Q&A: Alderson on his career path

March 9th, 2017

In Part 2 of an extended Q&A with Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, he discusses how he got into baseball and the path that took him to where he is today. Read Part 1 here.

MLB.com: What was your first job in baseball? And how did that come about?

Alderson: My first job in baseball was as the general counsel for the Oakland A's. I started there in October 1981. I was an associate attorney at a law firm in San Francisco, and one of the partners and his family purchased the Oakland A's from Charlie Finley. I had worked closely with that partner and did a lot of the legal work in connection with the purchase of the team. That was in 1980; about a year later, I went over there full-time. I think I was the first full-time general counsel in baseball, which shows you how far the game has come, because right now we have four attorneys with the Mets.

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MLB.com: As an attorney, baseball operations probably did not seem to be something you thought about as a future. How did that come about for you?

Alderson: Well, in those days, the general counsel didn't have a lot to do. The business was a lot less complex than it is today, so I had the opportunity to travel around, see Minor League teams, do various things. The real opportunity came when Billy Martin, who was our manager at the time -- and thought he was our general manager -- was let go. We hired a new manager, but there was kind of a void there. I was given that responsibility without any experience or real knowledge of the game or of the position. It kind of grew from there.

MLB.com: How overwhelming was that?

Alderson: It didn't feel overwhelming at the time, because I was working closely with Roy Eisenhardt, who was the president and the partner. We kind of felt our way through it. I didn't really feel any great pressure, because I figured I could always go back to being a lawyer if it didn't work out. (laughs)

MLB.com: With a background that didn't start in baseball, are there executives from other businesses or other areas that have influenced you in your baseball career through the years?

Alderson: Well, I didn't have any real business experience before joining the A's. I was a lawyer for five years, and I had been in the Marine Corps, so probably my Marine experience was as informative as anything -- although we certainly didn't run the Oakland A's like the United States Marines. But basic leadership principles, organization, discipline -- it certainly helped to have had a working relationship with Roy for the previous five years at the law firm. I think that these jobs are as much about judgment as about scouting ability or understanding of analytics, because the real key is figuring out a way to put all that together and make a reasonable decision. So even though in those days I didn't have any experience and had very little knowledge, I think Roy and Wally Haas, who was there also, had confidence in my judgement. That was kind of it.

MLB.com: During your time in Oakland, you guys were very successful -- made it to three World Series, won it in 1989. How has the job changed most from that time in Oakland to your time here in New York?

Alderson: Well, the stakes are a lot higher, because the money is a lot greater. The margin for error can be smaller. A mistake in those days cost you a few hundred thousand [dollars]; a mistake these days could cost you a few million -- and those mistakes can add up. This is a business where mistakes can be made. Players make it, players don't, players perform, players don't. The outcome is not always within your control. What we try to do is focus on the day-to-day process and hope that we're increasing the chances of success by being systematic and organized and process-oriented.

PODCAST: Listen to the full interview

MLB.com: You guided the A's to three straight pennants. How much more difficult is it to accomplish the way the game is structured today?

Alderson: There are more steps involved, and as a result, I think there's a little more randomness in what happens in a one-game playoff, a five-game playoff. There are just several more steps. Back in those days, there was a League Championship Series, there were two divisions, two winners, then you go to the World Series. It's a multistep process now, which I think makes it more difficult.

MLB.com: Having run teams in both Oakland and San Diego, what are the biggest differences between doing so in those markets and in New York?

Alderson: The similarities between Oakland and New York stop at the fact that they're both two-team markets. The media coverage, the fan bases are very different. The fan base in New York is large, knowledgeable and demanding in some ways -- but surprisingly patient in our case for the first few years that I was here. Fan bases in Oakland and San Diego are not as large; there are smaller cadres of really enthusiastic fans. The media requirements are a little bit different. But they're Major League cities, and putting a good team on the field is ultimately the goal. Just that fact creates pressure to try to be competitive. Oddly enough, my relationship with the media in Oakland was, I think, very good over the time I was there. My relationship with the media in San Diego was not very good. I learned from that, and I've tried to put it into use in New York. They're different environments, but similar demands.