You know how newspapers will sometimes endorse a candidate for mayor or governor? Well that’s what I’m going to do here for the Mets next general manager. I’m going to endorse a candidate. Do I have all the information to make the decision? Nope. But then again, who does …
“Sandy didn’t know shit about baseball . . . He was a neophyte. But he was a progressive thinker. And he wanted to understand how the game worked. He also had the capacity to instill fear in others.”
– Harvey Dorfman, to Michael Lewis in “Moneyball”
Baseball, more than any other sport, is resistant to change. It was the last to adopt any form of video review; managers and coaches still wear the same uniform their players, something that was weird twenty years ago; and it remains the only sport that could still realistically be played, as is, without the aid of electricity.
Baseball resists change because baseball sells itself as a timeless game, a connection to America’s golden age — whenever you think that golden age was. Maybe it’s the pastoral game spread by the Civil War … Babe Ruth partying in the roaring twenties … Bobby Thompson’s home run erupting into a celebration of post-war America … or the Miracle Mets and a man on the moon proving that anything was still possible in a divided country … but whenever that age was, baseball presents itself as a way back to that time. It sells itself as the same game your parents watched and their parents watched, because nothing about it ever changes. There are at least two commercials on television right now based on this premise (and another based on the premise that Mariano Rivera spends most of his free time scavenging for unfinished food at your local Taco Bell). Baseball is a game of tradition.
Basically, the sport takes prides in being the stuff that gets glued to the walls at a T.G.I. Friday’s — which is fine. It’s not a bad thing. I like it. I’m generally a stubborn person who is wary of change, and I like feeling connected to the past. Or at least I like being connected to a nostalgic, sepia-toned version of the past that I didn’t experience and might not have even existed. But whatever. There’s a reason baseball is my favorite sport.
Also, I kind of like T.G.I. Friday’s.
Anyway, I suspect that the problem baseball teams sometimes run into is that while Baseball As It Is And Always Will Be works from a marketing standpoint, it’s a totally insane way to run an organization. Mindlessly doing things the way they have always been done is a terrible strategy in competitive industries. Yet because the game is steeped in a near-blind adherence to tradition, that’s often what happens — organizational philosophies remain based on outdated, traditional thinking because this is just how things have always been done. This is how baseball people think because they’re baseball people. Innovation is frowned upon simply because it is different from tradition, and tradition is more important in baseball than anything else.
This, seemingly, was how the Mets have been run the past six years. Their organizational plan appeared to be non-existent, not because it didn’t exist, but because it was invisible in its blandness. The past seasons are best summarized by Jerry Manuel’s infamous “that’s baseball” quotation. That’s just how things are done. Who are we to question it? The problem wasn’t that the team only made bad moves, because they didn’t — it was that they didn’t make any creative, smart ones. They didn’t do anything different from how everyone else was doing it, so they had no advantage over any other teams. Their results weren’t awful, but they weren’t great either. The teams were middling, because the organization’s philosophy was middling. And that was the problem right there.
So if the Mets issue has been a lack of imagination — and it has — then the solution is someone with a creative point of view. However, the problem then becomes finding that person, as baseball isn’t exactly rife with differing viewpoints.
Thankfully, some weirdos do sneak into baseball and shake things up now and then. There are outsiders who — either not knowing the tradition or not caring about it — look around at things and say, “Gee, there are better ways to do just about everything.” Famously Branch Rickey, who essentially invented the farm system and supposedly invented batting helmets. Bill Veeck also, who just generally did a lot of weird and creative things, though he is remembered far more for the weird stuff. It is these outsiders who bring about changes in baseball.
In today’s game, that man is Sandy Alderson. A former lawyer and marine, he quietly might have been the most important baseball executive of the last twenty-five years. Front offices using sabermetrics? He introduced Billy Beane to Bill James’ work. Building a championship team simply by out-spending everyone else? Alderson might be indirectly responsible for the Yankees. Ever see umpires huddling up to discuss a call? Alderson encouraged them to do that when he worked for the commissioner’s office. Questec, the system MLB uses to grade an umpire’s strike zone, was also brought in by Alderson. His current job is cleaning up corruption in the Dominican Republic’s amateur player system, because Sandy Alderson is a man who Gets Things Done. In the future, there will be hoverboards; there will also be several interesting books written about Alderson’s influence over the game of baseball. He is an agent of change.
And Sandy Alderson is exactly who the Mets need right now. They need change. This is a team with a messy roster that needs creative solutions. Alderson isn’t boxed in by traditional thinking. The need order in the organization. Alderson is a former poster boy for the Marines. The Mets need someone who can both handle and ignore the media. Alderson is grumpy, old, and curses a lot. He is baseball’s go-to man for fixing problems, and the Mets are a problem in need of fixing. He is easily the most qualified candidate for this job, and really any baseball job. Basically, if you have a chance to hire Superman, you hire Superman.
That’s pretty much my argument right there: Sandy Alderson is Superman. He’s an outsider who has become an insider, all without losing his perspective. He’s not a member of baseball’s old boy’s club, but he commands their respect. He scares people, and the Mets need that. I endorse him as the next general manager of the New York Mets.