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VOL. 129 | NO. 78 | Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Redbirds Name New General Manager

By Don Wade

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The St. Louis Cardinals have taken another step in their transition as owners of the Memphis Redbirds by naming Craig Unger, who has spent five years in the Cardinals’ front office, as the new general manager of the Redbirds.

The St. Louis Cardinals, which bought the Memphis Redbirds before this season, named a new general manager of the minor league team this week.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

Cardinals GM John Mozeliak made the announcement Monday afternoon at AutoZone Park.

“His background in marketing and sales is critical,” Mozeliak said. “When you look at what he’s been able to be a part of in St. Louis, he just seemed like the natural person to come down here and identify what needs to happen.

“From a leadership standpoint, he’s going to have his challenges, there’s no doubt. But he’s really energized to do this. Most people, when they follow the path of getting to the big leagues, they never want to leave. But he saw this is a great opportunity to leave his fingerprints on the organization.”

In St. Louis, Unger worked as an account executive in corporate sales and marketing. He said he had been traveling to Memphis since October when negotiations heated up between the Cardinals and Redbirds; the Cardinals recently completed their purchase of the Redbirds. The deal included the city of Memphis buying AutoZone Park for $19.5 million and leasing the park to the Cardinals.

The Cardinals also will play a prominent role in making upgrades to the 15-year-old ballpark. The immediate goal, however, is “getting people back into the ballpark and getting that energy level up,” Mozeliak said.

Prior to joining the Cardinals, Unger spent nine years in various positions at KTRS Radio, including station manager. A few years ago, he played an essential role in returning the Cardinals’ broadcast rights to KMOX (1120 AM). He also served as field producer for the 2009 All-Star Game at Busch Stadium.

He knows he has a selling challenge ahead of him in Memphis.

“From a sales standpoint we look at it two-fold,” Unger said. “One is ticket sales and the other is sponsorships. What we have to do is from ticket sales standpoint you have to tell the story on an on-going basis. In minor-league baseball it’s not always about wins and losses. It’s about the experience. Enhancing the fan experience here is something we have to work hard at.”

In 2009, the Redbirds entered into an agreement with venue-management firm Global Spectrum and Ben Weiss came in as the Redbirds’ general manager. Weiss was named the 2012 Pacific Coast League Executive of the Year. Mozeliak said Weiss will remain with the club through the 2014 season as a senior adviser.

“He’s still full-time,” Mozeliak said. “Obviously, it’s an awkward situation for him having been the general manager. He knew that this day would come at some point. He’s done a tremendous job here. But he’s also an employee of Global Spectrum and that deal ends at the end of the year. We had to be ahead of that curve and Ben’s agreed to stay on and help any way he can through the end of the season.”

One advantage the new general manager has is a club stocked with several prized prospects, including outfielders Oscar Taveras, Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk.

“The next World Series championship for the St. Louis Cardinals is going to come through Memphis,” Unger said.

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