25 For 25: Sandy Alderson, Skip Bertman, Barry Bonds, Scott Boras, Roger Clemens
It would be impossible to properly catalog all the people who have played a part in the evolution of baseball and Baseball America over the past 25 years. From the bullpen catcher for a Rookie-level team to the men who have served as commissioner of baseball, thousands of people have helped bring the industry to where it is today.In celebration of our 25 years in the game, we're focusing on the 25 most significant of those people in our world. As a reflection of our coverage of the game wherever it's played, you'll see much more than just major league figures in the following pages. So while many of the people you'll read about are quite familiar to you, some probably won't be. We're happy to introduce or reacquaint you with them. After all, that's what Baseball America is all about.
Sandy Alderson entered this industry almost exactly when Baseball America did, in October 1981. Of all the players we have covered, all the tools we have described, few have impressed us as much as Alderson's brain.
A former Marine sergeant and baseball outsider when he became Athletics general manager in 1982--he had been a team attorney for a year before that--Alderson has had more influence on the game than any executive of his era. He arrived with a respect for statistical analysis, and constructed his Oakland clubs in large part around undervalued on-base percentage, which in 1982 might as well have stood for Obstinate Baseball Personnel. (In this respect, Alderson is the true father of the modern "Moneyball" phenomenon.) His move toward college, production-over-tools prospects in the draft helped stock the A's with the likes of Mark McGwire, Terry Steinbach, Walt Weiss and many more of their stars from 1988-92, when the A's won three pennants and one World Series, and were the most successful franchise in the game.
Even more than the players he gathered, Alderson hired a staggering number of young executives and weaned them on logic over emotion. Walt Jocketty, Ron Schueler, J.P. Ricciardi and, most notably, Billy Beane learned under him and spread his philosophies to several other organizations and a new generation of young minds.
"It all starts with Sandy," said Beane, whom Alderson hired as a scout in 1990. "We all have different styles, but I don't think there's any of us who would say we don't take a large portion of what we do now and attribute a lot of it to some of the things we learned just being around Sandy on a daily basis. Sandy chose his people and gave them a lot of autonomy. He allowed them to grow from within the position he gave them."
Alderson left the A's in 1998 for Major League Baseball's central office, and for seven years had a tremendous impact on the overall industry. He helped bring more organization and accountability to umpires and enforcing the proper strike zone. He cut out about 10 minutes a game of batters-stepping-out dead time. He also played a large role in encouraging clubs' financial discipline in the draft--which evolved into today's pseudo-slotting system--as well as the development of international baseball, including the World Baseball Classic. He did all this while retaining one of the sharpest wits in the game, while remaining laid-back enough to wear shorts in spring training.
Alderson left the commissioner's office last year to become CEO of the Padres, and as he moved back to the club side re-entered a world that he in many ways helped to change. His success created a respect for pure intelligence that led to today's acceptance of executives from business schools, not ballparks, paving the way for the likes of the ascent of Rangers' Jon Daniels, the Devil Rays' Andrew Friedman and others into prominent industry roles.
"Sandy was the one who planted the seeds," Beane said. "He germinated it."
When Baseball America came to life in February 1981, Louisiana State didn't resemble anything close to a baseball power. The Tigers had won just three league titles since World War II and had made one NCAA tournament appearance ever.
All that would change dramatically soon after Skip Bertman became head coach before the 1984 season.
Bertman began coaching as a 15-year-old running a team of 10- to 12-year-olds in a Miami Beach youth league. He was a player/coach at the University of Miami, then ran the program at Miami Beach High, where he won a state title in 11 seasons. He eventually rejoined the Hurricanes as an assistant to Ron Fraser. If Fraser had become Miami's athletic director, Bertman would have been the coach of that team.
Instead, he wound up in Baton Rouge, changing the course of college baseball history.
Bertman led the Tigers to the NCAA tournament in his second season, then presided over a Southeastern Conference championship and the school's first CWS berth in his third. Louisiana State would make 10 more trips to Omaha in his last 15 seasons as a coach, taking national titles in 1991, '93, '96, '97 and 2000. The only other men to capture as many championships are the only others with a legitimate claim to being the best coach in college baseball history: Rod Dedeaux, with 11 at Southern California, and Augie Garrido, with five between Cal State Fullerton and Texas.
Few coaches in any sport could match Bertman's ability to motivate players. Rather than using Knute Rockne-style oratories, Bertman was a master at employing videos and other offbeat motivational tools. He outfitted his Tigers in garish yellow tops en route to their "Gold Rush" title run in 1996, and then in equally loud purple during their "Purple Reign" drive in 1997, with the players citing the uniforms as factors in the championships.
Todd Walker, who went from an unknown product of Bossier City, La., to the best second baseman in college history, said the Tigers' success stemmed from Bertman's ability to inspire his team.
"I was a scared little freshman at a national championship school--they had just won in '91--and I didn't know anything," Walker said. "The season's starting tomorrow, and he calls me in and says, 'You're my second baseman every day. You're going to be an All-American. You're going to be great.' He made me believe I was better than I probably was. He did that with a lot of guys. I think that's why they've had all the success they've had."
Since retiring as a coach, Bertman has served as LSU's athletic director. The Tigers have won national championships in football and men's and women's track and field during his tenure, and both the men's and women's basketball programs reached their respective Final Fours this spring.
Bertman's philosophy is best captured in a quote that ran every year with his biography in the Louisiana State media guide: "I've always believed that anything you vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe and enthusiastically act upon must, absolutely must, come to pass."
And it certainly did when he was in the dugout at Louisiana State.
Despite all the distractions surrounding him in his pursuit of Babe Ruth's home run mark this season, Barry Bonds reached Ruth and eventually passed him. And that's what Bonds will always hang his hat on: his numbers and his play on the field. The debate about his behavior, his personality, his use of performance-enhancing substances--none of it has ever seemed to affect Bonds. The talk can rage on, but the significance of his career is undeniable.
With two books published tying Bonds to the BALCO scandal, a federal grand jury probe still going strong, and countless columnists and thousands of fans calling for his head, Bonds has quietly gone about his business in San Francisco.
"This is the best group, as a whole, I've ever played with in my entire life, ever," Bonds told the San Francisco Chronicle. "It's overwhelming the way they treat me, the way we stand behind each other, the way they've backed me all year. It's great.
"The funny part of it is, it's brought a softer side of me, and I don't want to go back to the other person. I'm having more fun and it's probably hurting my career because I'm enjoying it. I'm not mad. I'm just happy, man."
How times have changed. Always known for his abrasive personality, Bonds hasn't made many friends in the game since being the sixth overall pick by the Pirates in the 1985 draft. When talking to people who knew him at Serra (Calif.) High or at Arizona State in his amateur days, it's clear that Barry has always been Barry.
And while they say personality goes a long way, Bonds built his storied career strictly on what he has been able to do from the left side of the plate. From the time he started playing the game as a skinny five-tool player to becoming a great all-around player with the Pirates and then blossoming into one of the greatest home run hitters of all time, Bonds' legend continued to grow year after year.
While 2001 is the year he will be especially remembered for--when he bashed 73 homers and broke the single-season home run mark--he was even more consistent over the next three seasons. Perhaps even more impressive was the amount of respect opposing pitchers showed him--particularly in '04 when he walked 232 times.
"No one's quicker than him," Cubs righthander Greg Maddux said. "You can't sneak anything past him . . . He's not a home run hitter. He's just a great hitter who happens to hit a ton of homers."
Since then, however, most of the talk has been about Bonds' use of steroids or other substances to help him hit those homers. Bonds has continued to plug away, and it will probably be up to fans and media over the next 25 years to decide the ultimate significance of his achievements.
For the 25 years just past, though, Bonds' numbers have done plenty of talking for him.
The most recognizable name in the agent game remains Tom Cruise's fictional Jerry McGuire.
That might be the only area where Scott Boras isn't the pacesetter among his peers. Boras is the most influential agent of the last 25 years and has helped shape two industries: the baseball industry, where he's helped clients such as Alex Rodriguez, Greg Maddux, Matt White, J.D. Drew and Luke Hochevar set records and precedents; and the agent industry, where his Boras Corp. is an acknowledged leader.
A former infielder in the Cardinals farm system, Boras earned a law degree from Pacific and has become the most successful agent in baseball history, with Rodriguez--owner for a 10-year, $252 million contract--his greatest success story. He has represented Rodriguez since he was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1993 draft, and it is in the draft where Boras has made his greatest impact for Baseball America readers.
Because Boras' major league clientele has proved so profitable, he is able to take a different approach to the draft than most agents. Boras has his own "scouts" now, former big leaguers such as Bob Brower, Bill Caudill, Scott Chiamparino, Mike Fischlin and Kurt Stillwell, to help him identify talent. He's selective when choosing clients, often representing some of the draft's top players, and isn't afraid to have his players hold out for the highest signing bonus or contract value possible.
The latest example of a Boras client holding out was one of the messiest, but appears poised to end happily for Boras and his client. Righthander Luke Hochevar, drafted 40th overall in 2005 by the Dodgers out of Tennessee, held out for three months, then switched agents briefly and agreed to terms with the Dodgers on a $2.98 million bonus. Boras talked Hochevar back into his fold, Hochevar never signed a contract, and he pitched this spring in the independent American Association. The Boras-Hochevar gamble paid off when the Royals selected Hochevar with the No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft.
Boras points to his trendsetting sports fitness institute as a key in Hochevar's draft position. "Luke was stronger this year than he was at this time last year and throwing harder, to go with the curveball and ability to throw strikes that made him an attractive player last year," he said. "I think the clubs are realizing that players can improve in all aspects, that their investments can improve, through our sports fitness institute, and that is in the best interests of the club."
For the next 25 years, Boras believes the work his corporation has done with sports psychologists will set new trends. He said working to improve players' mental preparation will work hand in hand with improving them physically.
"The perception is that representing players and their rights and interests has little to do with the success of the industry," Boras said. "I believe the evidence is to the contrary. Advancing players' rights has brought balance to the game, and advocating for players rights has produced an interest level in the true stars and special talents in the game that has exceeded the interest level of any time in history.
"When I started in this business, revenues for baseball as a whole were around $500 million, and now we work in a $5 billion industry. So I believe there is strong evidence that advocating for the players has been good for the industry."
It has been 22 years since he broke into the big leagues, but that doesn't mean Roger Clemens is any less popular now than he was in Baseball America's infancy. In fact, his impact was felt at the minor league level on a much greater scale than the first time around, as fans clamored to see the 43-year-old righthander.
And that was just for his rehab starts.
The road back to Houston included three stops before The Rocket returned to the big leagues. The most media attention came in Lexington, where he played with his son Koby and wound up giving up a homer to Lake County outfielder Johnny Drennen.
"We sure liked having him here," Legends manager Jack Lind said. "Just having him around here had such a positive influence on these young players."
Talking to young players is nothing new for Clemens, who regularly talks to young players who are anxious to pick his brain. On a spring training trip to Winter Haven, Fla., this year, Clemens pulled Indians prospect and fellow Texan Adam Miller aside for a chat.
"I just asked him not really big stuff, but he told me a couple of pointers as far as like feel for the changeup and feel for times that he doesn't have his pitches and what he does," Miller said. "It was not necessarily how to attack hitters and stuff like that, but just more feel stuff."
Clemens is all about sharing his knowledge, and young pitchers are more than happy to get all the inside information they can from arguably the best pitcher of his era once they get past the aura that surrounds him.
A first-round pick (19th overall) of the Red Sox in 1983, Clemens had a 341-172 record coming into 2006--with seven Cy Young Awards already in tow. One of his best seasons came just two years after he was drafted, when he went 24-4, yet he seemed to be just as good 10, 15 and even 20 years later, helping the Astros to their first World Series last season.
Clemens first graced the cover of Baseball America in 1983, along with the rest of a University of Texas rotation that included Kirk Killingsworth, Mike Capel and Calvin Schiraldi. Clemens went 13-5, 3.04 that season and led the Longhorns to the College World Series, launching him into a professional career that has included a laundry list of accomplishments with the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees and Astros.
His longevity, as well as that body of work puts him in the elite company of one of the best pitchers of all time.
His owner these days, Houston's Drayton McLane, puts having Clemens on his team the best possible way: "I love to talk about being a champion, and I know of no one who represents that better than Roger Clemens."