Alderson's transition a welcome one

Alderson's transition a welcome one

ST. LOUIS -- It has been quite a year for Sandy Alderson, then of the Commissioner's office, now chief executive of the playoff-bound San Diego Padres.

"It's been a terrific transition," Alderson said Monday at Busch Stadium. "I just jumped right back into it."

The underdog 82-80 Padres open their first postseason series in seven years Tuesday at 10 a.m. PT against the 100-win St. Louis Cardinals. For Alderson, the postseason was a regular occurrence back in the late '80s and early '90s when he was general manager of the Oakland A's.

But that string was broken when he left for Major League Baseball after the 1998 season and became vice president of baseball operations. There, Alderson was responsible for such major projects as putting the umpires under one umbrella and integrating MLB-affiliated players into international play. Under his watch, Team USA won its only Olympic gold medal (2000) and the umpires started calling games in both major leagues.

Since Alderson joined the Padres on May 1, his major objective has been correcting flaws in the club's Latin American scouting, particularly restructuring its Dominican Republic complex to "a top-flight facility that we're proud of and begins producing players," he said.

That San Diego was named last week to host the finals of next year's World Baseball Classic could be credited to Alderson's dogged pursuit of international play as an MLB executive.

"We wouldn't have gotten that if it weren't for Sandy, no question about it," said Kevin Towers, the Padres' general manager since 1996. "Everyone knows how he feels about international play."

Padres majority owner John Moores took a trip to the Dominican Republic last offseason and was appalled by the condition of the complex, he said. He then perceived that the entire organization needed the guidance of an experienced executive with both a baseball and business background.

Alderson, who joined the A's in 1981 as their general counsel, had all those facets: attorney, a Marine who fought in Vietnam, the guy who made trades for the A's and helped keep the books balanced, and an MLB executive who delved into almost every area of the game.

"You're not going to find too many people with his resume," Towers said.

Thus, back in January, Moores called Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer, for permission to talk to Alderson, who remained in New York through Opening Day. Ultimately, Moores signed Alderson to a five-year contract and asked him to evaluate every element of the organization.

"For me, this was the last piece of a complicated puzzle that involved building a ballpark and redeveloping San Diego," Moores said. "I think this was our most significant signing in the 11 years I've owned the team."

Alderson modestly deflected any credit for landing the WBC semifinal and finals next March 18-20 at PETCO Park, the gleaming, hard-fought two-year-old ballpark downtown near San Diego Bay and the Convention Center, calling his presence in the process "marginal." The fact is that San Diego has hosted three Super Bowls, two World Series, two MLB All-Star Games, one NBA All-Star Game and the NCAA men's basketball regionals and finals.

"It's a world-class city with a beautiful downtown ballpark that's done this kind of thing before," Alderson said. "There's plenty of hotel space. All that was the reason why we got the World Baseball Classic. It had little to do with me."

Alderson said the evaluation of the ballclub is ongoing and that he prefers not to dwell on the negatives at a time of the year when he'd rather accentuate the positives.

Asked whether winning the franchise's fourth National League West title in its 37-year history will shroud any of its problems, Alderson said:

"I don't think our problems have been masked by an 82-80 record."

But Towers said that Alderson gave the team a steady hand when it appeared that the entire season might crumble. The Giants had pulled to within three games of the division lead with six left to play before the Padres reeled off five wins in their last six contests to clinch the title and a better than .500 record.

"During rough times and tough times his leadership came out," Towers said. "He could have been volatile, but he was a calming influence. He remained strong."

Alderson added that the organization isn't really in poor shape.

"The positives far outweigh the negatives in baseball operations and outside baseball operations," he said. "The fan experience in San Diego is the best there is, bar none. We have a great facility and our guest relations staff does a tremendous job. A baseball franchise is always fluid. You're always evaluating."

Alderson hasn't had much time to sit back and reflect on his busy season, he said. On April 8, he was in St. Louis for the Cardinals' final home opener at the present Busch Stadium -- a 6-5 victory over the Phillies. Now he hopes to be with the last visiting team to play at the soon-to-be demolished yard this week.

Back in April, he was here in his capacity with MLB. Now his position is a tad more partisan. He spent the opener sitting with Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty, an old friend who was Alderson's Oakland assistant when the A's won three consecutive American League pennants from 1988-90, including the 1989 World Series.

"I don't think I'll be sitting with Walt this week," Alderson said. "I mean we're friends, but we're not that good [of friends]."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.