- Baseball Maverick: How Sandy Alderson Revolutionized Baseball and Revived the Mets by Steve Kettmann
It takes a bit of East Coast chutzpah to suggest in the very title of a book that the man who has presided as general manager over the New York Mets for the past four seasons, during which they have amassed 77, 74, 74, and 79 wins, has revolutionized the game and revived a mediocre franchise. Dyed-in-the-wool Mets fans may believe, as spring training opens in 2015 and this review is being written, that the upcoming season will be their year, but how many others [End Page 210] think this will be the case? Oh, ye of little faith! Spend a few hours reading veteran journalist Steve Kettmann's excellent baseball biography of Sandy Alder-son, the general manager in question, and perhaps you will not be surprised if the Mets reach the post-season for the first time since Adam Wainwright dropped that enervating curveball over the plate against a helpless Carlos Beltran in the 2006 National League Championship Series.
A lawyer by training, Alderson was a baseball novice when he became general counsel for the Oakland A's. Roy Eisenhardt, working in the same law firm, coaxed Alderson to Oakland just after Eisenhardt's father-in-law, Walter Haas, bought the A's in 1980. Two years later, Alderson, an ex-Marine with an inquisitive mind, was Oakland's general manager. By the end of the decade, the A's had won four division titles, three pennants, and the 1989 World Series. After the Haas family sold the team, Alderson transitioned out. He did two stints in the Commissioner's Office, sandwiched around four years and two division titles with the San Diego Padres. In his first stint in New York, he worked to improve the game's umpiring. In his second, he ironed out some difficulties in the Dominican Republic. Then, at the urging of Bud Selig, the Mets called in the fall of 2010.
Kettmann's title may appear to be a brash, in-your-face marketing ploy, but his book is thoroughly researched, with Alderson's support, and carefully written. It is well worth the attention of serious fans and scholars. As the subtitle suggests, the book has two themes. The first is a necessary and overdue corrective to the notion that Billy Beane was the first major league executive to introduce sabermetrics—or what is now called advanced analytics—to the front office. Committed to learning the game and working smart, it was Alderson who ruminated on the merits of Earl Weaver's preferred offensive strategy, get two men on base and hit a three-run homer. It was he who read Bill James. It was he who listened to Eric Walker's commentaries on the local NPR station and brought him in to do some number-crunching. And it was he who rebuilt the A's farm system that produced three consecutive American League rookies-of-the-year, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, and Walt Weiss, and a steady record of success. In the spring following the 1989 Series, Beane's marginal career as a player was over, and he became a scout for Alderson and later his assistant and his student. The rest is history, at least according to Moneyball.
What Alderson has done with the Mets is Kettmann's second and larger theme. Following the heartache of 2006, the New Yorkers had endured two September collapses and two indifferent seasons. General Manager Omar Minaya had proven not to be the savior Mets fans craved, and the Wilpon ownership team turned to Alderson. He accepted the challenge, unaware of [End Page 211] the extent to which the Bernard Madoff financial scandal, implicating the Wilpons, would tie his hands. Still, re-assembling a cadre of experts who had worked with him before, Alderson put in place a four-year plan designed to put his team in the post-season in 2014. But more than that, the GM dedicated his...