Commentary

About time to say you're sorry, Sandy

Fans deserve a mea culpa from Alderson, who didn't speak up during steroids era

Updated: October 28, 2010, 10:57 AM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

In a lot of ways, Sandy Alderson comes to the New York Mets out of central casting. A Marine, Vietnam vet, Harvard Law grad, architect of a winner, and a baseball ambassador charged to stamp out fraud and drug use in the game's Dominican Republic pipeline.

Who would dare reject that resume? Alderson sounds more like a commissioner of a first-rate sport than a general manager of a second-rate team. In fact, maybe a quick fix of the Mets puts him in line to succeed Bud Selig.

[+] EnlargeSandy Alderson
AP Photo/Ben MargotDon't get us wrong: Sandy Alderson has a resume perfect for the Mets' GM job. But his role as an enabler in baseball's Steroid Era can't be ignored.

But when he steps to the microphone as Omar Minaya's replacement, Alderson should take the time of offer an apology. He should say he's sorry for being an enabler at a time when baseball desperately needed a whistle-blower and a leader.

He should say he's sorry for allowing the monstrous steroid culture to grow fangs on his watch.

Alderson put together the Oakland A's of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, the Bash Brothers who slugged their way to three consecutive World Series appearances from 1988 to 1990 before ultimately taking their heavy lumber to baseball's good name. Of course, Canseco and McGwire admitted to using steroids, effectively nominating Oakland as a ground zero for the performance-enhancing plague.

Alderson declined to comment Wednesday about the A's and their role in a grand pharmacological hoax, but the Mets' GM-to-be is on record saying he suspected Canseco, not McGwire, as a steroid user back in the day. During his 2005 appearance on "60 Minutes Wednesday," after Canseco had already talked to Mike Wallace about the steroid allegations in his book, Alderson was asked by Wallace if he had confronted Canseco about his suspicions.

"No," Alderson said. "There were a number of occasions when he publicly denied that he was using steroids. And you know, the notion that he was going to admit to me what he had already denied on many occasions, I think was not likely."

On the same program, Alderson's manager in Oakland, Tony La Russa, admitted Canseco often joked about his steroid use and how clean teammates were wasting their time working out in the gym. "Our players knew it," La Russa said of Canseco's drug use.

[+] EnlargeSandy Alderson
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertAlderson (second from right) testified in front of Congress in 2005 with Bud Selig (from left), Robert Manfred Jr., Donald Fehr and Kevin Towers.

Asked why La Russa wouldn't share that information with his direct supervisor, Alderson said, "That's a question, I guess, you'll have to ask Tony."

Weak answers from a strong man.

As far back as 1994, baseball had information that a steroid dealer had supplied pills and potions to Canseco and other Oakland A's. Curt Wenzlaff was the dealer, and Greg Stejskal was the longtime FBI agent who provided that information to baseball's security chief, Kevin Hallinan, at a conference at the FBI academy in Quantico, Va.

Years later, Alderson's response to Stejskal's story in the New York Daily News was all over the map, and included the claim that Hallinan didn't recall any such meeting. Whatever. Asked by phone Wednesday if it would've been hard for an executive to run those A's teams without being aware that players were using steroids, Stejskal said, "Yeah, it would. I would find that difficult to believe, especially with someone as smart and street-wise as Sandy Alderson.

"And we knew it wasn't a problem only in Oakland. With the way players and trainers move around, we knew the problem had to be just as bad elsewhere in baseball."

[+] EnlargeJose Canseco
Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesAlderson was GM of the Oakland A's when Bash Brothers -- and admitted steroid users -- Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire were coming into their own.

Only the game's overlords had to recover from a players strike and the cancellation of the World Series, and allowing comic book-sized sluggers to fill seats and swat balls to the moon seemed like a pretty good place to start.

Meanwhile, Stejskal was part of an international probe that resulted in more than 70 convictions -- including dealers who supplied drugs to college athletes -- and the seizure of more than 10 million dosage units of steroids.

All of which begs the question:

What if baseball had listened to Stejskal's warning?

"They were probably thinking, 'What we don't know can't hurt us,'" Stejskal said. "They figured the players' union wouldn't let them test, so there was nothing they could do about it and they let it go.

"Maybe it was a good decision economically in the short run, but it wasn't a good choice in the long run. But they were aware [of steroid use]. How could you not be aware of it?"

Baseball was painfully slow to find religion. In 1997 Alderson reacquired Canseco, who, at that point, was practically a walking neon advertisement for steroid use. Jason Giambi was just starting to emerge as the A's next great slugger, destined to be the game's next chemically enhanced cheat.

Canseco was the godfather of them all, and after he came clean (or dirty) in his book, "Juiced," Alderson told The Associated Press that Canseco's claims were "a terrible thing for anyone to allege." He added, "I'd be surprised if there was any significant follow-up."

Congress then imposed the most significant follow-up in baseball history.

Once more, with feeling, there's a lot to like about Sandy Alderson, starting with the fact he risked his life for his country. He made himself a wildly successful major league executive despite a minimal background in the game and, as detailed in ESPN.com columnist Howard Bryant's book, "Juicing the Game," Alderson stands as a founding father of the sabermetric set and the movement to take team-shaping powers out of the hands of managers and into the hands of GMs.

As Selig's emissary, the former Marine did profound work in the Dominican Republic, where more than a few good men were needed. And if any franchise could use a drill sergeant's touch, the Mets sure qualify.

But Alderson has a hole in his game the size of Citi Field, as do scores of fellow executives and union leaders who once looked the other way. Alderson is likely to preach accountability with the sad sack Mets, and that's fine.

He would make that pitch credible if he started with himself, and took a few minutes on introduction to apologize for an opportunity lost.

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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