In San Diego, Two Might Be a Crowd
Thursday, June 30, 2005
SAN DIEGO -- In a cozy little corner of the home dugout, in a stadium that rests in a cozy little corner of the city, in the coziest little corner of the country, Sandy Alderson takes a seat with his back to the omnipresent sun and throws his right leg across his left knee, business-like. He is wearing a checkered dress shirt, neatly pressed khakis and loafers -- with socks. It is as dressed down as Alderson is capable of appearing. He is still learning how to be a San Diegan.
Then again, San Diego -- and specifically the San Diego Padres franchise -- is still learning what it means to have a little bit of New York injected into its perpetually laid-back dudeness. And no one seems to be quite sure yet if they like it.
Since leaving his high-ranking job in the commissioner's office on Park Avenue, where he was once considered a top candidate to be Bud Selig's successor when the moment came, to take over the Padres' operation as CEO on May 1, Alderson, 57, has served notice that things are no longer going to be so comfy around the comfiest little franchise in baseball.
"I'm a big believer in continuity and stability," Alderson said of a franchise that has come to define those words, "but I'm also a big believer in new ideas. . . . When someone new comes in, despite whatever assurances one might make, there is always some amount of trepidation. And the fact is, there will be changes of some sort. But from a philosophical standpoint, there's not a lot we'll have to change."
A mere day after speaking those words, Alderson wrapped up a two-year contract extension with Padres Manager Bruce Bochy, keeping intact the long-running tag-team partnership of Bochy and General Manager Kevin Towers, who have been together for nearly 10 years. But before giving Bochy his new deal, Alderson first made him prove himself worthy, leaving Bochy dangling as a lame duck for an uncomfortable couple of months.
"Sandy just wanted to see and observe," Bochy said. "And certainly, he should have taken his time. I fully understand why there was a delay."
It helped that the Padres reeled off their best stretch of baseball right around the time Alderson came on board. The Padres went 22-6 in May, the best record in baseball that month, to seize control of the tepid National League West, opening a lead that stood at four games over the second-place Arizona Diamondbacks entering Wednesday's games.
But if anyone should be feeling the Southern California heat a little warmer on his neck these days it is Towers, the freewheeling, quick-dealing former scout who has been running the Padres' front office since the age of 34. Last season, the franchise's first in dazzling new Petco Park in the city's fabled Gaslamp District, marked the Padres' first winning season since the 1998 squad won the NL pennant.
While Alderson is a buttoned-down, straight-laced type, Towers, 43, is more likely to saunter into the Padres' clubhouse in a get-up like the one he wore one day last week: designer Western-style shirt, distressed designer jeans, loafers with no socks, pricey sunglasses.
But it is more than their antithetical fashion senses that makes the Alderson-Towers pairing an unlikely and potentially volatile one. All across baseball, the reaction to the news of Alderson's new gig with the Padres was the same: "Uh-oh." The prevailing view was that the arrangement simply could not work.
Alderson, see, is no mere New York stuffed suit -- he is a former general manager. And he is not merely a former GM -- he was the architect of the Oakland Athletics' championship teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the godfather, so to speak, of the "Moneyball" generation; he helped pioneer the use of statistical analysis in personnel decisions, along with his protege, current A's GM Billy Beane.
When he left the A's for MLB's headquarters in 1998 to serve as executive vice president of baseball operations, Alderson was immediately pegged as a possible heir apparent to Selig. However, Alderson confided to close friends that he was never satisfied with the duties of the job, which included overseeing things such as umpiring and draft-pick bonuses.