NEW YORK -- Nearly a quarter-century ago, when Sandy Alderson was the A's general manager and Billy Beane was a 28-year-old outfielder with a .219 career average, Alderson decided that Beane would be worth keeping in the organization.
So Alderson hired Beane as an advance scout in 1990 and three years later elevated him to assistant general manager. When Alderson left to join the commissioner's office after the 1997 season, Beane took over as the A's general manager, a job he still holds.
What binds the two together besides their Oakland connection is numbers. Thirty years ago, Alderson began incorporating statistical analysis as a way to evaluate players. Beane eventually became his prize pupil.
Alderson said the statistical approach "just made sense to me," and he saw that it made sense to Beane, too.
"With hiring Billy, it was a combination of qualities," Alderson said. "He was very smart, very passionate about the game, very capable when it came to negotiation and very definitely he grasped the approach we had."
"I was always curious," Beane said. "Sandy was the one who introduced me to it. As a player, I didn't have a lot of exposure to it. That was my education."
While Beane has gone on to become baseball's most influential G.M., Alderson's thinking has revolutionized how front office decisions are often made.
"I was very new to baseball, and I didn't have a traditional background, didn't have a traditional perspective on players and talent evaluation," Alderson said. "It was about the time various people were starting to write about statistical analysis. It all made sense. And from a mathematical viewpoint, it all has worked out. It didn't control all of our decision-making. It did give us a different handle on evaluating players.''
Alderson's numbers game brought three pennants and a World Series championship during his 15 years (1983-97) as the A's G.M.
Nowadays, he is in his fourth year as general manager of the New York Mets, trying to revive a franchise that hasn't been to the postseason since 2006. And while the Mets (35-41) are unlikely to get there this season, they can try slowing the A's (47-29, best record in the majors) when the teams play a two-game series beginning Tuesday night at Citi Field.
The transition from Alderson to Beane in the A's front office almost didn't happen.
When A's owner Walter A. Haas Jr., who purchased the team in 1981, died in 1995, his family sold the club to Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann. The new owners trimmed what they saw as Haas largesse in every area, save one.
"One of the things people don't realize is that when Schott and Hofmann came in, they scaled back everything for cost-cutting purposes," Haas' son Wally, the club president at the time of the sale, said. "They took a sharp knife to the front office."
Haas speculated they would have done the same to the baseball operations and scouting departments if Alderson hadn't been there.
"They were new to baseball. They needed Sandy while they settled in," Haas said. "Sandy wanted his baseball staff intact. It was kept intact. And it's anyone's guess if Billy would have been there to become G.M. if Sandy hadn't done that."
Beane said he hadn't heard that story. But he said he had no shortage of reasons to be thankful for Alderson's impact on his life.
"The one thing he told me the day he gave me the advance scouting job was there were no promises after that," Beane said. "It was in that role and as the assistant that I was able to develop personal and professional relationships with him. I always felt I was lucky to have him as my boss."
Alderson was a baseball anomaly when he came to the A's in 1981. He was asked to draw up the legal papers on the sale of the team from Charlie Finley to Walter Haas by Haas' son-in-law, Roy Eisenhardt. Alderson and Eisenhardt worked at the same San Francisco law firm, and after the deal closed, Alderson continued to work on salary arbitration issues and never really left.
Coming at the job from a nonbaseball perspective, Alderson latched on to the idea that statistical analysis could help lead to wins. Commonplace now, it was revolutionary then.
"Sandy wasn't afraid of data," Eisenhardt said. "So many are afraid of it, they say it takes the romance out of the game. But the data is there whether you choose to record it or not, so why not record it? Sandy got hooked on on-base percentage, got everybody else, too."
The approach unearthed by Alderson has worked. But it's not magic. It took five seasons for the A's to get to .500 under Alderson, and it needed the infusion of manager Tony La Russa, who will be inducted to the baseball Hall of Fame next month.
History could be repeating for Alderson with the Mets, who are limping along in the lower half of the N.L. East this season, though they are only 51/2 games behind the first-place Washington Nationals in the tightly bunched division.
"It's a similar process we are working on here," Alderson said, comparing the rebuilding job he has with the Mets to the one in Oakland. "I think the game has changed in a lot of different ways. There is more information, more data, and the decision-making process is somewhat different."
Alderson was out of the G.M. game from 1997 through 2010, having moved into the commissioner's office, then becoming CEO of the San Diego Padres.
Beane said he was both surprised and not surprised Alderson wanted to get back into baseball at the level he helped redefine.
"I remember after he left San Diego, that was what he wanted to do," Beane said. "I said to him, 'Really? Do you need the aggravation?' But I think he missed the fraternity of baseball. I think he wanted to get back to the foundation of the game, and being a G.M. represented that.
"I was as shocked as anybody. Why go back to this job where you have to be all-in all the time? But that's Sandy. He's never has never been afraid to take on a challenge. That's all part of the allure."
A's (Scott Kazmir 9-2) at N.Y. Mets (Bartolo Colon 7-5), 4:10 p.m. CSNCA