NEW YORK -- In the mid to late 1980s, two distinct baseball powers rose to prominence -- one in each league, one on each coast. Frank Cashen, a law school graduate and rising executive with no previous ties to the organization, led the Mets. Sandy Alderson, an ex-Marine and ex-lawyer, led the A's.
A quarter century later, seeking to replicate those past successes, the Mets hired a general manager from completely outside the organization for the first time since Cashen.
"It's an iconic franchise in a great city," Alderson said after the Mets introduced him Friday as their 12th general manager. "A city that inspires all of us to dream big."
The Mets hired their new GM, however, not for his ability to dream but for his commitment to reality. With Alderson's four-year contract comes an expectation to return the organization to winning ways -- something that will take time, money, patience and creativity. Alderson, the team feels, possesses the latter two attributes in no short supply.
"I think Sandy Alderson would be a good executive if he was in the real estate business with us," principal owner Fred Wilpon said.
METS GENERAL MANAGERS
Sandy Alderson is the 12th general manager in Mets history.
But Alderson, now, is back in the business of baseball -- specifically, the business of constructing a championship-caliber team. He once did so in Oakland, assembling the A's clubs that won four division titles, three pennants and one World Series during his 15 years as GM from 1983-97. He later did so to an extent in San Diego, helping construct some of the foundation of the modern-day Padres.
Most recently, Alderson has worked as a consultant for Major League Baseball, attempting to curb age falsification and the use of performance-enhancing substances amongst prospects in the Dominican.
To interview with the Mets, he needed permission from MLB commissioner Bud Selig, who not only granted it but endorsed Alderson as a candidate. Then Alderson needed to beat out a list of other candidates that included finalist Josh Byrnes and fellow interviewees Allard Baird, Rick Hahn, Logan White and Dana Brown.
Ultimately, he did so, standing Friday in front of an assembled crowd as the 12th GM of the Mets. His appearance matched his reputation -- gray slacks, black jacket, blue-striped shirt and close-cropped hair. But Alderson also wore a yellow tie complete with miniature logos of Mr. Met. On his wrist was a digital sports watch.
He is not quite stiff but certainly proper, not quite formal but ardently focused. He stood Friday in direct contrast to his predecessor, Omar Minaya, a notably affable, oftentimes inarticulate and ultimately unsuccessful general manager. It was Minaya who issued the long-term deals to Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo and others that have created such an inflexible situation for the Mets.
It is the charge of Alderson to fix it.
"Baseball, it's not always the result that best defines the effort," Alderson said, referring to the so-called "Moneyball" philosophies that made him and his protégé, Billy Beane, famous. "It's about probabilities. Our goal is to constantly improve the probabilities of success to the point where we will have that success on a consistent basis."
Among Alderson's first tasks will be to choose a manager from among a group that could include Bob Melvin, Chip Hale, Ken Oberkfell and Wally Backman. The Mets may begin interviewing candidates as soon as next week, with Alderson aiming to fill the vacancy by the end of November.
Alderson also must assemble a front-office staff, a cabinet of sorts that remains uncertain beyond John Ricco, who will remain in his current role as assistant GM. And Alderson must tackle the team's list of pressing baseball operations issues, including Hisanori Takahashi's impending free agency and Jose Reyes' 2011 contract option.
In his dealings with Mets ownership, Alderson will not have complete autonomy.
"In some instances, I will make decisions; in other instances, I will make recommendations," he said.
But both Fred and Jeff Wilpon said they will be receptive to Alderson's recommendations, even if that means eating significant chunks of salary in the instances of Perez and Castillo.
"We want to be thoughtful in everything we do," Alderson said.
Thoughtful and creative. Though Alderson said he hopes to put a successful team on the field in 2011 and though Fred Wilpon insisted that he "does not consider this a rebuilding project," both parties acknowledged that fixing the Mets may take some time. Eight players, including Perez and Castillo, are owed more than $111 million next season, and chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said that the baseball-operations budget will remain somewhat static heading into 2011.
That means that, realistically, the Mets may not improve much until after next season, at which point they will gain enormous financial flexibility.
It doesn't mean the Mets can't win in 2011. It just means that Alderson isn't counting on it.
"The thing about baseball, it's so unpredictable," he said. "Because somebody had a bad year last year it doesn't always mean he's going to have a bad year this year, so I'm very optimistic about 2011. At the same time, we need to think about how we approach it on at least an intermediate and, to some extent, a long-term business."
Long term, scouting and development will be keys in New York, as they were for Alderson in Oakland. Free agency, given the Mets' budget, will also play a role. Through those and other conduits, Alderson will do everything within his power to bump the Mets back up amongst the league's elite teams.
Right now, Alderson admitted, the Mets are in the middle of the pack.
And as he put it, "We should never be in the middle of the pack."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.