To effectively end the Joan Payson Era, and start the clock ticking on the Doubleday/Wilpon Age, Frank Cashen salvaged useful players from the prior era and set about deconstructing the Mets, then reconstructing the House of Flushing. Off the field and inside the front office, Frank Cashen also assembled a pool of executive prospects who were at one time highly sought after by other baseball clubs.
I still find it ponderous Frank Cashen selected Al Harazin to succeed him. But I digress. Once Frank Cashen decided to promote himself and step down as General Manager after the 1991 season, he left the Mets stocked with executives that would serve ownership for the next twenty years. Jerry Hunsicker was one that got away. Otherwise, Joe McIlvaine, Steve Phillips, then Jim Duquette, and Omar Minaya all came out of Camp Cashen in some form. But starting with Steve Phillips, the continuing string of in-house hiring and firings were taking their toll on the organization. In my opinion, inbred thinking was the result of Fred Wilpon’s self admitted “collegial atmosphere” approach to the front office.
This new operational philosophy, along with three onerous expenditures; the purchasing of Nelson Doubleday’s stake of the team; the construction of Citi Field, and the Madoff Mess – although more snafu than expenditure; conspired against the Wilpons. In essence, the Wilpons became their own worst enemy. To which, three years ago the House of Flushing lay in ruins.
But why is Sandy Alderson here? Well.., to put it mildly, the Wilpons aren’t exactly baseball men. But part of the reason is because there was no one left within the organization to choose from. John Ricco? Like I said, the Wilpons exhausted all the resources left behind. Sandy Alderson is the ownership’s only venture outside the organization for a General Manager since Frank Cashen. With Sandy, the Mets finally employed someone with a free, independent, and subjective mind, untethered to the Wilpons via a prior relationship within the organization. Sure ownership conducted an interview process for their next General Manager after the 2010 season. And I’ll take it easy on them. I’ll limit myself to saying they had never conducted interviews before. The organization appointed Al Harazin. They asked Joe Mac to return from San Diego. The Mets then promoted Steve Phillips. Jim Duquette was an interim. And similar to Joe McIlvaine, Omar was asked to return to the organization from (then) Montreal. Truth is, once Commissioner Selig made Sandy Alderson available, the obvious choice was made for them.
I wish the condition in Flushing was as simple as that. But we all know it wasn’t. To really get a grasp on what Sandy Alderson has accomplished in two years, we must obligingly refer back to the prior regime. Even during the early seasons of Omar’s tenure, Jeff Wilpon still maintained a somewhat significant presence, more so than an owner, owner’s son, or similar figure head should. Most organizations (not all) seem to function more effectively when the owner is not too meddlesome. Of course, bestowing that much trust in an executive to run your organization can be a harrowing endeavour. Just ask Jeff Loria. But to some degree, a certain level of interaction, knowledge, and oversight would behoove any owner. However in Flushing, the collegial atmosphere meant no chain of command, which ultimately served to stoke brush fires and instigate uncomfortably hot exchanges with the media.
That said, because of Jeff Wilpon’s relative availability, there were two inescapable questions he and Omar Minaya consistently faced. How much autonomy does Omar really have? And, is Jeff making decisions behind the scenes? Following the 2006 and 2007 seasons, and ever increasingly after 2008, the questions surfaced again, and again, and became more vitriolic each time. Once the 2009 and 2010 seasons rolled around, for various reasons the media declared open season on the Mets and sacked the Front Office. The Tony Bernazard ordeal was the proverbial Molotov cocktail thrown onto Omar’s tenure that just happened to get captured by some passing photographer, and became the iconic metaphor of a greater uprising. Before you knew it, sparks became flames. Flames became an inferno. Ultimately, Omar’s tenure in Flushing burnt down to the ground.
Within days of Sandy Alderson’s hiring the Mets had a well formed new front office. One of the first moves Sandy Alderson made as GM was to hire J.P. Ricciardi as Assistant General Manager. Sandy then called upon former colleague Paul DePodesta to be his Vice President of player development and scouting. Ricciardi is the former GM of the Toronto Blue Jays, and DePodesta was hastily fired by Frank McCourt in Los Angeles. With respects to having experienced and qualified executives manning key positions under Sandy Alderson, these two gentlemen are welcome additions.
With Omar in charge, the office of GM devolved. As I touched upon in PART II, Omar left no lasting structure in the minor leagues. On the major level he additionally failed to recruit effectual executives for the front office. The front office became an ineffective bureaucracy composed of Omar, John Ricco, and Jeff Wilpon. The voice of the franchise became muddled and hard to distinguish in a crowd. The more the front office devolved the more Fred Wilpon insisted he was content with his collegial atmosphere.
Since Sandy Alderson’s hiring, the office of GM has been re-established. There is one figurehead now. If there are any questions which need answering, if there are issues which need address, Sandy is the stop. No longer are the media circumventing a vacant chain of command. Over the last two seasons we have neither seen nor heard from Jeff Wilpon or John Ricco. Order has indeed returned. In two short years, this is where I believe Sandy Alderson has made his greatest contribution to the organization so far.