New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson is the most deserving candidate for Elite Sports NY Sportsperson of the Year.
By Justin Weiss
New England is a big market, but New York is the market when it comes to sports and entertainment. So when Darrelle Revis announced his return to the Big Apple over the Summer, my initial reaction was that he would surely be a strong candidate for Elite Sports NY’s Sportsperson of the Year.
It wasn’t that way, however, as Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall became fan favorites, and the Jets’ secondary struggled at times with “Revis Island” sidelined with injuries.
Daniel Murphy went on a run for the ages in the postseason, but unfortunately for both the New York Mets and his candidacy for this award, he cooled down tremendously in the World Series. A player who certainly didn’t cool down was Odell Beckham Jr., the Giants’ prodigious wide receiver who rewrote nearly every record in the history of the league. What ended his candidacy — ironically — was a loss to the Jets which cemented Big Blue as a terrible team in a terrible division. A lack of success was especially cruel to some deserving candidates such as Brook Lopez.
This is the beauty of the Sportsperson of the Year debate. When I began thinking about this topic, Kristaps Porzingis was in the midst of shocking everybody with one of the greatest beginnings to a career that I could remember. He has since cooled down — something that happened to many on the list of 8 candidates for this award.
Brook Lopez, Odell Beckham Jr., Kristaps Porzingis, Daniel Murphy, John Tavares, Henrik Lundqvist and Ryan Fitzpatrick were all nominated for the Sportsperson of the Year award, but in the end, as decided by many of the extremely talented and prestigious writers at Elite Sports NY, we chose New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, who even with so many deserving candidates was a decisive choice. Elite Sports NY honors his impressive assembly of a front office and farm system.
But we are honoring Sandy Alderson for reasons even more important than those previously described. In 2015, Alderson and his staff reignited hope in a starving Mets fanbase by pulling off a string of incredibly succesful midseason trades and somehow miraculously developing not one, but five young and talented starting pitchers.
He was named Major League Baseball Executive of the Year in ’15, and has battled through scrutiny, an impatient fanbase and bad health.
He is not perfect, as five years of lackluster results is a testament of. But as a visionary, as a mastermind, as a symbol, no one had as much of an impact on their team and their city as Sandy Alderson in his humble way did with the New York Mets this season. Congratulations to Sandy Alderson, the 2015 Elite Sports NY Sportsperson of the Year.
A day in the life of Sandy Alderson isn’t like that of the other candidates on this list. He didn’t appear on the cover of a video game like Odell Beckham Jr. He wasn’t a guest at the White House like Darrelle Revis. Unlike Kristaps Porzingis, he can walk the streets of New York City without being implored for an autograph.
Alderson is one of the most humble and respectful people you will ever meet. He knows what he knows, and isn’t afraid to say that he doesn’t know what he doesn’t. Unlike many of his fellow executives and baseball intellects, he comes off as humble and reserved.
A former Marine officer, Alderson managed to blend new technology, advanced analytics and gut feelings to develop a winning team in ’15. His character and approach to teamwork, training, and focusing on the ultimate goal are blatant as he has been provided with less than adequate monetary support from Fred and Jeff Wilpon, the team’s owners.
In 2015, Alderson’s Mets won the National League pennant with a 90-72 record and a team that is poised to sustain its success. Through patience, a build-from-within attitude and much discipline, Alderson emerged this year as one of the best general managers in the game.
“Sandy is the best leader I’ve ever been around,” front office executive J.P. Ricciardi said, via Adam Rubin of Baseball America. “He lets you do your job. He respects you. And he wants your input. In the world today, his ‘yes’ means yes and his ‘no’ means no. That’s one of the best things about him. He’s always in the forefront. He’s not afraid to take arrows. He’s just a great leader.”
Despite playing in a big-market, Alderson was alloted roughly $50 million dollars less than his predecessor — Omar Minaya — and ended up with a payroll considerably smaller than that of the World Series winning Kansas City Royals, a small-market ball club.
Team owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon forced Alderson to spend conservatively after they lost a considerable amount of cash to Bernie Maddoff’s notorious Ponzi Scheme. In spite of having a team payroll that barely exceeds $100 M, he built the Mets from the bottom-up, and that translated into a World Series birth.
It’s awfully rare that one pitcher develops into a star, let alone five. With Matt Harvey (drafted by Minaya), Jacob deGrom (Minaya), Noah Syndergaard (trade with Toronto), Zach Wheeler (trade with San Francisco) and Steven Matz (Minaya), Alderson and his team managed to develop not one, but five future stars.
Using that same patient approach, Alderson’s team helped develop catchers Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki, utility players Dilsson Herrera and Michael Conforto, and relievers Jeurys Familia, Erik Goedell, Sean Gilmartin and Logan Verret. Additionally, budding studs such as Amed Rosario, Dominic Smith, Gavin Cecchini and Brandon Nimmo are all in the team’s prospect pipeline, waiting patiently to emerge as some of the games best.
The largest signing Alderson has made during his tenure as Mets’ GM was a four-year, $60 million deal with Curtis Granderson, who was arguably the team’s most effective bat all season.
The problem — or what turned out to not be much of a problem at all — was that with very little money, Alderson couldn’t get other bats to compliment Granderson — at least in the first half of the season, when New York ranked dead last in the league in runs scored.
But then everything changed in a matter of days. First, the Mets (fortunately, Alderson later said) backed out of a deal which would have sent Wheeler and Wilmer Flores to Milwaukee for Carlos Gomez. Then, Flores, who wasn’t notified about the move (or lack of one) and was kept in the lineup while Twitter exploded, was told by a fan in the Citi Field stands that he was being shipped to the Brewers, to which he responded with some visible tears when he took the field the next inning.
But for all the mayhem caused in a 24-hour period, there was much more to be seen in the days following. Jeurys Familia — the team’s dependable closer — surrendered a three-run homer a day later to the Padres’ Justin Upton at Citi Field that allowed San Diego to stun the Mets by coming back from a 6-run deficit to win the ballgame. A week later, Alderson acquired veteran utilitymen Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson — both of whom had an indescribable impact on the team. With just 13 minutes left until the July 31 Trade Deadline, the Mets inked Yoenis Cespedes for two young prospects. Cespedes would end up going on a home run tear, and would ultimately propell the Mets past the Washington Nationals and into the Playoffs.
What’s likely the most remarkable thing about all of these moves is how Alderson and his staff were able to put together a prospect pipeline so deep that they could surrender eight prospects and not feel like they just ruined their future doing so.
“That’s a huge turning point in the season,” Ricco says. “You could sit there and say it’s not meant to be this year after Familia gives up the home run. The Nationals are getting healthy. We have innings limits on our young pitchers. There are a lot of signs that might tell you, ‘OK, this isn’t the year.’
“(Alderson) thought differently and was right. With the experience, the calmness in the face of a lot of noise in New York, he never wavered from the path he saw for this team. All of that was a credit to him. He assembled a great staff. We have a lot of smart people. But really, at the end of the day, he made the decisions that got us where we are.”
To understand how Sandy Alderson rebuilt the Mets is to understand Sandy Alderson’s background in the military, law and baseball.
Alderson, 68, was born on November 22, 1947 to Gwenny Parry Alderson and John Lester Alderson. John was an Air Force pilot who flew missions during World War II, Korea and Vietnam, likely prompting Sandy to pursue a military life.
After graduating Dartmouth College in 1969, he joined the United States Marine Corps and served a tour of duty in Vietnam. Following the Marines, he went to Harvard University, where he received his Juris Doctor at the law school.
He soon after joined Farella Braun & Martel in San Francisco, California. Roy Eisenhardt, one of the firm’s partners, left to become President of the Oakland Athletics when his father-in-law bought the franchise.
Two years later, in 1981, Alderson got a job as the Athletics’ general counsel and in 1983 was named the team’s general manager, a position he held through 1997.
In September 1998, he accepted a job as executive vice president for baseball operations in the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, a position he held until 2005, when he was appointed CEO of the San Diego Padres. In 2010, he became the point man of then-commishioner Bud Selig, who he helped address the corruption in Dominican Republic baseball.
Finally, after 29 years in the game, Alderson was appointed New York Mets general manager on October 29, 2010, signing a four-year deal with a fifth year option. He would later be re-signed.
Alderson has left a visible imprint on every team and office he has worked at over his 34-year Major League career.
None is more recognizable than his impact on the way baseball operates today. With Billy Beane in Oakland, Alderson revolutionized the game of baseball by utilizing an analytical approach towards personnel to determine what moves he would make. At the time, this was a foreign idea.
“It was very much outside the norm. Not only would we not have acknowledged that we were using ‘analytics,’ we didn’t want to disclose it for fear of ridicule,” Alderson said. “It was exceptional at the time—and rudimentary, what we were doing in those days. It’s not as if what we were doing in those days was close to what happens today. But that’s largely a function of data, and the availability of data today that didn’t exist in those days.”
Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, who was hired by Alderson in the ’90s, had only strong words to say about the Mets GM:
“He’s very bright. He’s very tough—an ex-Marine. He came into the game with no real experience. Recognizing what championship baseball is about, he met a guy like (A’s broadcaster and special assistant) Bill Rigney, and he had baseball people around him. He asked a lot of questions and learned and learned. And after every year, he had a better feel. He was smart enough to know what he didn’t know. And he just relentlessly pursued it.
“But, more importantly—and anybody who is around him knows—he is a relentless competitor. Some people, even in our business, forget in the end that it’s your team against their team, or the score. They get a little distracted with, ‘Is this going right? Is that going right?’ It’s, ‘What can you do to have more runs than them?’ Sandy never forgets that.”
Another thing Alderson has accomplished at all of his front office stops is that he has accumulated prospect pipelines that could rival any in the game at the time. In Oakland, he assembled a group of young guys with names such as José Canseco, Mark McGwire, and Walt Weiss. With New York, he’s ensured that players such as Syndergaard, Matz, Wheeler, deGrom and Harvey have stayed with the team — no matter how much the New York media pestered him to do otherwise.
Commonly credited with standardizing the strike zone, Alderson has been lauded by many people in Major League Baseball, including current Commissioner Rob Manfred:
“The quality of service we can provide to the clubs in terms of securing visas and dealing with the immigration issues, coming to grips with the age and identity issues in terms of the fraud that was going on, the improvement of everything about the office, (Alderson) began to build what is now a very strong organization,” Manfred said.
“I think the biggest single thing Sandy did with the umpires was he instilled a culture of accountability . . . The umpire review process was completely overhauled. We installed the QuesTec system so we could actually evaluate people, and, I think, the really uniform strike zone that we have today is part of Sandy’s legacy.”
Sandy was diagnosed with a treatable form of cancer in Early December.
While he wasn’t able to attend the Winter Meetings, the Mets GM has done a remarkable job of igniting hope and building a formidable roster.
“He brought a whole different mindset to the game. Being a baseball guy, he really educated me a lot. He really forced me to stop and think, ‘Why does this work? Why does that work?’ He made me a better baseball guy. He’s shaped a lot of people.
“He doesn’t get the credit he deserves for the way analytics has come into the game, but he’s not just an analytics guy. He really values the scouting and the thought process behind how things are put together. He’s probably the most well-rounded guy who is in the game today. I love the guy.”
Many quotes taken from Adam Rubin’s fantastic profile of Sandy Alderson.