Today is the First Day in the Rest of Your Life as a Mets Fan...

By David Rubin

Most Mets' fans are pretty happy right now, on the heals of what was an excellent press conference and first impression made by Sandy Alderson, the new Mets General Manager, on Friday afternoon. I remember all too well the moment that Omar Minaya took over the club, and the level of expectation that he brought with him, partly from what he represented (grew up in the Mets system as an exec, a hometown guy and Mets fan), and partly from his promise to bring relevance again to the organization, in quick fashion. We all know that his tenure didn't go as planned, for the team, for the owners, for the fans, and for Omar, himself (check out some of my posts over the past 2 weeks, exploring Omar's tenure, via the "older posts" link at the bottom of this page). With Friday's press conference, the many qualities that the Wilpons saw in Alderson became evident to everyone watching or listening to either the press conference itself, or to the many interviews that followed. Alderson, after botching his opening line, declaring himself to be "thrilled to be the new GM of the Oakland...New York Mets," rebounded smoothly and unveiled the raw basics of his plan to bring the Mets organization back to prominence. He came off as honest, earnest, intelligent, thoughtful, charismatic and well-versed in what was needed to change the culture of this once-proud team. Certainly (and justifiably), the hopes of all Mets fans have been raised from "LOW" to "HIGH" which could come back, once again, to hurt some fans who aren't well-prepared to weather another year of finishing out of the "money." That's not to say it isn't possible to be relevant and in contention immediately, but being a Mets fan has meant so many disappointments over the years that it's better at this point to lower expectations, take the small victories for what they are, and remember that it took the Red Sox and Yankees a number of years to achieve their current levels of success, which only began by operating in a fashion that Alderson is preaching right now.

“We’re going to strive for consistency but above all, excellence,” Alderson said. “Our goal is to constantly improve the probabilities of success to the point that we will have that success on a consistent basis.”

In order to keep from jumping out of my skin from excitement over the great things heard at Alderson's press conference, I had to think of a way to separate my "practical" (or "pragmatic") side of my brain from the "optimistic" (or "fan") side of my brain - a "point/counterpoint" if you will. In doing so, we'll look at both sides of some of the points Alderson brought out at the conference and his follow-up interviews (the best of which, I believe, being the one SNY's Kevin Burkhardt conducted with him immediately after the initial press conference and to which I posted a link earlier) and try to figure out what which one of my two "sides" it is better to listen to...and if you don't catch the references to old SNL episodes, then I advise you to go to YouTube and enjoy them, or, if you DO get them, go enjoy them all over again!!

The Fan With Two Brains (with apologies to Steve Martin)

There are two sides to every fan's brain – the pragmatic side, the part of you that recognizes that your line-up pales in comparison with 2-3 others in your division and so another finish in the middle of the pack is called for, and the optimistic side, that tells you with just the right breaks, and a whole lotta luck, and some major injuries or player regression from other teams in your division, you just might have a chance at winning this thing! We all want the "fan" side to win out, but in the end, we usually resign ourselves to being logical and knowing, once again, that this just wasn't "our year." Please bear with me, though, because in the end, I think you’ll find that the “Optimistic Side” will end up winning the debate…or, at least, I still keep telling myself that it will…

The Pragmatic Me

Let’s get one thing straight- the ONLY thing that happened today for Mets
fans is the formal announcement that Sandy Alderson is the new General Manager of the New York Mets. Let’s note some of the things to be wary of when it comes to false expectations as to what Alderson’s hire will mean in the immediate future.

~It’s great that a new person is coming in with a “plan” – and notice Alderson said “you can’t come to New York and say ‘you have a three year plan’” – and he also said that he has to be realistic about the dollars already committed for 2011, especially when it comes to signing free agents from the 2010 class, of which he said it would be disingenuous to think that the Mets would be active in doing so. So, basically, no Cliff Lee and no Carl Crawford to dream about this off-season. Whether that’s the right move or not, only time will tell, but Lee represents perhaps the last number one starter who will be on the “open market” for the foreseeable future, so not chasing after him may mean no new number one starter for a long while if Johan doesn’t bounce back well or quickly from his

~Alderson said that although he was familiar with the Mets success (or lack of) over the past few years, he wasn’t familiar with the specifics as to said failures. Alderson is a history buff- before he moves forward, he will have to go backwards to understand why things are the way they are before he goes about setting things right. That’s going to take time, to figure out why (and where) the bodies are buried where they are, so it’s unrealistic to expect much headway to be made for the first 3-6 months of his tenure, taking us all the way to Opening Day. Most of his major decisions between now and then will be the selection of the manager/coaching staff, the structure of the front office staff and the initial 25 man roster. Expecting “miracles” means you’ll just get angry and frustrated once again, so don’t bother. Instead, we are in for yet another 2-3 years of rebuilding, which means that by 2013 it will be 7 years since we were in the play-offs, 13
since being in a World Series, and 27 years since we actually WON a World Series. That’s not Sandy’s fault- but again, don’t be too excited too quickly- or you’ll wind up with false expectations.

~ Alderson feels that the 2011 team has a shot at contending, but health will play a big issue next season. Under the prior regime, honesty, especially regarding the health of the Mets’ players, seemed to be at a premium. We had as much chance of gleaning the truth about an injured player as we did of having Ed McMahon show up at our house with a jumbo check!! Health issues are/were bigger then Alderson has probably realized, and how he and the organization handle injuries, moving forward, will give fans a glimpse into just how successful – and honest – this organization will now become. We’re tired of receiving half-truths or no information, and this might be one of those situations that can’t be “fixed” until the new regime sees just how an injury is handled when it occurs.

~Alderson said he didn’t know about steroid use/abuse on his Oakland A’s teams, and credited Mark McGwire’s continued physique growth to good genetics (he cited Mark’s brother Dan, a former football player) and better work-out methods, etc. Alderson is an incredibly bright, erudite person, so it’s hard to believe that he didn’t at least suspect or in fact outright know about the steroid use. How can he successfully troubleshoot the many Mets’ problematic areas if he couldn’t see the hypodermics in front of his face?

Well, the “Pragmatic” side (nee Pessimistic/Realistic) rests it's case, and therefore it’s time to see what the “Optimistic” (nee FAN) side has to say.

Let’s take what the “Pragmatic” side had to say, point by point, and AFTER burying that sad part of the brain, we’ll add some additional, positive points from today’s press conferences. However, before we get to the point-by-point rebuttal, let's remember one thing folks (and Alderson said this as well) - it's only a GAME, held for our ENTERTAINMENT!!

The Fan I Am

>>David, you ignorant slut!! (Sorry- couldn’t resist!!) Of COURSE Sandy is going to refrain from splurging on high-cost, multi-year free agent contracts right from the get-go – do you remember the following names?? LUIS CASTILLO??? OLIVER PEREZ??? Or do you simply (and logically) sweep those under the rug and blame them on the “old regime” without realizing that the price to pay for those huge mistakes has to be paid, and paid sooner rather than later?? By becoming fiscally responsible immediately, once the 2012 season comes, the Mets will be down to only $60 million in guaranteed salaries, opening up a world of possibilities for the new regime to sign, trade for and draft talent that will hopefully have a much larger (and longer) pay-off then most of the current long-termers have offered the team. And Cliff Lee would be 38 at the end of a 5-year contract, and we all know how well long-term contracts for pitchers have gone (even for someone with the excellent mechanics of Lee.) Before any long-term deals are made, the team has to ensure that they don’t become version II of the old Arizona Diamondbacks, who robbed Peter to pay Paul so many times that they had to virtually break the team apart at the seams in order to operate, and are still paying off deferred monies to players long gone (a la old “fave” Bobby Bonilla and the Mets.) So going after “big splash” free agents, a la Omar, is a short term panacea for what ails the organization, and Sandy Alderson has already stated he’s not going for the “short-term fix” but wants the Mets to be perennial contenders like the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies.

>>Regarding recent Mets history, sometimes the less said about it, the better (in fact, not sometimes, but MOST times)…Alderson is going to hire credible lieutenants (we’ve all heard the rumored names- DePodesta, Riccardi, etc) and is also going to have hold-over, John Ricco, to help steer past (around, over, it doesn’t matter) the potholes of the prior regime. Besides, most of the mistakes Omar and company made involved throwing money at marquis players while waiting for minor league talent that was too slow to come and borderline players who were required to have “career-seasons” every year. These are not mistakes that Alderson would make, as his ability to practice fiscal responsibility in conjunction with good decision-making (as in no long-term extensions for a Luis Castillo) has and will result in traveling across better roads. And we don’t want to under-value the current talent on this team – a healthy Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran would’ve certainly meant 6-9 more victories in one-run games across an entire season, and that would’ve meant the difference between fighting for a .500 record versus fighting for a Wild Card berth.

>>Yes, of COURSE health will play a MAJOR role in how well this team does in 2011. It may sound obvious, but I'm sure that Alderson will be very active (as will his lieutenants) in ensuring that the Mets medical staff is doing everything necessary to keep the team healthy and maintain this, as best as they can, beginning immediately. He's done his homework, recognizing that the Mets biggest issue the past two seasons was one of keeping their players healthy. It's also obvious that he's cognizant of how lying to the fan-base will go a long way towards eroding it, opposite of what he's been tasked to do, so he'll be more open and honest (as is his wont) when it comes to disclosing injuries, treatments and ongoing methods of injury prevention that the team will be putting into place. We have to give him enough time to absorb the entire medical process, but I'm sure he'll be able to offer a number of positive suggestions that he's implemented elsewhere to help move this process along. And with Alderson's honesty will come a more honest/open publicity department, as they can only pass along the information that the baseball operations division allows them to disseminate.

>>Regarding steroids, doesn't it sound quite hypocritical that buffoons like Mike Francesa on WFAN were lying in wait, trying to jump down Alderson's throat while asking him HOW he couldn't have known that players like Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire were juicing? And why would Francesa, or anyone else, assume that Alderson DIDN'T know, and perhaps tried to do something, but was unable to?

While steroids were in their so-called "hey-day" everyone profited from the players taking them, on the heals of the work stoppage of '94 that almost destroyed the game. Baseball was revitalized by the home run chase fireworks from the bats of McGwire and Sammy Sosa, and that meant more revenues, which translated into more job opportunities for various professions attached to the game, including journalists from all media.

It was rare, to the point of being unheard of, for anyone to go "on record" accusing players (whether specific or in general) of taking Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) until, seemingly all at once, it became fashionable to do just that. Canseco's book, "Juiced" was met with outrage, disbelief and denial, leaving people to question exactly what was known and by whom...casting aspersions on everyone even remotely attached to the game of baseball. Suddenly, everyone jumped onto soapboxes to preach the dangers of steroids, but it was many of these same people who looked the other way, as long as the game remained strong.

Alderson DID say that it's possible that the culture around the Oakland A's organization may have played a role in the spread of steroid usage, due to the advancement of the weight-lifting culture the team pioneered, and he did admit to suspecting that Canseco was more than likely using PEDs, but his hands were tied by both the Collective Bargaining Agreement as well as California State Laws. From the press conference:

"If you go back and put all that in perspective, do I wish I had done more? Alderson asked. "I think that's almost always true with anything that we experience."

It's also important to remember that Alderson's tenure ran from 1983 - 1997 as GM with the A's; McGwire and Sosa's home run chase occurred in 1998 (and McGwire was a St. Louis Cardinal by that time); and Canseco's book came out in 2005. Alderson testified before Congress and was interviewed for the Mitchell Report, and certainly did whatever he could to cooperate with Major League Baseball, as they sought to correct this horrible situation.

I'm not, by any means, condoning the taking of PEDs - in fact, I feel exactly the opposite- but to accuse Alderson of knowing specifically that players were engaging in the illegal practice of using PEDs simply because he ran the team is the same as accusing a restaurant manager of knowing that one of his employees was stealing from their register simply because he was in charge of that person. You often suspect, which Alderson probably did, but until baseball itself decided to do something about PEDs, most General Managers were practically helpless to do anything about the growing problem while it was spreading throughout the game. Taking Alderson to task after the fact is unfair; no one knows what Alderson may or may not have done behind the scenes, in addition to what we know of his public contributions, but one certainly MUST applaud the great work he's done in the Dominican Republic (and I advise reading this link) in cleaning up the area and ensuring that rampant PED use will not continue. Sadly, the "taint" that is PEDs touched everywhere and everyone associated with the sport; taking any one player or executive to task serves nothing at this this point in time.

In addition to the four things my "pragmatic" side focused on, let's briefly discuss some of the additional points made by Alderson on Friday:

>>Regarding potential managers, Alderson went to great lengths to assure everyone that what had been written in "3 paragraphs dedicated to him in 'Moneyball'" was not necessarily the definitive word on the type of manager he was looking for. In fact, he praised "fiery" managers who were willing to argue with umpires, and noted that he had worked with that type of manager before in one Tony LaRussa.

Furthermore, he recognized that having ties to New York and being able to work under the accompanying spotlight were two things that he'd also have to take into great consideration before naming the new manager, some time within the next 2-3 weeks. This does NOT rule out a Wally Backman per se', and leaves the door open for a number of additional candidates to be considered that haven't necessarily been named in the press just yet. In a nutshell, we're not going to have a repeat performance of a rookie manager being named as the new GM's first significant hire (and where have we seen THAT happen before, I wonder?)

>>Alderson realizes that this is the "entertainment business" and he will keep that in mind when making decisions, but he's not scared to make decisions that won't necessarily be "popular." This means that he won't be afraid to trade a player or players in order to get back exactly what he wants, regardless of what immediate public opinion might be. In order to build an organization that lasts, he has to be able to put what's good for business (short-term and especially long-term) first, and worry about public opinion last. This is something that I believe fans will come to value greatly, as the fruits of Alderson's labor will hopefully result in his achieving his goal of making the Mets into an "iconic franchise" that is "mentioned in the same breath as the Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies." Patience will truly be a virtue for Mets fans, yet again, but it really seems that this time, there will indeed be a longer-lasting (and hopefully far more successful) pay-off.

>>When asked about how he'd like to see his team, Alderson replied:

"We'll have 25 ballplayers - guys who love the game and know how to play the game. Not necessarily the best at every position, but players who will maximize themselves through their efforts on the field."
Well, for all those who have had questions about team chemistry, and putting together a group of players who will fit together as if there was a master plan, which there will be, this quote says it all.

>>Alderson has been described as someone who is brutally honest, as well as an excellent, inspiring leader. When discussing his leadership style and honesty, he offered the following:
"But the other thing that contributes to successful leadership is personal character and personal qualities because you can't say one thing and do something else," he said. "Again, it can work for a while, but over time that leadership quality is predicated on more than just professional expertise."

Basically, we can count on not preaching that the team needs to focus on pitching, defense and speed in order to compete in the new ballpark, then go out and sign one-dimensional hitters and fail to increase the quality of the pitching staff.

>>In discussing how his role as the Mets chief decision-maker will lay out, Alderson said:

"In some instances, I will make decisions," he said. "In other instances, I will make recommendations. That's the way it should be. That's the way it's been everywhere, that's the way I expect it to be here. With respect to recommendations, whether it's player-related or otherwise, my responsibility is to make the best case."

Now, instead of speculating about how the relationship between the Wilpons and Alderson will play out when it comes to decision-making, we know that Alderson is ready to fight the battles he needs to, and will take into consideration what most benefits the organization at all times via cooperation with ownership. In any business, this is the way things generally lay out, and baseball, when billions of dollars are on the line, shouldn't differ from this decision-making structure. We also have to give the Wilpons the benefit of the doubt, as Fred and Jeff brought Alderson on-board specifically to rebuild the organization, and it wouldn't serve their best interests to do anything other then support Alderson's efforts 100%!!

>>Finally, when asked about whether Alderson had considered any other positions, he replied:

“This is not a job I would have taken anywhere,” he said. "This is really the best job available in baseball."

Alderson took the job because of the challenge, but also because of the great resources (capital, new stadium, the city itself) that he'll have at his disposal. The Mets seemingly will be a fitting swansong to Alderson's career, and with another World Series title under his belt (we hope) I'm sure that the halls of Cooperstown will someday call. Not a bad thing to aspire towards, and if Alderson can turn this franchise around (something all Mets fans are PRAYING he will do) then this Vietnam-tested Marine will have earned his entry into those hallowed halls, indeed.


David Rubin said...

3650 words...and now to sleep (it's only 2:40am) - hopefully many of you will share my sentiments, and allow yourselves to hope against hope, once again, that we will finally see this organization achieve the prominence we all so richly deserve!! And by "we" I mean "we the fans!!"

Mack's Mets © 2012