A couple years back, while CEO of the San Diego Padres, Sandy Alderson did an interview with Geoff Young for the popular Padres blog ‘Ducksnorts’ (click here to check out this informative and entertaining blog). It was a 3-part interview that focused on Alderson’s various roles around baseball prior to becoming CEO of the club in 2005 and also provided some insight into how his philosophy about the game developed. I was amazed to see that Alderson took so much time (over an hour) to do such a detailed interview with a ‘blogger’ at a time when many failed to see the legitimacy behind the ‘blogosphere’. Fortunately, guys like Geoff Young, Matt Cerrone, and many others have done a great deal to change the way people think about sports blogging and it’s interesting that Alderson had the foresight to see the potential impact it could have down the road. It’s also nice to know that, as Geoff pointed out, “Accessibility is a hallmark with Alderson.”
Young said his approach to the interview was simple, “Try to ask questions that don’t suck, and then get out of the way and let the man talk.” He certainly succeeded and I’ve included some of my favorite exchanges from the Q&A below. I highly recommend reading the piece in it’s entirety by clicking here and offer a big thanks to Geoff for his tremendous work and of course permission to use it in this post. Interestingly enough, the interview was conducted in June of 2008 after the Padres completed a 4-game sweep of the Mets in Petco. Ouch.
Excerpts from Part III of the interview (Alderson speaks about his view on accessibility to the media):
Ducksnorts: Something that’s near and dear to my heart: Paul DePodesta has recently started a public-facing blog, which is really cool. When I was working in industry, that was one of the things I was trying to get my company to do externally… I’ve seen a lot of examples — Wells Fargo, Southwest Airlines, IBM — of very reputable corporations doing public-facing blogs, and really to great effect in terms of customer outreach and so forth. That said, it’s pretty revolutionary for the Padres to take that step. What factors influenced you to start that?
Alderson: Well, first of all, I really believe in as much interface with the public as possible. I do a radio show every week — we’ve got Grady [Fuson], Kevin [Towers], Paul — all those guys do a radio show every week, and my attitude is, the more people hear about us and from us, the better off we are because I have a lot of confidence in the people we have here.
The blogosphere creates another opportunity to communicate, and I’ve got a lot of confidence in Paul — in his ability to write, in his ability to self-edit if that’s necessary — to be as straightforward as possible under the circumstances. We ran it internally for, I don’t know, a month or something like that and decided… let’s go ahead. I’m not sure what we get back in the form of commentary is terribly useful because it tends to be — not a fringe element, but I wouldn’t say it’s [laughs] an accurate poll of public opinion.
Ducksnorts: It’s like the radio. [laughs]
Alderson: Right, and I don’t consider that to be perfectly representative either, but it’s another source for us…
Ducksnorts: You’ve got to be out there.
Ducksnorts: I think that’s commendable that you guys view it as an opportunity, because [with] a lot of people — not necessarily within the baseball world, but within the corporate world, my experience has been, “this is new, we don’t know what it is, and let’s wait till someone else does it before we determine that, oh, hey, yeah, that was a good idea; we really should have gotten in on that.”
Alderson: The other thing we’ve been toying around with is allowing people like yourself into the press box. I know there’s a lot of controversy about that among mainstream media and so forth, but our attitude is, the more access, the better. In Paul’s case, it’s a chance for him to express himself on an unflitered basis. He doesn’t get interpreted by [radio host] Philly Billy [Werndl] or [newspaper columnist] Tim Sullivan or somebody else. It’s an unvarnished line of communication.
Excerpts from Part I of the interview (Alderson speaks a bit about those who influenced the way he goes about evaluating the game and his time in the MLB Offices):
Ducksnorts: When you first started as GM, you were reading some Bill James. I was just getting into Bill James in 1984, and it was kind of an eye opener to me. He was sort of on the fringes at that time, and of course… he’s actually now working for the Red Sox… What impact did his work have on your understanding of the way the game works, and how did it influence the types of decisions you made in a real-time setting?
Alderson: I think it had a significant impact. He was doing some writing, and there were others at the time also on the fringe — a guy in the Bay Area by the name of Eric Walker. Eric we actually hired as a consultant, although we didn’t advertise that fact, and he did quite a bit of work for us over the years in trying to evaluate not just major league players but minor league players for purposes of projection at the major league level.
When I got into the game, I didn’t have any real background in baseball, so I wasn’t burdened by any [laughs] traditional notions of how to evaluate players or construct teams. I was particularly open to people like Bill James and Eric Walker.
Ducksnorts: He’s the guy who does High Boskage?
Alderson: Right… I’d say there were two competitive theories at that time, personified on the one hand by Earl Weaver and on the other hand by Gene Mauch. Weaver believed in the three-run homer, and Mauch believed in little ball.
From my standpoint it was the Eric Walkers and the Bill James who I think were able to very adequately support the Earl Weaver approach to the game in terms of overall success and what created the highest probability for success. That tied in nicely because to me the home run is like the 80-yard pass, like the three-point shot. It’s the kind of thing in which you can enjoy the anticipation.
There are a lot of things in baseball and other sports that are more athletic, and more immediate, and more reactive, but you don’t have the same sense of anticipation. I like home runs [laughs] — people like home runs — and so it was nice to see the concepts support that notion.
Ducksnorts: Can you talk a little about your time working in the MLB offices and what that was like?
Alderson: By and large it was enjoyable. I went to New York originally with the view that I could bring some of my experiences at the club level to bear at the league level, and I think I was successful in doing that in some respects. I also went to New York in hopes of learning more about the game at the national level, and I think that I learned a good deal when I was there as well. My work was focused on baseball operations and international development.
I enjoyed both of those things. Probably the key aspect of my baseball operations responsibility was umpiring, but there were issues like time of game and trying to address the strike zone. There were a number of challenges that don’t seem terribly monumental today, but were fun to address, and again, I think we had some success. I did come to enjoy the international side of the game and potential for growth there.
Excerpts from Part II of the interview (Alderson shares his view on some of the big free agent contracts that were handed out some years back):
Ducksnorts: In the past you were pretty critical of some of the free-agent signings that have been going on — Kevin Brown, Alex Rodriguez, Mike Hampton. What have you seen in the way that markets have evolved since then — if they have — and do you think there will be any kinds of shifts in the near future?
Alderson: I think those signings, of which I was critical at the time, proved to be disastrous for the teams involved. There are very few — even at the high end, top markets — of these contracts that have actually turned out well. Some have, but you could probably list very few as having been successful. As a result, what could have become more than just a trend, but commonplace, has not.
Barry Zito is another example, a recent example. There are very few teams that can succeed on that basis. The Texas Rangers are still paying Alex Rodriguez; it’s unbelievable. I don’t know that the San Diego market is different than most markets in the sense that you’ve got to be careful about who you sign long term and make sure that you have alternatives. Jake Peavy was maybe an exception for us because of his youth and his track record.
We want to be active in free agency, we want to keep our own players primarily, but our activity in free agency has to be measured, it has to be circumspect. I said the other day on the radio, when we do target players, we need to get them.
I could literally cut and paste the entire interview and there wouldn’t be one part you’d want to skip over. Instead, be sure to go over to Ducksnorts.com and learn everything you wanted to know about Sandy Alderson and more. Since Geoff Young had the privilege to get some one on one time with Alderson and saw the influence he had on the Padres from 2005-2009, I asked him what he thought about the man the Mets are considering bringing to Queens and what type of fit he thought he would be for the Big Apple:
My personal take on Alderson is that he is a very smart guy with good baseball knowledge. His greatest strength is the ability to bring order and structure to a process. His greatest weakness (at least it was a weakness during his time in San Diego) is the propensity to be extremely direct in communications; he doesn’t mince words and isn’t afraid to offend. This probably helps in some respects but served to alienate him from much of the fan base out here. Still, given his track record in Oakland and with MLB, I think he’d make an excellent GM.”
One last thanks to Geoff Young, I can’t speak for everyone but it was nice to find something on the web about Aldreson that had a personal touch to it and did more than just list his resume.
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