Sandy Alderson is a thoughtful and soft-spoken baseball executive taking on a new challenge in the spotlight of New York City.
Now the general manager of the New York Mets, he served in Vietnam as a Marine Corps officer and is the son of a veteran who served as a pilot in three different conflicts.
He came into baseball as an Ivy league-educated lawyer without the traditional experience of playing, or scouting but adopted some of the ideas about analysing baseball statistics described in Michael Lewis's landmark book "Moneyball." He now is challenged to bring stability and leadership to the New York Mets organization.
John Chuhran and I had a chance to chat with Sandy Alderson on our WVOX New Rochelle radio program which covers the careers of veterans and members of the active military. We discussed his role as a former Marine and what this brings to his responsibilities in baseball:
Q. You are one of the people who helped modify the way baseball players are evaluated as described in Michael Lewis's book "Moneyball", Can you tell us about this?
SA: When I got involved in baseball, back in 1981, as I said earlier, I didn't really have any experience. Two years after I joined the Oakland A's, I became the general manager. I was looking around for a way to make personnel decisions, I wasn't a scout, hadn't been a scout, had not been in baseball very long, didn't have that kind of experience.
But at about that time, there were several people including a guy named Bill James, another named Eric Walker, who were writing about baseball and writing about a new statistical approach to player evaluation. which really emphasized things like on-base percentage more than batting average or other things and related that individual performance to team success.
It struck me as sort of sound theory, so we began to use it to some extent as early as 1983-84. We used it in a variety of ways in looking at players we acquired. We kept it quite for a long time, in part because it was new and because I was so new, people would look at me and say who is this kid and how could this possibly work, so we didn't want to get into that type of public discussion.
Q. Tell us about your service in the US Marine Corps During the Vietnam War?
SA: Well I went into the Marines Corps through Naval ROTC, I was an ROTC student at Dartmouth College graduated in 1969. Went to the Basic School was commissioned an 0302 infantry officer, then spent about eight months at the Vietnamese Language School at Monterrey, California, then went over to Vietnam.
I served there with the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines for a period of time, then their Regiment CP, was just there for a few months before they pulled out of Vietnam all the 1st Marines in May 1970.
Left there and was assigned to Marine Barracks at 1st and I (Washington, D.C.) for two years, was fortunate to command the Marines Corps Silent Drill team for a year. Then stayed in reserves for a period after that.
Q. Your dad, John Alderson, was a veteran of World War II, tell us about him?
SA: He was in the Air Force serving for over 30 years was a World War II, in 1944 and a945B24 (Liberator) pilot in the later days of World War II, after the war he went to college. He got called back to serve in the Korean War where he flew B26s.
He then had two full tours in Vietnam he was a B-57 pilot at a place called from Phan Rang in 1967 and he was in Thailand taught and flew missions with Laotian pilots. He had a full career, spanned a lot of time, he was a great man and great inspiration to me.
Q. Your father was quite a pilot from WWII to Vietnam?
SA. He had 32 missions in Europe and you think about aircraft today and most of them are single seat or two-seaters, but I think they had a crew of ten or so, and they stayed together for all of their missions, just an incredible experience, and just to think about the length of the missions, they'd go 12 to 14 hours and for those bomber pilots they just stayed on course and what ever came, came. Just incredible endurance and tenacity among those bomber pilots in World War II.
He flew the B57 in Vietnam which was a two-seater, I actually got to fly with him in Vietnam. That was the Canberra, they flew some close air support in South Vietnam although I never saw them, and flew at night up in North Vietnam at night intercepting trucks and convoys and things like that.
He really enjoyed the Air Force life,and I looked up to him, We lived in a lot of different places,
Sometimes I think as an Army "brat" or Air Force "brat" you learn as much as you do as being in the military yourself, those formative years when you are growing and having to move every three or four years meeting a new group of friends and trying to maintain an old group of friends, so it is special upbringing, a special community.
Whether you are in it as a dependent or service member, I think a great experience.
Q. What did you learn in the Marines that has carried over you to life after?
SA. There is no question that my four years in the Marine Corps were life shaping, not just career shaping, but I think life shaping. It is one of those great American institutions, the Marine Corps. I learned a variety of things, but the importance of discipline, but at the same time the importance of initiative, and creativity within a framework of discipline and order.
Team work, incredibly important in almost any aspect of life, certainly in the military. It is probably my greatest exposure to diversity, the military has historically has been as diverse an institution in the United States as any.
One of the things I really enjoyed about the military was being exposed to all different people, all types, different backgrounds, different socio-economic circumstances, but all coming together for a common purpose.
Maybe most important is just how important the mission is, the objective, what ever you are trying to achieve, keeping your eyes focused on it. So some great lessons from the Marine Corps, and some great experiences and friends as a result, too.
Q. How was your military experience viewed by baseball?
SA. When I got into baseball back in 1981, I had no experience what so ever in the game, I think what gave me credibility among even baseball people was the fact that I had been a Marine. There was enough respect for me just in that regard, that it gave me a chance, got me over the hump.
I did not wear it on my sleeve, but there was respect there that most people coming from outside of baseball did not get, a little slack, because of my Marine Corps experience, In many ways, it was pivotal to my early career in baseball.
Leadership is a funny thing, different leaders fit different situations, very seldom do good leaders fit an array of leadership situations. But if you are going to find someone like that, you are typically going to find them in the military, because they are exposed to that over periods of time.
Whether it is in a foxhole or a CP, in the Pentagon, or what have you, you do find those people. I think it is one of the reasons that private enterprise is beginning looking at veterans again in a different light, because they provide a variety of experiences.
It requires a well-rounded set of leadership skills you are not going to develop in most other places.
Q. What has been the reaction when you have taken Mets players and staff to visit Wounded Warriors at military hospitals?
SA: It has been a great experience for all of us who have been able to visit the hospitals. When I was in San Diego with the Padres we spent time at the Balboa Naval Hospital there. Here we have gone to Walter Reed and the Veterans Hospital here in New York. For all of us who have a chance to go, it really is a tremendous experience.
For one thing, we get to learn first-hand about the sacrifices that many are making for our country, our freedom and the lives we get to lead.
It is not only inspirational but it is very sobering. It puts lots of different things in perspective, I think for for those who have never been exposed to the military or those who served.
It is great for us too, because we get to be a sounding board for those in the hospitals, It is incredible how motivated they are, either to continue their work in the service or proud they are that they were able to serve, not withstanding the injuries they have suffered, and how much concern they have for their contemporaries their fellow soldiers or Marines or what have you.
Q. The veterans must really appreciate the visits from the Mets players?
SA. One of the great things about baseball is you get to share it with other people. That is true in a hospital, a military hospital, other hospitals, different places.
Occasionally, quite often you will run into service members who are fans of other teams, and yet we still have a great time, because it is about the conversation.
Given those guys and some women just the chance to talk about their experiences. Through their allegiances with different teams, we can carry on conversations.
In my case, because I was in the military, I sort of know to some extent the context of their experiences and what happened so I can be a good listener, also.
Q. Do the teams realize how much service members serving overseas follow sports back home?
SA: I think those are the kinds of things that tie one back to what we used to call "the real world". That is a responsibility that those in professional sports and I guess in entertainment and others share.
It is one of the motivation for trying to put a good team on the field, because you realize how many people rely on the team as a source of entertainment, as a object of their loyalties, and emotional investment day in and day out. Certainly that is true with the troops overseas.
Q. Over 100,000 youth play American Legion Baseball and one was drafted No. 1 by the Mets this year?
SA: Yes our number one draft pick out of Cheyenne, Wyoming only plays American Legion baseball. There is no high school baseball in Wyoming. Brendon Nimmo. So the Legion ball that he plays is his only opportunity to play.
American Legion baseball exists all across the country and have been very important over the years. I myself played American legion baseball; it was the summer extension of baseball for most of us in high school who were juniors or seniors.
American Legion baseball has played a big role in development of players over a number of years.
When I was with MLB the winners of the American Legion World Series.would be honored at the World Series each year with a trip and acknowledgement at a game. There continues be a connection between MLB and American Legion baseball.
Ken Kraetzer covers West Point football and Iona basketball for WVOX 1460 in New Rochelle, N.Y., and is a member of the American Legion Press Association. The "West Point Football Report" will begin airing on WVOX.com and 1460 AM for the 2011 season on Tuesday, Aug. 30. Reach him on firstname.lastname@example.org