Changing the direction of the Mets as a franchise, when Sandy Alderson came on board for a second go at it, this time as team president, was akin to pulling a U-turn with an oil tanker.
Actually, make that two oil tankers. Lashed together, their decks piled high with cement trucks.
You get the idea. The Mets, saddled with nearly six decades of mostly bad mojo, proved to be an unrivaled success at dysfunction, the yearly league-leader in chaos. In theory, the Mets had just about everything a team could dream of -- a large fan base as resilient as it was passionate and a foothold in the nation’s largest media market, overflowing with rabid attention and TV ratings.
All the franchise really needed was two things: money and competent leadership.
Enter Steve Cohen, multi-billionaire hedge-fund titan, and central casting’s version of the adult in the room, the lawyer-Marine-multi-hat-baseball-executive Alderson.
Alderson first joined the Mets as GM in 2010, through the facilitation of the Commissioner’s Office, which already had gone beyond their usual boundaries to establish some stability for the Wilpons amid the Madoff fallout. With the Flushing operation in serious rebuild mode, Alderson actually led the Mets to the World Series in 2015 -- with many of his predecessor Omar Minaya’s players -- and they also made back-to-back playoff appearances for the only the second time in franchise history.
Under the Wilpons, however, the sweet tended to sour quicker than anticipated, and Alderson stepped down in 2018 -- officially for medical reasons, to receive continuing treatment for an unspecified form of cancer. The fact that Alderson was able to stage a triumphant return as team president, alongside the conquering hero Cohen, while the Wilpons vacated their Citi Field offices had to be especially gratifying for the former GM, whose self-deprecating public manner hides a fiercely competitive streak behind closed doors.
The legacy of Alderson 2.0 is a little more complicated than his first Flushing tenure, as the Jared Porter/Mickey Callaway episodes were clumsily handled at first and Sandy was the point man for both. Cohen stepped in to launch an extensive investigation concerning the treatment of women within the organization, with a number of positions filled by women not long afterward.
As for the on-field product, Alderson admitted Friday he was pretty much “removed” from that process after the Mets hired Billy Eppler last November, and that was by “design.” His contract as team president was set to expire in December, and with Cohen already moving forward with interviews for his replacement, Alderson agreed the time was right for the transition to a consultant role.
As accomplished as Cohen is in the world of finance, he was still a novice MLB owner when he took over the Mets in November of 2020. Alderson, with forty years of experience, was his baseball sherpa in this venture, and even a lifer like him got to witness something new in Flushing -- what the Mets can do when imagination is backed by nearly limitless resources.
“There have been added dimensions, but also well-executed,” Alderson said. “And there’s a lot to be said for execution. The difference between good teams and bad teams is not always ideas or information -- it’s execution. And so I think I’ve really been proud of the organization, from those who are creative in nature and think about things in those terms but also our rank and file, who have executed exceptionally well over the course of the year.
“It’s easy to screw up, especially with you and others constantly observing. And I’ve just been happy because it’s not just ideas, it’s execution that creates a perception of professionalism. I think we’ve sort of limited the forced errors this year, and I think that’s a function of a better organization, better leadership and attention to detail that I think has become more of cornerstone of this organization than it was in the past.”
Reading between the lines, that’s quite an indictment of his former bosses, the Wilpons. Alderson isn’t without blame for the Mets going belly-up in the subsequent seasons after that 2016 wild-card loss. He was the GM, of course. But with COO Jeff Wilpon’s uber-handsy approach to every facet of the franchise, both business and baseball, it was not an environment conducive to what seems to be happening now under Cohen’s governance. Alderson deserves credit for working with Cohen to establish a successful infrastructure in Flushing, as well as being his conduit to the other 29 owners and commissioner Rob Manfred. But you have to wonder if Alderson -- the former MLB company man under Bud Selig -- would have taken the same big-money swings Eppler did this offseason if he was still making those decisions as a GM.
But that’s beside the point. Alderson has now helped transform the Mets into a better team twice -- first weathering the Madoff storm, then lending a knowledgable hand to a newbie owner (and Mets fan) in Cohen. Was it always smooth sailing? Heck no. But Alderson was tasked each time with one of the most difficult jobs in the majors -- if not No. 1 -- and managed to put the Mets on an improved trajectory.
“When I asked Sandy to come back to the team, it was for a defined period of time and with a specific mandate – revive our culture and this iconic franchise for our fans, partners and employees,” Cohen said in a statement. “Sandy has done those very things and more and we have begun a search for his successor.”
It was Alderson’s understanding that the next team president would likely have responsibilities similar to his own, and separate from the baseball operations end. But that also depended on the candidate. For many clubs, if not the majority, that position leans heavily toward the business side. And with Cohen’s grand plans for growing the Mets into a sports-entertainment colossus, that next president figures to be very busy in that pursuit.
“We’ve made some real important changes in the way we do business and the culture of our organization,” Alderson said. “And I think it’s really important - not just to me personally but to everyone in the organization, Steve and (wife) Alex (Cohen) -- that it continues.”