or Junior College players who have played at lower levels. It takes a special talent to manage this diverse group and DJ is among the best in the industry,” Luhnow said.
In an indication of the transient nature of these jobs, despite his being in the same position for the last four years, 2008 was the first that DJ returned to the same town in doing so. DeJohn completed his fourth year managing the Cardinals short-season affiliate in the New York-Penn League, but the locale kept changing. He led the New Jersey Cardinals for the 2005 season, then the State College Spikes in 2006 before the Cardinals re-settled in Batavia, New York prior to the 2007 season.
DJ spent the three previous seasons managing the Cardinals’ Double-A franchise before it moved to Springfield, then between the Tennessee Smokies of the Southern League and New Haven of the Eastern League.
Prior to his recent minor league managerial stops, DeJohn served as a coach on Tony La Russa’s staff in St. Louis from 1996 through 2001. He began his coaching career in 1983 and also worked in the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals organizations.
Early managing stops in DeJohn’s Cardinals career included Savannah in 1986, Springfield in 1988 and Johnson City in 1989 and 1990, before he returned to the organization in 1993 as minor league field coordinator.
DeJohn’s playing career began in 1971 when he was drafted by the New York Mets in the 23rd round. He played in the Mets system for seven seasons before signing with the Detroit Tigers in 1978. The shortstop reached the major leagues with the club in 1982, when he appeared in 24 games.
In his own words
Despite all his past experiences and successes for many years over many levels, DeJohn looks back on this season as one of his favorites.
“To be very honest with you, I would put it right up there as probably one of my most rewarding years that I’ve spent in the game,” DJ said.
One very tangible remembrance of the 2008 season is going to very visible on the skipper’s hand.
“It’s a ring I am going to wear. I’ve got a World Series ring and I don’t wear it. I’ve got two National League championship rings from the Cardinals and I don’t really wear them. I’ve got a Southern League ring when we were co-champs in 2004. I’ve worn it a little bit, but this is a ring I am going to wear, probably every day from when the season starts, from spring training, until the end of the year. So, it means a lot to me,” explained DeJohn.
Audio extra exclusively for Scout.com subscribers: DeJohn discusses his management philosophy, highlights of the Muckdogs’ season, his past players and their successes and much more in this exclusive interview.
Listen to Audio (14:44)
Overall, it was a fine year all across the Cardinals system as the top six clubs each had winning records. Chris Maloney’s Triple-A Memphis club reversed multiple losing seasons, finishing with the second-highest win total in franchise history and the most since 2000.
The 2007 winner of this award was Springfield’s Ron “Pop” Warner: link. In 2008, his Double-A Cardinals set franchise records for second-half and full-season wins and his players collected eight Texas League Pitcher/Player of the Week awards.
Gaylen Pitts’ Palm Beach club took the first-half Florida State League crown, but fell just short in the league finals. I would be remiss if I also didn’t salute Joe Almaraz for bringing the Johnson City, Tennessee fans their first winning season since 1996.
Congratulations to all the minor league skippers and specifically to our 2008 Scout.com St. Louis Cardinals Minor League Manager of the Year, Mark DeJohn!
In one game this summer, an umpire made a questionable call that a ball was out of play, reverting a likely triple for one of his players to a ground-rule double. DJ stood up for his man.
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