Every March, the St. Louis Cardinals make a series of special announcements and award presentations at the organization’s minor league spring training orientation meeting as camp opens in Jupiter, Florida.
One piece of very important recognition that remained secret until Friday is the winner of the George Kissell Award for excellence in player development across the Cardinals organization.
That selection for the 2016 season is Gulf Coast League Cardinals manager Steve Turco, succeeding 2015 winner, Palm Beach pitching coach Randy Niemann.
About the winner
In fact, this is Turco’s second Kissell Award, as he was previously recognized for the 2011 season. He was also named The Cardinal Nation’s Manager of the Year in 2014.
Turco, 58, began his professional career in the Cardinals organization, spending six seasons as a minor league utility man, topping out at Double-A. In 2017, the longtime GCL Cards skipper returns for his ninth season at the helm in his 38th year overall following stints as a manager and amateur scout for the Cardinals. As a scout, among his notable signees were Jon Jay, Chris Perez, Shane Robinson and Adron Chambers.
It takes a selfless man, willing to devote his life to teaching others, to thrive year after year under the hot afternoon sun on back fields of Jupiter, Florida in front of an audience that may only include a few scouts.
Turco and his staff adroitly and quickly meld together a group of players, many of whom not only did not know one another previously, but are brand new to professional baseball and the Cardinals organization. They include Latins, high schoolers, college draftees and prior strugglers, turned into a team.
Turco, his coaches and the organization staff work together to have the youngsters playing consistently winning baseball while always maintaining the primary focus – on individual player development.
During the off-season, The Cardinal Nation’s Derek Shore asked the manager how he blends those various requirements together.
"I'm going to answer that with a story I used to tell a long time ago when I first started,” Turco said. “People used to ask me, 'Where's your job? Is it to develop talent or win?' My answer at that time was my job is to develop talent and get those guys to play at higher levels.
“After seven or eight seasons (as the GCL Cards skipper), I was asked again, 'What's your main focus?'
"I said, 'You know what? Development and winning go hand-in-hand.' It's important that you do both to develop their skills to the fullest and see what players you eventually have.”
The 2016 GCL Cardinals
On the field, the GCL Cards finally reached the top after having fallen just short in the finals the prior two years and three of four. The rookie-level Cardinals won the 2016 Gulf Coast League title after posting a franchise best-ever .611 regular season mark.
The manager describes how it came about.
“These kids,” Turco exclaimed. “It's funny because we started off the season slowly. We were a couple of games under .500 several times, and they told me when we were 7-9, ‘We are going to win a championship.' We had several players that would tell me that on a regular basis. I said, 'Look, it's not about what you're going to tell me. I'm from Missouri - you have to show me.'
"So, they continued to play hard, even though things weren't going the way we had hoped in the beginning. They started to gel, and the players started to get more comfortable. When you have young high school kids and young Latin kids - who are playing in the states for the very first time or playing professional baseball for the first time - it's a transition time.
"Usually when you have a good combination of college, pro experience, and then you have young players who are talented, but aren't expected to carry the whole burden of winning, then you have a chance to have a good season.
"We did just about everything this year. The kids really performed. They believed in themselves. Success breeds confidence and the confidence these kids started with was able to make it simpler for the success we eventually had. I was so proud of these young men and the job they did throughout the season," Turco concluded.
Turco, hitting coach Cody Gabella, pitching coach Giovanni Carrara, staff and players received their championship rings on the main field prior to the Cardinals game on Saturday, March 11.
The George Kissell Award
The Kissell Award is the top recognition any member of the player development organization could receive and remains an annual reminder of the importance of George Kissell to generations of Cardinals.
Through his teaching, Kissell essentially wrote the book that was later labeled “The Cardinal Way” as a player, manager and teaching leader of the organization from 1940 until he passed away in the fall of 2008 due to injuries suffered in an automobile accident.
The Cardinals recognized Kissell’s importance long before his untimely passing, first establishing the Award in 1995 to recognize a member of the organizational staff for excellence in player development. In the most appropriate nod, Kissell himself received the first Award.
The winner is chosen through voting by the Cardinals minor league field staff, with the peer recognition making it all the more meaningful.
Congratulations to the George Kissell Award winner for 2016, Steve Turco.
More about George
Among Kissell’s many other honors is a plaque outside the Cardinals Jupiter clubhouse highlighting his numerous accomplishments as well as the naming of the team’s minor league quad in his honor.
The inscription on the plaque says it all.
“Every player in the Cardinal organization since 1940 has had contact with George Kissell and they all have been better for it. One of the most respected people in the game of baseball at any level, George has worked in all areas of the Cardinals’ baseball operations. He was a scout, minor league manager, major league coach, and, as senior field coordinator for player development, he has coordinated the team’s minor league affiliates.
“Well known for his emphasis on fundamentals, George taught several generations of Redbirds how to play baseball. In recognition of his teaching excellence and personal example, the George Kissell Award is presented annually to the Cardinals outstanding player development staff person.
“George Kissell is one of the true foundations of the Cardinals tradition.”
Though Kissell was not eligible in the fan voting for Modern Era players to the Cardinals Hall of Fame, he was chosen as an “owner’s selection” and entered the Hall in 2015. For 2017, you can vote for several hitters who were once among Kissell’s students at cardinals.com/hof.
George Kissell Award winners
Turco joins other two-time honorees Chris Maloney and Mark DeJohn. The former is currently St. Louis’ third-base coach and the latter is the organization’s minor league field coordinator.
Notice the continuity in the system. 10 of the last 12 Kissell Award winners are still employed by the Cardinals.
|2016||Steve Turco||Gulf Coast League (SS-R) manager|
|2015||Randy Niemann||Palm Beach (A-Adv) pitching coach|
|2014||Derrick May||Minor league hitting coordinator|
|2013||Oliver Marmol||State College (SS-A) manager|
|2012||Bryan Eversgerd||Springfield (AA) pitching coach|
|2011||Steve Turco||Gulf Coast League (SS-R) manager|
|2010||Mike Shildt||Johnson City (SS-R) manager|
|2009||Chris Maloney||Memphis (AAA) manager|
|2008||Mark DeJohn||Batavia (SS-A) manager|
|2007||Dan Radison||Minor league hitting instructor|
|2006||Chris Maloney||Springfield (AA) manager|
|2005||Ron "Pop" Warner||Palm Beach (A-Adv) manager|
|2004||Blaise Ilsley||Tennessee (AA) pitching coach|
|2003||Mark DeJohn||Tennessee (AA) manager|
|2002||Danny Sheaffer||Peoria (A) manager|
|2001||Dyar Miller||Memphis (AAA) pitching coach|
|2000||Gaylen Pitts||Memphis (AAA) manager|
|1999||Mark Riggins||Minor league pitching coordinator|
|1998||Joe Pettini||Minor league field coordinator|
|1997||Mark O'Neal||Memphis (AAA) athletic trainer|
|1996||Bo Milliken||Minor league pitching instructor|
|1995||George Kissell||Senior field coordinator|
Bold=currently in the organization
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