Mets GM: Opportunities lost and found

Now the worst-kept non-secret in town official, Sandy Alderson was is expected to be announced as the new Mets general manager on Friday.

I admit to having perhaps a knee-jerk reaction to the news he was the front-runner for the job a few weeks ago, particularly since the rumor mill had Tony LaRussa joining him. Blissfully, the pompous LaRussa is staying in St. Louis. So I am now more than a bit optimistic that the near-63-year-old Alderson can turn things around for the Amazin’s (though I still stand by my agreement with columnist Bill Madden that a general managership is a younger man’s game).

Alderson was a chief executive in the Oakland A’s organization from 1983 to 1998. He was Oakland’s GM in the late ’80s when Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco were known as the Bash Brothers. That duo later became notable for their admitted steroid use, as did a later Oakland slugger, Jason Giambi (though Giambi didn’t become a full-time player until 1997, he came up in an organization with two steroid-using sluggers as star attractions, at least raising the question if the steroid culture, as prevalent as it was in the Major Leagues in the ’90s, was even more prevalent in Oakland).

Alderson should have to answer for this at some point. But just not at his introductory press conference, as ESPN columnist Ian O’Connor suggests (h/t MetsBlog).

(Digression No. 1: Ian O’Connor is a writer I greatly admired, and still do. We used to run his column in the lousy paper where I toiled more than a decade ago. My dream as a kid was to grow up to become a New York sportswriter, and when I was an exurban-New York high school sportswriter in my mid-to-late-20s, I narrowed my dream to become a columnist like him and his fellow Daily News alum Mark Kriegel. That dream for me died a slow and then final death for a variety of reasons beginning more than 10 years ago (some largely self-inflicted), and I stopped reading O’Connor regularly when I entered my own post-sportswriting exile, but he seems to have obviously done some great work since.)

(Digression No. 2: As I tried to point out on MetsBlog (my comment seems to be in perpetual moderation), in response to a comment about sportswriters not doing due diligence during the steroid era, Steve Wilstein stands alone. He was the AP scribe who spotted and then asked McGwire about the bottle of Andro in his locker during the ’98 homer chase. Wilstein’s sportswriting brethren largely left him twisting unsupported in the wind that summer while sales of Andro boomed after Wilstein’s story broke. In the face of a popular groundswell for McGwire and follow homer run chaser/suspected cheat Sammy Sosa, I am ashamed to admit that I can’t say I’d do anything different in asking such unpopular questions in the face of such overwhelming popularity. Though at least I can be certain and proud of the fact that I wouldn’t have asked for a hug from my buddy McGwire, as Joe Buck embarrassingly did.)

(Digression No. 3: Wilstein and his andro reportage was covered in Ken Burns’ recent addendum to his PBS “Baseball” documentary, “The Tenth Inning.” To me, the now-retired Steve Wilstein is a sportswriting version of an American hero. They should erect a statue of him in a press box of his chosing.)

I disagree with many of my fellow Mets fans on MetsBlog who largely say that Alderson is not coming here to talk about the past, which sounds dangerously close to his former star’s dispiriting and damning 2005 testimony to Congress. Alderson should talk about the past. But I’m going to punt and say that’s both a talk he can give later, and a penance he’s already begun to pay for.

I think the steroid culture of the Bash Brothers is a spot on Alderson’s record. Some day he should answer for it. But why now? This is not President Bush squandering an opportunity to talk straight with the American public nine years ago — instead of asking for the shared sacrifice our country gave circa 1941 to 1945, he told us to go shopping.

This is not that moment for Sandy Alderson (the steroids-in-baseball version of it, anyway). I’m not sure when that moment will come, or if it already came and went, another opportunity missed. Perhaps it came and went in 2005 on the “60 Minutes” program O’Connor refers to. Perhaps it came and went when Alderson was hired by the Padres earlier this decade or when Bud Selig hired him earlier this year to help clean up problems (steroids chief among them) in baseball in the prospects-rich Dominican Republic.

And not to give Alderson a pass, but perhaps his effort over the last eight months to try to police steroids in the Dominican at least pays some of that penance, an unspoken, unacknowledged atonement of sorts, a reckoning, however brief and targeted it may have been.

Being a fan — particularly an ex-Yankee fan/now-diehard-Mets fan — and an ex-sportswriter involves living with a large helping of hypocrisy (hell, being me involves a large degree of hypocrisy, but that’s a whole other series of blog posts. I feel like Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday: “It appears my hypocrisy knows no bounds.”). Apologies, if they are still to come, can come later. I’m looking forward to the Alderson era in Metsdom and all the opportunities it presents, today and in the future.

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Alderson, LaRussa way wrong for the Mets

So, Sandy Alderson is interested in the Mets’ newly vacant general manager’s job, and the Mets are said to be ready to interview him next week. This, of course, has the rumor mill ramping up that Tony LaRussa, said to be tired of managing in St. Louis, would logically follow said Alderson to the said Mets (should Alderson get the said job, it is said).

Didn’t the Mets already try this once with re-tread Oakland A’s management? (see: Howe, Art). How’d that work out for them?

First of all, Alderson seems to have the tacit endorsement of Bud Selig. I do not consider that an advantage. Second of all, the buzz of winning ball teams this century have been young, innovative general managers. Not to sound ageist, but as Bill Madden of the Daily News wrote this week: “… ask John Schuerholz ask Pat Gillick, ask almost anyone, the GM job has become a young man’s job.”

Alderson had great success as a GM in the 1980s. So did Frank Cashen, and I don’t see the Mets interviewing him to come back. Alderson, who will be 63 years old next month, hasn’t been a GM in 13 years (though he was the San Diego Padres CEO from 2005-2009, when the Friars went 397-414 for a .490 winning percentage, or 0.00186 percent better than the Mets’ winning percentage this year of .488).

Then there’s LaRussa (who has a law degree, don’t you know?), the Cardinals manager who was Alderson’s A’s manager, and whose name is devilishly linked with his former boss among the Mets commentariat. I don’t like LaRussa’s politics (lover of Arizona immigration laws, featured guest-speaker-introducer for Glenn Beck’s America, though God forbid don’t upset him more than you’re upsetting him now), but, hey, whatever. Even Jackie Robinson was a supporter of Nixon and Goldwater. It’s just, LaRussa can’t stop shining the spotlight on himself and his J.D.-conferred brain.

That’s the problem. LaRussa can’t help himself, which is exactly why I don’t want him here. It’s all about him. LaRussa is to the Cardinals/A’s as Joe Girardi is to the Yankees. Even exempting politics (I have no idea of Girardi’s, which is a plus side in the Yankee skipper’s column, though, did you know, he has an engineering degree from Northwestern?), they have an innate need to let you know how much smarter they are than you.

LaRussa, who claims he saw no evil among the steroid-abuser.

LaRussa, who was outmanaged by Jerry Manuel — that now departed, ever-quotable former manager — in a 20-inning game earlier this season. That road win set the Mets on their much beloved 9-1 homestand in late April, which in turn sparked a two-month winning joyride, which of course they could not sustain. But it sure as hell was fun while it lasted.

Alderson is not the right choice for GM for a rebuilding Mets team. LaRussa is even a worse choice as a potential manager. But some in the Mets commenting community are happily abuzz at the prospects. Are Mets fans so desperate for a winning team that they’d sell the lovable soul of this franchise? What are we, the Yankees?

(who has a law degree, don’t you know?)