Sandy Alderson is the Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations for Major League Baseball. I originally met Sandy here in the Bay Area in 1981 when he first joined the Oakland Athletics as General Counsel. He would later become the A’s V.P. and General Manager, and then President and General Manager. During his tenure in Oakland, he planted the seed that brought some great baseball talent to the Athletics. It is no surprise that the 2001 A’s are loaded with great young talent. This was all started by Alderson’s Athletics of the 1980s and 1990s.
Before joining the Athletics, Alderson practiced law in San Francisco. He has degrees from Dartmouth College (1969) and Harvard (1976). He also served four years as a Marine Infantry Officer with a tour of duty in Vietnam.
A day before I obtained this exclusive interview over the phone, Sandy’s secretary, Jean, told me that on the next day Sandy had a total of 14 meetings planned. But after I gave her the information, my name and telephone number, she told me that Sandy would call me soon. A few days later Sandy Alderson was kind enough to call me and give me these precious minutes of his time for this interview.
Amaury: Sandy what are your responsibilities, exactly, on a day-to-day basis?
Sandy: “I am in charge of all the operations as far as baseball is concerned, the actual play of the game on the field, umpires, special projects like the Orioles trip to Cuba a few years back and the strike zone that everybody is talking about this year.”
Amaury: Are you happy with the way everything is developing with the new strike zone?
Sandy: “So far. We traveled during Spring Training to teach and demonstrate to umpires and players what the new strike zone -- starting this year -- was going to be and so far I am pleased.”
Amaury: After opening in Mexico in 1999 and Japan in 2000, this April MLB opened the season in Puerto Rico. Is baseball planning other venues outside the United States for future season openers?
Sandy: “Well, I don’t think anything has been finalized, but I think you might expect Major League Baseball to open the season in places where they previously played exhibition games in Venezuela, potentially the Dominican Republic, Panamá -- these are all possibilities”
Amaury: What happened to the proposed Baseball World Cup slated for 2003?
Sandy: “Nothing has been finalized, but we are looking at the concept and expect at least a strong possibility that by the year 2003 we will have a World Cup type of event. That would involve major league players representing their countries in a round robin tournament held sometime in the calendar year or later in the fall.”
Amaury: For over 20 years you have witnessed this amazing influx of Hispanic talent into the Major Leagues. Can you talk about what you have seen as far as the development of so many great Hispanic players?
Sandy: “Well this year on opening day, Latin players -- well foreign players -- represented over 25 percent of all players active on the 25-man roster. That is a 2 percent increase over the last year, so clearly there is an increasing presence of all foreign players -- predominantly Latino players in the major leagues. I think this has been nothing but positive for Major League Baseball since some of our greatest talent includes players from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and so forth. Without those players, Major League Baseball would not be what it is today. I think it’s important because in these countries they play the game (from the time) they are very young and it’s important because baseball spends a lot of time developing players in these countries.”
Amaury: Sandy, I remember in the early 80’s when you were in Oakland. I remember asking then manager of the Athletics, Billy Martin, about Latin players. Martin told me he loved Latino players because they play the game with great passion and they come up to the Big Leagues with one thing in mind: to play every day ...
Sandy: “I think that is clear. They grow up playing the game almost on a daily basis. They play all year ‘round. They come here and they do not change their views. They want to play every day.”
Amaury: Sandy, nobody that likes baseball wants to see a work stoppage or strike of any kind after this 2001 season is over. I for one think this could really devastate the game, unlike 1998 when McGwire and Sosa brought the game back with the sensational homerun race.
Having said that, we know that there are problems in the future. I’d like to hear your opinion about the proposal by Commissioner Selig about establishing a draft in baseball: to take the worst eight teams and make them eligible to select players from the top eight teams -- like to “balance the situation.”
Sandy: “This is something that was recommended by a committee of Major League Baseball several years ago and made public for the first time last spring; a blue ribbon panel involving George Mitchell and various other people. The rebalancing draft would be an attempt similar to the National Hockey League that would provide some professional talent redistribution. I have to say that is one of the ideas that is being considered.”
Amaury: Sandy, on opening day at Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco I was talking with Peter Magowan, owner of the San Francisco Giants, and I asked him point-blank: “Peter, how can teams like the Expos or the Twins and others that are not drawing any fans survive? Instead of expanding, why not reduce the number of franchises? I’d rather see 22 competitive well-financed teams than what we are seeing now.” Mr. Magowan agreed with me. What are your thoughts on this?
Sandy: “Well the Commissioner has talked about detraction in baseball. Maybe a different approach. I won’t say it will be part of the solution, but perhaps part of a broader set of changes. But again, that is something that the Commissioner has publicly acknowledge as a possibility.”
Changing the topic, I wanted to ask Sandy about uniforms, umpires, balls used.
Amaury: I have noticed that many teams have gone to wearing black jerseys and on several occasions last season there were two opposing teams wearing black jerseys. For example, the Mets vs. Astros. Is this not kind of confusing for the fans? Could this not be a hindrance?
Sandy: “Well, that shouldn’t have happened. There are a lot of clubs now that have several uniform combinations and a lot of teams want to wear black, since they seem to sell well. They are popular with the fans. But there should not have been that type of confusion, because it is important to contrast between uniforms on television or in the stadiums.”
Amaury: So many times I see a pitch that hits the ground five feet in front of the catcher. The home plate umpire will seize that ball and throw it out of circulation, but then on the next pitch -- a new ball -- the batter smacks the ball for a double against the fence, corner -- and that same ball stays in play. What gives here?
Sandy: “Often what would happen is that the ball is exchanged at the request of a hitter. Sometimes the umpire will do it on his own initiative but, generally speaking, the hitter or the catcher or the pitcher will mention something and the umpire will look at it.”
Amaury: I am a traditionalist. I think baseball is just fine at its speed. It is a game of strategy a thinking man’s game. But people nowadays have very little -- if any -- attention span and many say baseball takes too long. Games are over three or four hours and as far as I am concerned, certain things like with a runner on first with the pitcher throwing there six or seven or twelve times -- that can be changed. In the early 1900’s, 20-inning games took less than three hours. We also have the DH rule in the American League. I never liked it, but understand that baseball wanted more scoring. What is your opinion about doing things to shorten the game?
Sandy: “Well what we are doing -- we are trying to address that. In fact, I had a meeting this morning with Frank Robinson and some others that were called and we are going to take some very hard looks at what’s going on. We thought that maybe the strike zone would shorten the game but it has been very marginal. We are looking at many things like game presentation, like music being played during games; and those types of things we’re going to have to get under control.”
Amaury: Sandy, Major League Baseball is not going to have any instant replay ...
Sandy: “No, no!”
Amaury: You have a lot of friends in baseball: guys like Tony LaRussa managing the Cardinals, your friends in Oakland, the Oakland Athletics -- a team you built from the minor leagues. Do you have a favorite team? Do you root for anybody?
Sandy: “Well not really. You know I like the game. I do enjoy watching the Oakland A’s because there are players there that were developing when I was there. But I am able to separate what I like from my job.”
Sandy Alderson took part in the planning of the Baltimore Orioles going to Cuba a few years back and playing the Cuban National team in exhibition. With that in mind, I asked Alderson if he enjoyed that experience.
Sandy: “I really did. Well, I enjoyed it in part because -- of course -- it is in a part of the world where few Americans ever get to visit. It was also -- of course -- a professional challenge to organize and a way to get the people of the United States and Cuba a little closer without regards to governments or politics. In any event, it was a unique experience.
Amaury: Sandy, were you aware that the game in Cuba between the Orioles and the Cuban team was not open to the regular Cuban fan, but to an exclusive group of VIPs invited by the Cuban government; only Castro’s friends or the communist party heavyweights?
Sandy: “Well, we became aware of that just before the game. We were not aware of that in advance.”
Amaury: So basically, you were blindsided by that decision?
Sandy: “No, I wouldn’t say that. But it was something that was a surprise to us.”
As busy as he is at his main office in New York City and traveling around the world, Sandy, a true family man, always finds time to see his son play baseball. I asked him how often he is able to see his son play.
Sandy: “He is a member of a team. He has his ups and downs. I try to watch him whenever I can. The family likewise.”
At age 53, Sandy Alderson maintained his mild-mannered ways when I asked him the inevitable question towards the end of the interview:
Sandy, would you eventually want to be Commissioner?
Sandy: “No. I am very happy doing what I do. I am basically operations-oriented, so I don’t envision myself in that position.”
Before I let him go, I had one more question in mind. Since we all agree that baseball is headed for rough times: owners vs. union leaders and players with no-limit guaranteed salaries -- it was a basic question:
Amaury: Are you optimistic about the future of the game?
Sandy: “I think baseball is fairly healthy. We know some teams have problems (with) their revenues and so forth. Of course negotiations would have to take place and we will see.”
Amaury: Thanks for your time. Sandy. We really appreciate it.
Sandy: “No problem! I hope next time I am in the Bay Area I can see you.”
Amaury: Sandy – anytime! Especially if you are in San Francisco at Pacific Bell Park, you are always welcome in my broadcast booth with the Giants.