Alderson's tenacity an asset during cancer treatment
One of my favorite memories of Mets general manager Sandy Alderson occurred as one of his previous teams, the Oakland Athletics, was losing a sloppy game. In those heady days of 1989, the A's didn't do this kind of thing very often, and Alderson wasn't the most gracious of losers.
So on this day, Alderson rose from his seat, turned from the playing field and kicked a trashcan down a hallway. With that, he sat back down and proceeded to watch the remainder of the game in silence.
There was something in the scene that spoke volumes about the young executive, about his competitive fire as well as his ability to absorb what he was seeing, to react to it and then to put it into the larger context of a very long season.
At the time, Alderson was 41 years old, one of baseball's youngest general managers and a very, very unproven one. Today, he's 68 and one of the game's wise men, someone who has constructed postseason teams in three different places and left a lasting footprint.
Back then, though, he'd been an unconventional hire since he hadn't played the game or coached it, and more than a few baseball people were convinced he would fail and badly. Some seemed to be rooting for just that to happen.
Alderson's credentials? Dartmouth undergrad and Harvard Law. Marine Corps and Vietnam vet. His first job in baseball was as the A's legal counsel.
No one gives it a second thought when a guy like that gets hired these days. Just another smart guy. In 1983, the A's naming Alderson as their general manager was one of the first indications that the sport might be heading in a new direction.
His original genius was that he knew there were things he didn't know. In other words, he hadn't played or coached. So he surrounded himself with people who had -- most notably Bill Rigney, a legendary and respected baseball lifer.
Alderson constructed a model organization in Oakland, one that won three straight American League pennants from 1988-90. In the years since, he built postseason teams with the Padres and Mets and also worked for the Commissioner's Office in a variety of roles.
He showed that it's possible to incorporate math and science into the more traditional baseball methods of scouting and player development. The 2015 Mets, built through smart player development and a series of aggressive Trade Deadline deals, were the latest tribute to Alderson's way of doing business.
The Mets announced Friday that Alderson is undergoing treatment for what they called "a treatable form of cancer." He will continue to work, although his schedule will be limited, and he will not attend next week's Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn.
Alderson's absence will be noticed, since he has been such a prominent presence in the sport for more than three decades. His influence can be seen in the continued embracing of analytics and in the front offices of the A's (Billy Beane), Diamondbacks (Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart) and Mets (Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi).
The new wave of general managers owe a debt of gratitude to Alderson. In that way, his influence on the sport would be nearly impossible to calculate.
Alderson's friends throughout baseball admire him, not just for his tenacity and innovation, but also for his sense of humor and dignity. He needed that sense of humor during five seasons with the Mets when success didn't happen overnight.
He stayed the course, accumulating pitching and then more pitching, unshakable in his belief that the franchise was headed in the right direction. Here's hoping the memories of this magical World Series season warm his soul through the treatment and therapy ahead.
One morning at the Winter Meetings several years ago, I stepped into a hotel lobby to see Alderson leaving for his daily five-mile run.
"Let's go," he said.
I wasn't sure if it was a request or a command, so I followed.
"Good, easy pace," I told him.
No problem, he said. But as we got going, it was not a good, easy pace. It was a relentless one, with me furiously trying to keep up.
No matter how hard I ran, Alderson was always a step ahead. Later, I would find that he always liked to set the pace, to be in control.
That's how a lot of people are hoping Alderson's cancer treatment goes. That he will set the pace, that he will not back down, that he will prevail. Alderson is one of the people who has made this sport way better, and there's still more for him to do.