SBJ/June 13 - 19, 2005/One On One
One-on-One with Sandy Alderson, CEO, San Diego Padres
Published June 13, 2005
Sandy Alderson has come full circle, from management of the Oakland A’s, to guiding policy in the league office, to now back at the team level with the Padres. He’s focused on using that unique perspective to build a baseball dynasty in San Diego.
He moved to MLB’s front office in 1998 as executive vice president of baseball operations. There he helped consolidate power in the commissioner’s office, brought the A.L. and N.L. umpires under the league banner, and directed various special projects, including the league’s greater involvement in international competition. In April, he went back to his team roots, joining the San Diego Padres as CEO.
A month into his new job, Alderson spoke with SportsBusiness Journal New York bureau chief Jerry Kavanagh.
Dartmouth, 1969; Harvard Law, 1976
Favorite writer: Elmore Leonard
Favorite piece of music: Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love”
Favorite movie: “Risky Business”
Toughest competitor: Dave Stewart
Best call: Trading for Dennis Eckersley
Last books read: “The Tipping Point” and “Blink”
To what do you attribute your success: Being associated with quality people with great ideas
Basic business philosophy: Perception is reality.
Business advice: Develop an organizational philosophy but maintain an openness to new ideas.
The Oakland A’s, under Alderson’s leadership, made three World Series appearances.
ALDERSON: You have to remember that at the time we began to investigate these new approaches, I was new to the game and had very little experience in the game, and so it was sort of a blank canvas with respect to how we would approach decision-making. The concepts were introduced, I would say, quietly over time, but with the appropriate background and explanation, people in our organization embraced these new ideas pretty readily. But it did take a period of time and it worked from the minor leagues to the major leagues and probably was not fully implemented as an organizational philosophy for 10 years or so.
has long had a conservative streak. Original thinkers from Bill Veeck to Charlie
Finley have been looked on skeptically. Where’s the imagination in baseball
ALDERSON: I think the imagination in many ways is being exercised in the commissioner’s office. If you look back over the last 10 or so years, a lot of the innovations have come at the league level. Whether it’s interleague play or unbalanced schedule, modest realignment, reduction in the time of game, closer management of umpiring … a lot of those things have happened in the commissioner’s office on Commissioner Selig’s watch. So, I think a lot of the innovation that’s taken place in the game in recent years has been institutional more than originating with individual clubs or management styles.
have a unique perspective on the game, going as you did from the A’s to
MLB’s front office. What did you learn in each capacity that is most valuable
to you now?
ALDERSON: Coming back to the Padres brings into play 17 years of experience that I had in Oakland. And as I’ve told people here in San Diego, that doesn’t mean that I have any predetermined approach to managing the Padres. On the other hand, it does give me a perspective and a certain familiarity with issues that clubs face. That, if nothing else, has helped me here with immediate orientation to the day-to-day problems that a club faces.
The experience in New York, I think, provides a perspective on longer-term and more strategic issues that every club faces, not only in their own markets and in the operation of individual clubs, but also in attempting to help the commissioner’s office shape long-term strategy and policy.
do you assess the state or health today of the game itself and the business
ALDERSON: I think the game is quite healthy and I think as a business the game is getting stronger and stronger. Obviously, there have been problems that have needed to be addressed over the last few months, first and foremost of those being the steroids issue. But in spite of that, business partners have continued to flourish. New business partners have been added to the Major League Baseball list. Attendance continues to be very strong. I think more clubs are in better financial health today than they have been in many years. A lot of that has to do with recent enhancements of revenue sharing as well as a payroll tax. So, I think the game right now is very robust.
Alderson says the league and Commissioner Bud Selig have driven innovation in the game.
ALDERSON: I think it’s interesting if you look at contracts signed since those two. I think you would conclude that baseball perhaps learned a lesson from not only those two contracts but also subsequent events surrounding those contracts. Everybody makes mistakes in the game — I’ve certainly made mine — but I think baseball has finally started to learn from those mistakes. We’ve seen them repeated less frequently in recent years. And that goes back to the financial and business health of the game. I just think that those contracts in many ways proved to be aberrations and have been recognized as such in succeeding years.
has been salary restraint?
ALDERSON: Well, you just haven’t seen those types of contracts duplicated in subsequent years in terms of amounts and years. One of the things that concerned me at the time was that we were beginning to see the kinds of contracts in baseball that had previously existed in professional basketball. Obviously, the NBA had to address that problem through their collective-bargaining process, and I think baseball’s been able to address those problems just through common sense.
baseball’s current system, can the lower-market, lower-payroll teams compete
for a championship?
ALDERSON: There are always going to be both large-market and small-market ends of the spectrum. But by and large I think the game is as competitive today as it has been in the last 10 or 15 years, with the exception perhaps of the American League East, where a couple of teams are kind of locked down because of unequal resources. Most of the divisions are very competitive and not dominated by any one team that is outspending another.
it conceivable that baseball would ever have a salary cap?
ALDERSON: I guess it’s conceivable at some point, but I think the approach that baseball has taken — did take — in the last collective-bargaining agreement, which was sort of a multifaceted approach, is perhaps the right one. You know, where revenue sharing was increased, the payroll tax was imposed and a debt service rule was adopted. There were several different things, all of which, working together, I think, had a very positive effect on competitive balance.