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YEARS AGO, DUSTY BAKER sipped a Macallan 25 scotch and told me: "I could never write a book. If I did, it would have to be the truth, but if you care about the relationships you have in the game, you could never tell the truth."
Sandy Alderson, the Mets' general manager, is the Kevin Bacon of executives, six degrees of separation between him and every important intersection in baseball for 35 years. But while he is of Baker's mindset, he nevertheless agreed to be the subject of Steve Kettmann's new book, Baseball Maverick: How Sandy Alderson Revolutionized Baseball and Revived the Mets. "I wasn't concerned about what was going to be said about me," Alderson says. "But I wasn't at a point in my life or in my career where I wanted to rip people, make other people look bad. I was very much aware of that because of the fallout from the Moneyball book."
In Oakland, before the arrival of Moneyball protagonist Billy Beane, Alderson built a champion with leading men of the coming steroid era. He drafted Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, traded for Ruben Sierra, drafted Jason Giambi. Three of them are admitted steroid users; the other, Sierra, went from a lean, five-tool Clemente in Texas to appearing as though he had been exposed to gamma rays after Alderson traded Canseco for him in 1992. Alderson put the A's at the forefront of international scouting in the Dominican Republic.
If Beane is the father of Moneyball, then Alderson, Beane's Dartmouth- and Harvard Law-educated mentor, is its grandfather. Oakland's use of statistical analysis informed Beane's philosophy and has become the norm. Alderson-Beane spawned front office revolution: The position of GM has become an elite, Ivy League position, which has indirectly limited front office diversity. The ex-player as GM is disappearing.
Baseball was once run from the dugout. Beane curtailed managerial authority and transformed baseball into the GM's game it is now. Alderson, though, created the road map, telling Art Howe during a 1995 interview that "we're not hiring you for your philosophy. We're hiring you because we think you fit ours." And with that, the 150-year history of manager as public face of the front office was dead. Bye-bye, Casey Stengel. "I think that goes back to my military background," says Alderson, a former Marine. "Just because you fire the platoon commander doesn't mean you change the entire operational philosophy."
When Alderson worked in the commissioner's office, his footprint was everywhere. He crushed the umpire rebellion in 1999, and he, not Bud Selig, appeared on 60 Minutes as the steroid scandal raged. Alderson's star so ascended that he, not current commissioner Rob Manfred, was once considered Selig's likely successor.
Alderson has long been a baseball man, but his education, time in Vietnam and being the first nonplayer to challenge the supremacy of players in traditional scouting always set him at a distance. His is a story of fathers, sons and American service. President Kennedy was killed on his 16th birthday. Two years later, Alderson was working in an entry-level post for the CIA. His father, John, was Air Force. In his book, Kettmann seems drawn to Alderson's dedication and ambition and, after Vietnam, how baseball provided the camaraderie and competition of the military, the life-and-death metaphors replacing the life and death of war.
There is an investigative biography to be done on Alderson -- his politics during Vietnam; how he could win pennants with a Hall of Fame manager like Tony La Russa yet conclude the position was fungible; exactly what went down during his time working for Selig -- but Baseball Maverick is not that book. It stands on its own, a worthwhile journey of an important figure Kettmann clearly and understandably admires.
Of course, Alderson's story is not done yet. It's been 25 years since he won a pennant, but his Mets are an early-season surprise. "I enjoy being closer to the ground, but it takes its toll both physically and emotionally," he says. "It's a chance to be with a group that I enjoy, people I respect. Part of the goal is winning a championship, but you want to make people feel good. That's as much a motivator as anything."