See, Don? This is the way to behave.
I once had to transcribe a lengthy interview with a top executive in the industry I covered. He concluded just about every answer to just about every question with a sentence that began, “At the end of the day…” The deeper into the tape I got, the more he said it.
Boy, did I wish that day would end as soon as possible.
After listening to that interview, I tended to pick up on the use of that phrase. I noticed a lot of high-powered people sprinkled it into their conversation, like a tic they couldn’t help. When he made his maiden appearance before the New York media in later October, Sandy Alderson revealed himself to be an “At the end of the day…” practitioner. Not as relentlessly as my transcription subject from years ago, but enough so it got my attention.
Six weeks later, at the literal end of the day, I got to hear what else Sandy Alderson has a penchant for saying.
It had to be at the end of the day because Sandy was speaking via conference call with a gaggle of Mets bloggers. With very few exceptions, the Mets blogger doesn’t make any kind of living from blogging the Mets. The Mets blogger’s day is filled with other professional commitments. Thus, the best time to gather us around the ol’ speakerphone is…at the end of the day.
Irony of ironies, we are at the beginning of a whole new day where Sandy Alderson and the Mets are concerned. If it hadn’t been obvious enough to observe it from a distance, it became happily apparent to the non-traditional media who were invited to take part in this forty-minute Q&A session.
How new is this day? For the Mets? For all who devote their concern to the Mets?
It’s very new. Not only were we never granted this opportunity when the last general manager held office, it never occurred to me that we might. If it didn’t occur to me, it’s hard to believe anybody in Flushing was thinking about it.
While the Mets’ systemic blogger outreach efforts predate the coming of Alderson, this Friday night session with writers who work day jobs was a stupendous leap forward for all concerned. It was big for us, naturally, as Jason and I and about a dozen other bloggers aren’t used to getting time with our team’s GM, but it was also big for the way the Mets do things now. They are led by a person who takes everything and everybody into account. He takes the media into account as part of the overall landscape that is within his purview as the head of Met baseball operations — and he counts the likes of us as media.
Yet it is also my impression (fed by his responses during the call) that he will not be steered to do what he doesn’t want to do by the media. Alderson understands New York is upholstered by back pages and that sports talk radio can drown out the horns on yellow cabs. This guy is clearly ready to communicate with the media hordes, but he gives no indication that he cares about appeasing them. I don’t sense Sandy Alderson will do whatever it takes to grab a back page or quell a loudmouth with a mic just because it’s December and there’s a lot of noise around town about how this guy…he’s not doing anything!
When that stuff starts showing up in the standings, maybe it will make a difference to Alderson. Until then, Sandy seems content to explain himself as clearly as possible and let the rest of us figure it out for ourselves.
Oh, and unless I missed it, I’m pretty sure he didn’t say “At the end of the day…” more than once.
Now, some impressions from Faith and Fear’s own Jason Fry:
Sandy Alderson is good at this stuff, but for me to say that demands further explanation, because I could describe someone like that and mean either of two very different things. I could mean “good at this stuff” as in “smooth and on message, talking a good game but not actually saying anything that would make waves.” Or I could mean “good at this stuff” as in “demonstrated a knack for being truthful and diplomatic, informative and also on message at the same time.”
Happily, when I say Alderson’s good at this stuff, I mean the latter.
Was there some news? Yes. The Mets have picked their slate of coaches, haven’t announced them yet because of administrative issues, and will probably have something to say Monday or Tuesday. As for the draft, he said that “I do believe we’ll be over slot, maybe more than occasionally. I think that a big-market club such as the Mets can only dominate through a successful player-development system. Nobody can sign 25 players for $150 million over six or seven years. We need to take advantage of our resources in all areas of player acquisition, including amateur scouting.”
(Huge, heartfelt hurrah there.)
Were any of the bits of news intentionally tossed our way to throw the bloggers a bone? No, or at least it didn’t feel that way. (And having been on both ends of such cynical exercises, I’d like to think I’d know.) We had a conversation. That conversation touched on a few areas where matters had progressed to the point that there was news, or Alderson’s discussion of his philosophy was sufficiently removed from the previous Mets’ status quo that it amounted to news.
And he was candid, at one point remarking dryly that most GMs don’t have to find an equipment manager when they arrive.
We each got a question, with no pre-screening. When it was my turn, I asked Alderson what his impressions of New York fans (I meant to specify Mets fans — oh well) were before taking the job, and how they’d changed since his arrival. I chose that question for two reasons. First of all and most importantly, I genuinely wanted to know — I’ve always been interested in what players and front office folks know of fans’ lives and moods, and how much attention they pay to those things. Second, I admit I was curious to see what Alderson would do with a question that in my day job might get derided as a softball. His answer was interesting.
He said (as recorded in the comprehensive Amazin’ Avenue transcript ):
“I think my impressions as an outside observer have been confirmed largely. Passionate fans. Loyal, passionate — baseball is important to them. I think New York is a baseball town and I’m really happy about that. That imposes certain obligations and some demands. Fans are very knowledgeable, but that keeps us on our toes. Ultimately that’s a good thing. I haven’t walked around the concourse during a game yet— I haven’t seen any fruits and vegetables — I’m sure that first-hand contact will become even more real when the season starts.
New York fans haven’t disappointed me yet, I know they’re passionate about their teams, particularly baseball teams. And that’s one of the things that drives us. We want the fans to be proud of the organization. That’s going to come from winning, that’s going to come from winning the right way, ultimately.”
He answered it, giving it as much weight as meatier questions about Moneyball or the amateur draft or how you audit an organization. He was entertaining in doing so. And then he brought it back to his plan for the organization.
And this was Alderson on talking with bloggers:
“I’m very familiar with the blogosphere and understand how it makes connections with fans. The various platforms for communication these days are different, more varied. People are going to form their own opinions, you all will form your own opinions, but at least if you’ve heard from me you’ll be able to do it on the basis of direct communication rather than something indirect or second-hand. I don’t mind spending the time. I think that’s part of what one buys into here in New York. In a sense, you guys probably reflect the most passionate elements of the fan base. If I’m right about that, it’s probably as important, or more important, to be in contact with you all than it is with any of the rest of the media.”
Beyond making the chosen audience pretty happy, that’s a succinct, smart summation of why bloggers are important and their perspective is valuable. His answer gave us credit (not that spending forty minutes with us and treating our questions seriously and respectfully didn’t do that already) but was also upfront about why the time spent is a valuable investment for the team.
Looking back at these thoughts, they seem dreadfully meta. I suppose that was inevitable: I think it’s fair to say that most of us on the call were simultaneously interested in taking the new GM’s measure and in understanding how this ongoing experiment with the Mets providing us access will unfold. Both the questions we asked and the impressions we gathered reflect that.
It’s also true that considering Omar Minaya’s handful of infamous flameouts before microphones, we’ve become keenly interested in how well the new GM handles communications on a tactical level. But I hope the transcript demonstrates that this was an enjoyable, interesting conversation in its own right. From the evidence, it would be a treat to talk baseball with Sandy Alderson in June or July as well, when we’re used to him and on-field matters are uppermost in all our minds. I’m pretty confident that would be candid, interesting, wide-ranging conversation too.
Here’s looking forward to it.
To what Jason said, I’ll add that as this wasn’t a call driven by a single news event, the questions from we telephonically assembled bloggers varied in specifics, but were of essentially two natures:
1) The construction of this Mets team/organization.
Can you blame us for the second? Nobody else asks about us — and by us, I mean the spectrum that includes Sandy’s thoughts on and reactions to New York fans, New York media, New York pressures and, yes, New York Mets bloggers. When we’re on our tenth conference call with the general manager of the New York Mets, I’ll bet we don’t ask Sandy Alderson, “So…whaddaya think about us?”
Which we didn’t, exactly, though I have to admit I kind of thought there’d be more of that. I thought of the episode of The Simpsons in which there’s a closeup of a ham radio and, in some foreign tongue (as relayed by subtitles), the voice on the other end uses his ham radio to transmit the following urgent message:
“I have a ham radio.”
Bloggers can be like that, especially when we’re brought together as “bloggers”. This was a novel experience — but not, based on Sandy’s demeanor, a novelty. We were worth forty minutes at the end of his day because he gets what we do, incorporating “the most passionate elements of the fan base” and acknowledging continual contact with us (given our role as conduit for Mets fans) as something at least as important as it will be with the rest of the media.
He could be buttering our popcorn, but I doubt it. Sandy Alderson doesn’t sound like a man bent on flattery or BS. The Mets never seemed much interested in flattering its bloggers, but BS they generally had for everybody under the previous regime. Sandy does not come off as having a lot of time for that. He comes from the reality-based community. Frankly, it takes some getting used to the idea that he and his kind are taking up residence among the Metsopotomians.
As for his other media/fan views:
• He’ll be on with Mike Francesa next week. If you haven’t been listening to Francesa, good for you. If you’re a Mets fan who can’t help yourself, you know Francesa’s been banging the “where’s the big news at?” drum pretty hard of late. Without calling Francesa a bloviating dope, Alderson expressed surprise that any Mets fans — generally a “sophisticated” bunch — would be “disappointed” by the club’s low-key approach these last few weeks considering it’s all well in line with what he’s been saying about the direction that would be taken for 2011.
• At the same time, he understands the disappointment of the past few years, and knows that the “near-term” support he feels he has from Mets fans will likely melt away with a poor start to the season.
• Communicating with media is much a part of his responsibilities as finding another pitcher or three: “It’s important they hear my point of view.” All the “platforms and outlets” in New York need to be serviced. Balancing the need to give individual beat reporters access versus promoting an atmosphere in which he isn’t seen as displaying “favoritism” is an issue. Managing the time, he allowed, is his challenge.
Turning to baseball:
• The Mets will not be operated “on a shoestring,” though this is a “difficult period” to negotiate given the contracts he’s inherited.
• The pitching market figures to grow more attractive as it gets later, and Alderson believes there will be better arms available to the Mets then as opposed to now.
• To a question posed by yours truly, regarding how confident he could be about judging and ultimately parting ways with certain players given his limited familiarity with the organization’s personnel to date, Alderson was surprisingly frank (at least according to the blogger who posed the question). Non-tendered Sean Green had injury issues and “did not pitch as well as expected”; non-tendered Chris Carter is a “limited player” who “can’t play center field” and is “not a great defensive player”; letting him go permits the Mets to “improve ourselves and clear a roster spot”. Free agent Pedro Feliciano , having rejected arbitration, is “still in the marketplace, but considering what he’s going to make,” letting him go was a “relatively easy decision.
• Alderson was satisfied there was enough insight among his lieutenants J.P. Ricciardi and Paul DePodesta, new scout Roy Smith and those who were around before they all showed up to make those calls not terribly vexing. The “lack of organizational knowledge,” however, may have shown up in “preparing for the Rule 5 draft,” in which the Mets lost pitching prospect Elvin Ramirez  to the Nationals..
• I snuck in a followup about the emotion of telling a player he’s no longer part of a team. Is it easier if you’re new to this job? Does it get more difficult as you get to know the players? Or is it all strictly business? Sandy said it’s not that cold, and that he tries to maintain a “professional but friendly relationship” with his players. It can’t become “misleading” or “send the wrong message”. (Much of Alderson’s job, it seems, is predicated on avoiding the perception of favoritism, whether it’s toward reporters or outfielders.)
• We should look for a more consistent approach, minors to majors, in the Mets organization.
• “You don’t typically have to come in as general manager and hire a new equipment manager.” The Charlie Samuels scandal  may be yet another embarrassment to the Mets, but it’s not Alderson’s.
The last question our GM received regarded his Marine experience and how it’s impacted him. “Be aggressive, with good judgment,” Sandy summed it, and if that’s the way he runs the Mets, that’s not a bad way to be at the end or beginning of any day.
Thanks to the Mets media relations staff for setting this up.
Thanks to every single blogging associate of ours who was a part of this. Every question — media, baseball, personal — was insightful and each yielded a revealing Alderson answer.
Many of our blolleagues have posted transcripts and/or writeups of the entire session. We encourage you to check them out:
You get your turn to Ask Sandy on a mets.com Webcast on Monday. Learn more about it here .