Reunited With Mets, Paul DePodesta and Sandy Alderson a Classic Pairing
One, ESPN would show the Mets on "Sunday Night Baseball" every week instead of every other week.
Two, folks within baseball who despise the Mets -- and their numbers are vast -- actually would have reason to fear the Mets, who've reached the playoffs only once in the last 10 years.
Three, PBS and Harvard would commission a documentary on Alderson and his protege DePodesta. If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere, right? Mets fan Jerry Seinfeld could narrate it.
A wiry man with dark hair, DePodesta, 37, has acting experience and could play himself. He got a bit part as a cop in the TV show "Homicide: Life on the Street." Then 22, he was also taking classes at the National Shakespeare Theater in Washington, D.C. He likely still can recite lines from "Hamlet."
"The dialogue is simply stunning," he said in an interview two years ago, when he was a special assistant to Alderson with the San Diego Padres. "The character is incredibly intense and riveting, but I think the dialogue is superior."
How DePodesta came to draw inspiration from Alderson, and then to work for him, is also an interesting tale, one that began 15 years ago when DePodesta took an entry level job with the Baltimore Stallions of the Canadian Football League. Having played both football and baseball for Harvard, DePodesta aspired to build a career in sports, preferably football. He knew almost nothing about Alderson, the lawyer turned successful baseball executive of the Oakland A's. In the same interview two years ago, DePodesta enjoyed recounting the as-fate-would-have-it events that would illuminate his career path.
"The day I arrived to work for the Stallions, they told me the controller just quit, so you're going to have to spend time in finance," he said. "And I said, 'I know nothing about it.' They said, 'Well, you have an economics degree.' "
"I said, "Yeah, economic theory. I never even took accounting.'
"Nevertheless," he added, "I was suddenly in the accounting office and helping out."
The detour placed him under the guidance of Aric Holsinger, the chief financial officer of the Stallions and formerly an executive with the Baltimore Orioles.
More interested in baseball books than accounting books, DePodesta noticed the baseball media guides in Holsinger's office one day and began thumbing through the Oakland A's front office biographies. Presumably a beam of light descended on the bio of Alderson, the club's president and general manager who had no experience in baseball when he became the A's general counsel in 1981 and later brought an outsider's perspective to the GM role. The more that DePodesta read about Alderson, the more clarity he gained about what to do with his life.
"I said, 'This is a Dartmouth guy, Harvard law, didn't play in the big leagues, Marine Corps -- this is my kind of guy,' " he said. "And also, I'm thinking that, 'Hey, someone else has done this, someone else has transferred over and been able to do it successfully without a traditional baseball background.' "
Alderson had served four years as a Marine officer with a tour of duty in Vietnam. DePodesta hadn't enlisted with the Marines, but two of his football position mates at Harvard had enrolled in officer candidate school for the Marine Corps, and DePodesta looked into it for himself. Learning that Alderson was a former Marine added to the eureka moment.
"I saw all of these credentials and I said, 'Hey, this lines up,' " he said. "At that point I didn't necessarily have aspirations of working for baseball because I was still on the football track, but Sandy, for me, was sort of the shining example of a possibility of something good happening for me in the sports world."
DePodesta took a job with the Cleveland Indians in 1996. Most of his tasks then were menial, such as ferrying minor league players and staffers to and from the airport. He would graduate into advance scouting and statistical analysis, and soon caught the eye of A's GM Billy Beane, an Alderson protege who would hire him in 1999 as his top aide. By that time Alderson was working in the commissioner's office, but the A's very much still bore his fingerprints.
"I can't even remember all of the stories I had heard about Sandy and about what it was like when Sandy was around," DePodesta said. "To some degree I almost felt like I had worked for him because he created the culture there. It was something I always wanted to do if I had the chance."
Alderson, impressed by what DePodesta would do as Beane's sidekick with the low-payroll A's, and not dissuaded by his 20-month, maiden GM voyage with the high-payroll Los Angeles Dodgers that ended in a pink slip, hired DePodesta as his special assistant with the Padres in 2006 and brought him to the Mets this week to oversee the club's player development and amateur scouting departments.
DePodesta still had a year left on a three-year extension that Alderson had given him with the Padres. As part of the new deal, DePodesta apparently will continue to live in San Diego, at least for the short term. The salary savings of his departure could be considerable for the low-to-mid revenue Padres, as DePodesta's salary, the source of much gossip among Padres personnel who spoke to outside clubs, exceeded that of some GMs. Padres CEO Jeff Moorad did not respond to a query whether DePodesta's exit opens a spot for Josh Byrnes, the former Diamondbacks GM long rumored to be San Diego-bound because Moorad had given him an eight-year extension after hiring him as Arizona's GM.
Both Alderson and DePodesta might be due raises if the Mets get nearly as much out of the player payroll dollar as the A's of Alderson and then Beane did. Some of Alderson's A's teams ranked near the top in payroll, but for the most part, Oakland had to outsmart wealthier opponents. The Mets have a lot more money to spend than the A's did. Yet their payrolls ranging from $93 million to $140 million in the last 10 years yielded only one National League East title.
Alderson put into practice the methods that inspired "Moneyball," the Michael Lewis book that celebrates Oakland's outside-the-box approach to matching statistical analysis to the construction of a ballclub. Cast in the role of lead statistical analyst was DePodesta, who said Alderson's principles go far beyond seeking empirical excellence.
" 'Moneyball' to me is about the constant quest for new knowledge," DePodesta said in 2007, his first spring training with the Padres. "It's not taking anything granted in terms of what you thought you knew yesterday. It's being willing to challenge your own assumptions and to try to figure out a better way of doing things. My other definition would be about trying to find value where it may be overlooked. Those two definitions are intertwined because often times that new knowledge leads you to value where it's been overlooked. To me, that's the definition.
"The (definitions) that get too specific, not even in terms of individual stats, but even the ones that say it's purely stats-based, I think are missing the point," he said. "We're trying to look for new knowledge everywhere. As it turns out, what Michael (Lewis) was writing about was a time when statistical analysis was taking a more prominent role in the game. But there are constantly things going on where we are learning about things in other areas. It's not going to be just statistical analysis. Medical field, psychological, strength, nutrition -- there could be areas for a lot of different new things."
DePodesta often has quipped that "Moneyball" depicted him as a robot of sorts; ironically, the book brought more people into his life. Not long after "Moneyball" was published -- and it's now being made into a movie -- a whole new world opened up to DePodesta, who heard from portfolio managers, hedge fund directors, professors and CEOs. For a man of his intellectual curiosity, it was a fun time.
"You learn how they think about allocation of resources, human capital, getting to meet some people who have done some really interesting work on psychology in terms of how different people react to different situations," he said. "Our game really is about people; so I think the psychology of the people involved often times goes overlooked. So that's been really helpful.
"By and large it's been an unbelievable experience, it's given me an opportunity to meet people and learn from people that I otherwise would have never encountered. For all the drawbacks about maybe what it did to me from a reputation standpoint or creating this image of me that was maybe not all that accurate, it's been overwhelmingly positive."