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Alderson built storied career in 1980s Oakland

MLB.com

How long ago? Wow.

We're talking nearly 40 years?

How long ago? Wow.

We're talking nearly 40 years?

"Yeah, it's been a while," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said during the 2017 season in Atlanta at SunTrust Park, where we recalled the first time we met each other.

Just so you know, Alderson got a contract extension last week to continue one of the most distinguished careers inside and outside of baseball, and his new deal reminded me of our chat before that Mets game against the Braves when we discussed the old days.

I should say the really old days of the early 1980s.

Back then, I worked for the San Francisco Examiner, and as for Alderson, well, you should prepare to applaud, because this is worthy of praise. He's a Dartmouth graduate who served a stint in Vietnam as a Marine before he got his law degree from Harvard. After that, he worked for a San Francisco law firm, and for reasons I'll explain in a moment, he began his life as a Major League Baseball executive with a couple of other 30-something wunderkinds in the front office of the A's.

In addition to Alderson, there was Walt Jocketty, who became an accomplished general manager of the Cardinals and the Reds. There was also Andy Dolich, who spent years among the game's top marketing chiefs between doing the same for other professional sports teams.

That gifted trio joined others in the revamped front office of an A's franchise years removed from its glory days of Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue and three consecutive World Series championships during the early 1970s. Ugly things followed in Oakland, both on the diamond and in the stands, but controversial A's owner Charles O. Finley made several moves surrounding the '80 season to prove he was omniscient as well as eccentric. He hired Billy Martin as manager, along with Jocketty and Dolich. Then he sold the A's to local businessman Walter A. Haas Jr., who vowed to keep the team in town after a rumored sale elsewhere.

Haas hired his son-in-law, Roy Eisenhardt, as president, and Eisenhardt reached back into the San Francisco law firm he had just departed as one of its partners to name Alderson as the general counsel for the A's. Along the way, he gave Alderson the GM job in 1983.

"We really had a good group, and Bill Rigney was always around us for games as a great source," Alderson said, referring to the managerial legend from the San Francisco Bay Area. "We all watched the games together. We talked. We joked. We swore. It was a great time for us."

Here's what I remember most as somebody covering both the Giants and the A's during that stretch: Alderson, Jocketty and Dolich had (ahem) unique thoughts when compared to the traditional ones of their San Francisco counterparts and those around 20th-century baseball in general.

Did I say "unique" thoughts?

I meant bizarre.

"Oh, no question, we were different since the Giants were a little more conservative than we were at that time, and everybody else thought we were these crazy guys from California," Alderson said, laughing, recalling how that A's front office built the foundation during those early years for the sabermetric movement in today's game. "We just embraced what we thought were good ideas and just hoped they would pan out. Some did, but a lot didn't. There wasn't as much data out there as there is now, but the way we approached our decision-making was definitely influenced by some of the new thinking of that time from Bill James, and the guy we used was Eric Walker, who was a local guy.

"So we always had a bunch of those new ideas happening for us, not only on the baseball side of how to evaluate talent, but when it came to marketing opportunities and a whole host of things."

Take the Martin Era, for instance. It barely lasted three seasons, but it left a significant mark for the ages. Prior to his arrival in 1980, the A's had three consecutive losing seasons, including 1979 when they dropped 108 games. During his first year, the A's rolled to an 83-79 finish courtesy of his aggressive style that included a slew of hit-and-run plays, guys taking the extra base more often than not and the legs of a young Oakland native named Rickey Henderson.

Dolich branded the whole thing "Billy Ball," which evolved into a national craze, so you can imagine the hysteria around Oakland. With unique promotions built around that "Billy Ball" theme, A's season-ticket sales went from nothing to extraordinary. Dolich was eventually promoted to executive vice president of the franchise down the stretch of his 16-season run with the A's that featured three straight trips to the World Series through 1990, highlighted by their '89 triumph over the Giants in the "Battle of the Bay."

While Dolich did the promoting, Jocketty did the developing of talent during his 14 years with the franchise. He began as director of Minor League operations and scouting when he was first hired by Finley about the same time as Dolich. Before long, he was promoted to director of baseball administration under the new ownership group. He was also prominent in the formation of both the Arizona Rookie League and the Dominican Summer League.

As for Alderson, he was in charge of Jocketty, Dolich and everybody else below ownership before his 17 years with the A's ended in 1997 after he left for the Commissioner's Office to spend eight years as the executive vice president for baseball operations. Alderson later served as Padres CEO for five years, and after a brief return to the Commissioner's Office, he assumed his current position with the Mets following the 2010 season. Alderson's strategic purging of veterans helped the franchise grab pitching prospects like Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard, and his Mets won a pennant in '15.

None of that happens for Alderson without his Oakland years.

"When I started with the A's, I said to myself, 'Look, I can see how this baseball thing goes for a year or two, and I can always go back to being a lawyer,'" Alderson said. "I kind of live in the moment, because it's always been an existential life for me. So now here I am, 35 years later ..."

I'll finish Alderson's sentence. Wow.

Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com.

New York Mets, Oakland Athletics