In its 11th college tea of the semester, Davenport College hosted New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson Thursday afternoon in its common room. Alderson, who has worked in Major League Baseball since 1981 and recently finished his sixth season with the Mets, touched on a wide range of topics including leadership, salary arbitrations, relief pitching and analytics in modern baseball.
Speaking to a full crowd dotted with Mets apparel, Alderson described his life experiences throughout his legal and administrative careers as well as the ongoing integration of analytics into professional baseball. After the talk, he fielded questions from the audience and even posed for several pictures after conversing with students individually.
“I tend to learn something every time I do [these],” Alderson told the News. “I like to be exposed to particularly young people with ideas and opinions because it keeps me current with what people are thinking, whether [they’re] a Mets fan or just a smart college student who maybe asks a penetrating question. I find it challenging and a lot of fun.”
After a brief introduction by Davenport Head of College Richard Schottenfeld ’71 MED ’76, who acknowledged Alderson’s friend and head coach of the Yale heavyweight crew team Steve Gladstone for helping to arrange the meeting, Alderson described his background before his baseball career. Alderson originally grew up in a military family and his father served in several areas of conflict. Alderson attended Dartmouth College on a Navy ROTC scholarship before going to Harvard Law School, joking that this occurred because neither Yale College nor the Law School accepted him.
After working at a San Diego law firm, Alderson joined the Oakland Athletics as general counsel. Following the firing of General Manager Billy Martin, Alderson stepped into the front office in 1983 despite no real experience as a scout, player or coach — a “tenuous proposition,” he said. Around that time, individuals began to write about the application of statistics to baseball, and Alderson and the Athletics became one of the earliest adopters. With analytics in hand, Alderson’s A’s reached three consecutive World Series from 1988–90, defeating the San Francisco Giants in 1989 for the club’s ninth and most recent title.
As a general manager, Alderson acknowledged that five-tool players — those that can run the bases, field, throw, hit for average and hit for power — were difficult to acquire, so he and his staff had to select the skills that were the most important, explaining that the “best players represent compromises.”
Using an analytics department featuring several doctorates who were more familiar with complex algorithms than line drives or stolen base statistics, Alderson and his teams sought to gain a competitive edge by blending analytics and traditional scouting to develop players who fit their profile. He also noted changes during his tenure, including the declining role of the left-handed power hitter and the unstoppable tide of defensive shifts.
“It’s clearly not just finding the talent but figuring out to how pull a team together and figure out who’s going to work well and how to build off it,” Schottenfeld said. “[Alderson] has really been extraordinarily successful at that.”
Alderson recounted his time with the United States Marine Corps and discussed how his service time developed both leadership skills and discipline. He remarked that leadership is “a combination of professional expertise and personal quality” that he has seen in the Mets dugout from players such as David Wright and Bartolo Colón. Alderson, the oldest general manager in the MLB at 69 years old, said that he hired 67-year-old Terry Collins, the oldest active MLB manager, because he believed Collins has learned well from a history of lacking success.
Alderson, the chairman of the MLB rules committee, also shared his thoughts on decisions such as those involved in the infamous tie in the 2002 MLB All-Star Game that happened after both teams ran out of pitchers. Currently, he and the rules committee are reviewing several issues, including pace of play and amended extra-innings rules to mimic those of international baseball, he said.
“I thought it was really interesting to see the path that he took,” attendee Gabe Zanuttini-Frank ’19 said. “Sandy wasn’t the guy that was anxious to get into baseball or a diehard baseball fan. He decided to try something new and it turned into a lifelong passion that he loved.”
Alderson’s Mets reached the World Series in 2015 before falling in five games to the Kansas City Royals.