A recurrence of his cancer forced Mets general manager Sandy Alderson into a leave of absence announced Tuesday, and as he reflected on his work the past eight months and almost eight years, he suggested he might not return to that role.
Sitting alongside chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, who made a rare public comment, an emotional Alderson, 70, said he found out about two months ago that his cancer had returned, but that his prognosis is good. He will continue chemotherapy treatment and likely have surgery this summer.
“In the best interest of the Mets and for my health, this is the right result,” Alderson said. “My prognosis is actually good, but in the meantime, the chemotherapy, the surgery all take their toll . . . which makes it difficult to stay up with the pace, the tempo of the everyday. Operations continue, the game continues. We have a season to play.”
In Alderson’s absence, assistant GM John Ricco and special assistants to the GM J.P. Ricciardi and Omar Minaya will run the Mets’ baseball-operations department. That group is not lacking in experience. Minaya was the Mets GM from late 2004-2010. He returned as a special assistant last winter. Ricciardi used to run the Blue Jays and has been with the Mets as long as Alderson. Ricco has been assistant GM since 2004.
Wilpon indicated the Mets’ decision-making process would not be affected.
“Same as Sandy would come to me, let me know, inform me of what they plan to do, I assume and plan to have the three of them come to me the same way,” Wilpon said. “It’s just the three of them coming to a mutual decision, which I think was happening [previously] anyway behind the scenes, to go to Sandy.”
Ricco served as the Mets’ point man when Alderson took a leave of absence during the 2015-16 offseason. Alderson was first diagnosed with cancer during the Mets’ run to an NL East title and the World Series in the fall of 2015, but he kept it quiet until the winter.
“I had the decision-making authority at that time. I will not have decision-making authority going forward,” Alderson said. “If people want to call me, they’re welcome to do so. But at the same time, I don’t expect to be involved in day-to-day activity.”
The season has gone poorly for the Mets, and Alderson said he feels personally responsible. None of the offseason additions have worked out as envisioned, the farm system has offered little in the form of reinforcements, and despite a hot two-week start to the year the Mets have a bottom-five record in baseball.
“With respect to the future, I would say two things,” Alderson said. “One is, notwithstanding the good prognosis, my health is an uncertainty going forward. And secondly, if I were to look at it on the merits, I’m not sure coming back is warranted.”
The Mets are headed toward what would be their sixth losing season out of eight since the Wilpons hired Alderson. The exceptions were 2015 and 2016, when they lost the NL wild-card game.
Asked repeatedly if he would like Alderson back as GM, health-permitting, Wilpon did not answer, saying Alderson’s health is most important. But he did acknowledge his disappointment in where the Mets stand.
“This is, again, a results business,” Wilpon said. “We’re well below our expectations, from ownership on down. I’ve talked to the baseball department, talked to the scouting department, talked to the development department, the coaches, the players. Nobody expected to be in this position.”
Alderson told Wilpon of his decision to step away Sunday. Until Tuesday, Alderson kept his illness a secret from most of the organization, including manager Mickey Callaway, the coaching staff and the players, who found out during a team meeting minutes before Alderson made the information public.
David Wright said at the end of Alderson’s speech to the team, the players gave him a standing ovation. Brandon Nimmo, the Mets’ first draft pick under Alderson, said many in the clubhouse had tears in their eyes as they began to digest the news. “It’s much more important than baseball right now,” Nimmo said.
“Coming into this job, I had heard a lot about Sandy Alderson — the leader he was, how bright, how selfless, what a servant leader he was,” Callaway said. “I experienced all those things first hand. He lived up to all those qualities.”
Callaway choked on his words and fought back tears as he continued.
“Now, knowing that he went through what he went through, he’s a badass marine,” Callaway said. “That’s all I can say.”
Said Wright: “There are a lot of heads hanging in the clubhouse right now with the way we’re playing. But when you get news [of] what Sandy is going through, it puts everything into perspective.”
A former Marine — if there is such a thing — Alderson now faces the reality of a terrible disease and the possibility of leaving baseball on something other than his own volition after nearly four decades in the sport.
“None of us writes his or her script. You deal with circumstances as they arise,” Alderson said. “I’m grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had here, all the opportunities I’ve had in the game and for whatever opportunities may arise in the future.
“But this isn’t Disney World. We have to deal with life as it presents itself. I’m OK with it.”