GMs Jocketty, Melvin rivals on field, friends off
After competing in NL Central all season, duo vacations together with their families
MILWAUKEE -- They met as farm directors and remained close as each man moved up the baseball ranks. Reds general manager Walt Jocketty and Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, whose teams will tangle this weekend for the second time in a week, are proof that professional rivalries need not get in the way of personal friendships.
"I was an assistant in Oakland, and he was in Baltimore," Jocketty said. "We met at meetings over the winter, and then we would start bringing our wives to meetings.
"When they hit it off, the relationship took off."
Another farm director, Toronto's Gord Ash, joined the circle at about the same time, and within the span of four days in October 1994, all three men were hired as GMs -- Ash in Toronto, Jocketty in St. Louis and Melvin in Texas. Beginning in the late 1990s, the GMs, their wives and children joined for the first of what would become near-annual offseason vacations.
The first trips were to Banff and Lake Louise, Alberta, the picturesque Canadian mountain towns, for long ski weekends over the U.S. Thanksgiving. After a few years, school began to get in the way for Ash's younger son, so that family dropped out, and the Jockettys -- Walt, wife Sue and children Ashley and Joey -- and Melvins -- Doug, Ellen and children Ashley and Cory -- expanded the itinerary.
Over the past decade or so, they have cruised the Caribbean, beached in Hawaii, sunned in Sedona, Ariz., and vacationed from England, Italy and Spain to Kennebunkport, Maine. This past Thanksgiving, the Jockettys and Melvins visited Paris. Usually, the wives work out a plan and the men and kids follow, but Paris was Doug Melvin's pick because it marked his 60th birthday.
His first choice was Bora Bora.
"Too far," Melvin said.
They are rivals in the summer and best of friends in the winter.
"We don't talk much business," Jocketty said. "We have kids the same age, a lot in common, and our families have just always gotten along. We're able to keep the competition separate."
Has that ever been difficult?
"No, I don't think so," Jocketty said. "Doug may feel different."
"We get on each other once in a while about things," Melvin said, "We were in Paris walking around and he was on his iPad looking at scouting reports, deciding who he was going to put on the roster as one of his last Rule 5 [protected] guys. I gave him a hard time about that."
When the teams play each other and the visiting GM is on the trip, as Jocketty was last weekend at Miller Park, he joins the home GM in his suite.
"I like to watch him throw tantrums once in a while," Melvin joked. "I'm sure he likes to see me once in a while, too."
Jocketty's whole family was on the trip to Milwaukee, and they stayed behind when the Reds left town to attend Melvin's "Pink Tie Guy" event at the Pfister Hotel. Hank Aaron was the guest of honor at this year's event, which raises funds annually for breast cancer research.
Jocketty was reveling in a Reds win that night, and Melvin nursing a Brewers loss.
"He beat us 9-1 [on Sunday], donated $1,000, so I gave him a pink tie and told him to get out of here," Melvin joked.
They are not the first GMs to become great friends off the field. The Yankees' Brian Cashman and the D-backs' Kevin Towers are good buddies, as were the Blue Jays' Pat Gillick and Tigers' Bill Lajoie years ago.
Melvin and Jocketty have made very few trades, probably attributed to the fact they have worked in the same division since the Brewers hired Melvin in September 2002. Jocketty parted ways with the Cardinals in October 2007, but was hired by the Reds the following April.
Their last deal was in August 2010, when Melvin sent veteran Jim Edmonds to the Reds for Chris Dickerson, a move to get Edmonds into a pennant race. Prior to that, they had not traded since August 2003, Melvin's first season in Milwaukee, when he traded reliever Mike DeJean to Jocketty's Cards for players to be named later.
In 1998, when Melvin was in Texas, he made two significant swaps with Jocketty. In June, Melvin sent right-hander Bobby Witt to the Cardinals for players to be named later and cash. A month later, at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, the men made their most significant swap: Left-handed starter Darren Oliver and then-prospect Fernando Tatis to St. Louis for All-Star shortstop Royce Clayton, pitcher Todd Stottlemyre and outfielder Mark Little.
"I think they know where to draw the line," Ash said. "They'll know where they can't go, and I think it speaks to their friendship that they know that. I don't think it's a spoken line, but they both know the parameters."
The friendship is defined by mutual respect, Jocketty said, and a shared understanding of building a team with limited resources. Milwaukee and Cincinnati are the two smallest media markets in the National League.
"We've talked about it," Jocketty said. "Because we're both small-market clubs, and it is a real challenge. There are a lot of similarities in what we do. But we always seem to get to a point where, because we are rivals, after all, that the discussion stops at some point."
"Movies," Jocketty said. "We've seen a lot of movies."
This Thanksgiving, the families will travel to Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C.
"It's a long baseball season, and one of the best parts of this game is the friendships you make over the course of 40 years you've been in the game," Melvin said. "It is a game of friendships."