NEW YORK (AP) — His voice quavering at an unexpected news conference, Sandy Alderson revealed what he had just told his team moments before.
His cancer has returned, he’s taking a leave of absence — and his up-and-down tenure as New York Mets general manager is essentially over.
With the team in a massive tailspin, chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon and the 70-year-old Alderson made the announcement before Tuesday night’s game against Pittsburgh.
“With respect to the future, I would say two things: One is, notwithstanding the good prognosis, my health is an uncertainty going forward,” said Alderson, who agreed to a contract extension in December. “And secondly, if I were to look at it on the merits, I’m not sure coming back is warranted.”
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Asked whether he would like Alderson to resume his GM duties if his health eventually allowed that, Wilpon answered the same way twice: “I think his health and his family are first and foremost.”
Assistant general manager John Ricco and special assistants J.P. Ricciardi and Omar Minaya will run the club’s baseball operations in Alderson’s absence. Minaya preceded Alderson as Mets general manager, and Ricciardi was GM of the Toronto Blue Jays from 2001-09.
Alderson was hired by the Mets after the 2010 season. He was diagnosed with cancer at the end of the 2015 season and had surgery, but stayed on the job. He reduced his work schedule at times but remained in a full-time role while undergoing chemotherapy treatments.
“One difference between then and now is that that took place in the offseason,” Alderson said. “I had a surgery in the offseason, I had some chemo in the offseason. Much easier to manage that with offseason activity. I had the decision-making authority basically at that time. I will not have the decision-making authority going forward. If people want to call me, they’re welcome to do so. But at the same time, I don’t expect to be involved in day-to-day activity.”
Ricciardi, Minaya and first-year manager Mickey Callaway were all in the interview room at Citi Field when Alderson and Wilpon made the announcement.
Wilpon said Alderson informed him of his decision Sunday.
“It is paramount to all of us that care greatly for Sandy that he makes this a priority for him and his family,” Wilpon said, later adding: “The wear and tear on Sandy, I’ve seen up close and personal. I talked to him a couple times about maybe taking a leave, maybe stepping away a little bit, and I had sort of forgotten about it because so much has been going on.”
According to players, Alderson broke down a bit as he spoke to his teary-eyed team in the clubhouse before addressing the media.
“It definitely puts life in perspective,” said outfielder Brandon Nimmo, who was Alderson’s first amateur draft pick in 2011. “Just very somber news that we received. Our heart’s broken for him. He’s been through this battle before. He knows what’s in store.”
Mets captain David Wright, sidelined by injuries for more than two years, said players stood and gave Alderson a round of applause.
“I think there was a lot of jaws hitting the floor,” Wright recalled. “I think we had a bit of an emotional talk. It wasn’t long, but at the end we certainly wanted to pay him respect.”
Alderson said a recurrence of his cancer was detected around late April or early May and he’s been receiving treatment since.
“I expect that the treatment will continue, expect to have surgery later this summer. My prognosis is actually good. But in the meantime, the chemotherapy, the surgery, all take their toll,” Alderson said.
He said the treatment affects his energy level and leads to other side effects, explaining why he hasn’t been traveling on road trips lately.
“Which makes it difficult to stay up with sort of the pace, the tempo of the every day,” Alderson said. “Operations continue, the game continues, we have a season to play. So I think in the best interests of the Mets and for my health, this is the right result.
“I feel badly that we’ve had the season that we have had to date. I feel personally responsible for the results that we’ve had,” he added. “At the same time, I have confidence in our manager, our coaching staff, our players, that this will change. John, Omar, J.P., I’m sure will take a hard look at where we are, maybe take a fresh look at where we are and I have every confidence that they will serve the franchise well over the next few months through the end of the season.”
Alderson’s departure comes at a pivotal time for the Mets ahead of the July 31 trade deadline. Needing an infusion of young talent, they will likely look to sell off pending free agents such as closer Jeurys Familia, second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera and outfielder Jose Bautista. But ace pitchers Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard could command a huge return, and the front office must decide whether to embark on such a significant overhaul.
New York reached the 2015 World Series after rebuilding under Alderson and made it back to the playoffs the following year, but injuries and underperformance have decimated the team since.
After going 70-92 last year, the Mets replaced manager Terry Collins with Callaway and spent nearly $90 million to fill holes in free agency. They jumped out to an 11-1 start this season, but a 6-24 slide left them 31-45 with the fewest wins in the National League going into Tuesday night’s game.
“It’s been incredibly difficult,” Alderson said. “And I’m really disappointed with where we are and disappointed to have left Mets fans basically in this situation. I’ve said many times, you really do this to make other people happy. And when you’re not making people happy, it’s difficult.”
As the team has plummeted, Alderson has drawn more and more criticism.
“We’re going to be there for Sandy as much as Sandy’s been there for us. A lot of times he has taken the heat on our behalf,” Wright said.
Alderson, a Marine Infantry Officer who served in Vietnam, is a Harvard Law School graduate. Before joining the Mets, he worked in the commissioner’s office and had success running the Oakland Athletics and San Diego Padres.
“Difficult day for me, but I appreciate everybody being here, appreciate the support that everyone has provided me,” he said. “And I’m looking forward to the Mets getting back on track.”
AP freelancer Jerry Beach contributed to this report.
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