The new general manager of the Mets, Sandy Alderson, was the smartest person in the room during yesterday’s press conference. He was also the one who contradicted himself the most. This is not a coincidence.
The balding 62-year-old Alderson was amiable, occasionally funny (though mostly in a cheesy sort of way), and wore a goofy yellow Mets tie. But it still seemed as if he could scare the hell out of you with a look, if he wanted. He was easy-going, yet stern. Affable, yet unyielding. Basically, Alderson felt like your dad.
And, like your dad, at times it seemed as if Alderson was talking down to everyone. But it didn’t seem as though he was doing so because he thinks we’re all stupid. Rather, he did so because he wanted to ensure his message was clear to everyone (because we are all stupid). He understood he wasn’t really speaking to the media gathered in the room — he was speaking to the fans watching on television and listening on the radio. Unlike many of his predecessors, Alderson clearly understands that the media is a means and not an end in itself. He knew that yesterday was about rebuilding the Mets brand for the fanbase, and he delivered his message accordingly.
But his intelligence was also evident in what he said, and not just how he said it. When asked about possibly moving some of the Mets core players, Alderson said this: “Just as an aside, one of the reasons that fans like baseball is because it provides a certain consistency and continuity in their lives that maybe doesn’t exist otherwise. It’s important to recognize that. There’s a bond that exists over time. But, at the same time, I think fans enjoy change. I mean, in our lives today there’s a lot of change. I don’t think we want overwhelming change, but I think fans like to know what’s new. That’s what we have to balance — that desire for continuity with that desire for the next new thing.”
Read that again. In that little blurb, Alderson begins by making a beautiful point: Baseball never deserts you. Baseball never breaks up with you, baseball never fires you, baseball never moves away. Your favorite baseball team is there, 162 games a year or more, season after season, if you need it. Time makes you bolder, children get older — I’m getting older, too — but baseball endures. Continuity is comforting, something to hold onto. We like continuity.
But he also goes on to say that change is good. Change is everywhere. Turn and face the strange. You meet new people, do different things, learn things you didn’t know before. People get married, promoted, move on to bigger and better things. Promising rookies come up and replace underperforming veterans. A star is traded for a handful of pitching prospects. Change is an opportunity. Change is exciting, something to reach for. We like change.
Basically, within a few sentences Alderson said, “A is good. But the opposite of A is also good.” Continuity is good; not continuity is good. On some level, this is totally insane — only it didn’t feel like that, because we all think this way. We’re all walking contradictions looking for some kind of balance.
This is why Sandy Alderson came off as so impressive yesterday. Whatever you wanted to hear in yesterday’s press conference, you probably heard Alderson say it. And then you walked away feeling good about the Mets future, while the grownups go off and fix everything.
Pretend you like statistics, sabermetrics, numbers, that whole deal. You read Bill James, Rob Neyer, Fangraphs, and log onto Amazin’ Avenue every morning. Watching yesterday’s press conference, you probably heard things like, “The mathematics, I don’t believe, lie,” or, “It’s important for the manager to be somewhat analytical.” You heard Alderson mention the importance of on-base percentage and slugging percentage. And maybe you felt a little excited about these new Mets.
Now pretend you like heart, hustle, playing the game the right way, those things. You love listening to WFAN and getting fired up about your team. Watching yesterday’s press conference, you probably heard things like, “I think a fiery manager is actually quite desirable,” or “The game is also about character, and things you can’t measure.” And maybe you felt a little excited about these Mets.
Alderson did take a stand on some issues. (For example, he’s in favor of paying over the recommended slot in the draft.) But in terms of broad ideologies, he qualified every statement by acknowledging the validity of both sides of the debate. I don’t think he was being wishy-washy or patronizing. I think he was being honest — Alderson actually sees that there are multiple sides to everything, and it’s worth looking at all of them. Still, whatever side of the debate you stand on, you probably think he agrees with you. I know I do.
Alderson understood that yesterday was not about him, or what his actual beliefs are, or even how he’s planning on fixing the Mets — because he really didn’t say much definitive about any of those things. Rather, it was about getting everyone excited about the Mets again. He got the statheads salivating, appealed to the traditionalists, impressed the media, and did it all in a direct and clear manner. He understands how to pull the strings — as a (sort of) member of the media, I’m fully aware that he’s pulling my strings now.
And that’s what excites me the most. I don’t mind having my strings pulled by him. Alderson is the smartest guy in the room. He knows what he’s doing.