Bill James was a revelation for Sandy Alderson, back in the early 80′s. He was one of the first insiders to really take James’s theories to heart.
Actually, “insider” is not the right description for Alderson at that point. He was an ex-Marine, a Harvard Law School graduate. Perhaps his outsider origins allowed him the freedom to absorb the writings of Bill James without an offended, cluttered mind.
So what did Sandy learn? That OBP is king; that “walks” are underrated. He learned more, of course, but those were the great tenants. Sandy had found an edge.
Nowadays, well, it’s been more than 30 years. The revolution has been televised and every GM in the game knows the difference between Ricky Henderson and Willie Wilson. Yet what I see is Sandy Alderson in the exact same spot he was in 30 years ago, but he’s not alone in the room anymore. It’s crowded. There’s no real advantage in owning common knowledge. Is this an old dog performing the same tricks with ever-diminished results?
It is politically incorrect these days to bring it up, but I have a problem with a GM this old. This has been my issue since Sandy was first mentioned as a candidate, that his best days are most likely behind him. When you look at the ages of the GMs of this year’s playoff teams you get the following:
- Chris Antonetti, Indians, 39
- Andrew Friedman, Rays, 36
- Ben Cherrington, Red Sox, 39
- Billy Beane, A’s, 51
- Dave Dombrowski, Tigers, 57
- Neil Huntington, Pirates, 44
- John Mozeliak, Cardinals, 44
- Walt Jocketty, Reds, 62
- Frank Wren, Braves, 55
- Ned Colletti, Dodgers, 59
Ten winning GMs, and only one of them, Jocketty, is over 60. The average age of the entire group is 49 years old, a full sixteen years younger than Alderson. We have heard lately about how perhaps the Mets should look at how the Red Sox and Indians have recently done business. Those teams have GMs under the age of forty. If we want to emulate those teams a good way to start would be to get younger at the top of the organization chart.
Wow, I haven’t seen those GM ages brought together before. Pretty telling, I think. When Alderson first discovered the Baseball Abstract series by Bill James, he actually hoped to keep it a secret. That’s how long ago we are talking about. He told writer Michael McCambridge, “I subscribed to it so strongly that I didn’t want anyone else to think about it.”
Well, back in the early 80′s (not Sandy’s age, I mean the date), a lot of the old guard GMs were still in the Dark Ages when it came to statistical analysis. They not only didn’t know the new information, they stiff-armed it, threatened by the mob of outsiders waving torches at the gate. Sandy was first hired as GM in 1981. He was 33 years old and open to new ideas. In 1995, according to Michael Lewis, Alderson introduced Beane to the Abstracts. Beane said, “That was the big moment when I figured out that all the stuff Sandy was talking about was just derivative of Bill James.”
Nowadays, the GMs you listed above were all weaned on those books, and beyond. I see Sandy as running on fumes and borrowed ideas. What competitive edge is he working? I don’t see it. Except that he’s realized it’s not too hard to trade established, high-quality veterans for prospects. He’s worked that well. Sandy’s bat may have slowed, but he can still park a hanging curveball over the fence.
And also: How much energy has he got? How much drive?
Here’s the question: Would Sandy Alderson approve of his own hiring? The old guy on his last legs, dragging out a few last seasons, paying big bucks for the great years he had with some other organization two decades ago? How is that good business?
You know the ironic answer, no way. But either because Fred Wilpon felt that Sandy lit up the room, or because Bud Selig was paying back Sandy for past favors, Alderson is our GM. As fans, that leaves us hoping he can summon the passion to do the job and be open to change in a constantly evolving game. All while working for a dubious ownership. That’s a tall order, and the pace of the Mets “rebuilding” since 2010 suggests it is too much. 2014 is a critical year, and the 2013 offseason will need to be handled aggressively. Completing a solid transaction or two, even a singular outstanding one, is not going to be enough. Given a chance by his owners, can Sandy Alderson get into second gear before this franchise totally disintegrates?
Or, is Sandy now at a point in life where he is stuck in neutral?
Great last line, Mike, I hate to step on it. But I came across this quote from Sandy’s spiritual mentor, Bill James, and had to share it as a closing thought:
“As we age, we get more narrow . . . . It happens to writers, it happens to managers, it happens to everyone. We rarely pick up new attributes. We develop some of the ones we have, the ones we don’t develop atrophy, and we become more narrow. The better part of wisdom is to fight your own narrowing, to try to stay open to ideas that you don’t understand and don’t agree with. When you embrace your own ideas too warmly, you accelerate the process of becoming irrelevant.” — Bill James.