New York Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson stood at the podium in Colloquium Hall in Huntsman Hall and began his lecture like many others, detailing his journey to ‘the show’.
But for many in attendance, his story was a shocking one.
Those familiar with Alderson’s work know he champions the
previously controversial sabermetric approach to building a baseball team and that he served as Billy Beane’s (the man behind Moneyball) predecessor in Oakland, but few know the man that introduced the strength and conditioning coach to baseball actually had no intention of a career in sports.
Alderson had a small baseball background (he played baseball at Dartmouth for two years), but his post-college career originally began with a tour in Vietnam, continuing a proud family history of serving in America’s armed forces.
Upon his return, Alderson enrolled at Harvard Law School and graduated despite admitting he “hated practicing it.”
Law took him across the country to San Francisco, on one hand because it was a great opportunity and on the other hand, because the Red Sox and Celtics would be far too big of a distraction when if he stayed in Boston.
He was as far away from sports as possible working in real estate, when a co-worker’s family made a decision that would change Alderson’s life forever.
They decided to buy the Oakland Athletics.
He began his time in the pros by serving as ‘general counsel’ to the A’s, a position unheard of at the time but now prominent in the baseball world (his New York Mets now have three men serving under that title). When an opportunity arose to fill the GM vacancy, Alderson took the reins of the franchise and battled through the rollercoaster ride of his first season en route to a successful fifteen year tenure.
The rest is baseball history.
After delving into his personal life, Alderson transitioned his speech to a topic that made the stats junkies in the room drool: sabermetrics.
The casual fan would be stunned at the numbers Alderson’s brain trust take into consideration when contemplating a new signing. Gone are the days that “baseball card numbers” are relevant.
Alderson does not even consider batting average a crucial statistic, instead championing on-base percentage and OPS. He even studies the velocity at which a hitter sends the ball flying off the bat, a surprisingly telling number for many GM’s around baseball.
But Alderson also appealed to those more interested in the business of sports than the player assessment. Though there are those that argue baseball is ‘just a game’, the front office veteran masterfully described baseball as a business, requiring intelligent leaders, proven talent and exciting young prospects.
Alderson then left over half an hour to field questions from a wide-eyed audience, laughing as he admitted, “I’ve learned that people are much more excited to have me answer their questions than they are to hear what I have to say on my own.”
Despite a plethora of difficult questions ranging from Hall of Fame snubs to signing players with steroid-riddled pasts, he preached the importance of accepting punishment like a man and giving people second chances for doing so.
And while he admitted he does not have all the answers, in baseball or in life, he preached the importance of mastering a skill and thinking about today rather than tomorrow.