SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Forget everything that might have seemed wrong with how Brian Sabean ran the San Francisco Giants at times.
An NL championship powered by a homegrown pitching rotation and a shot at the franchise’s first World Series title out West may make people realize Sabean had a solid plan all along – even if it took awhile, seemed chaotic along the way and needed a few misfits as a finishing touch.
“The bigger pride is the place in time. We’re in a unique place in time,” Sabean said before his team took a 3-1 World Series lead over the Texas Rangers on Sunday. “The opportunity presented itself and this group seized it. Our angst now is we really hope that these guys can pull it out because they deserve it. This group has been all in, in some form or another, starting back in spring training. We’ve been playing full out since the All-Star break. That’s one of the reasons we’ve gotten this far.”
Sabean endured the craziness of the Barry Bonds era and the home run king’s 2007 pursuit to break Hank Aaron’s record. He resisted the constant temptation to trade top pitching talents Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. He provided second chances to castoffs like Pat Burrell and Cody Ross, and it has paid off in a big way.
And Sabean will never take any credit for it, always quick to praise the players, manager Bruce Bochy and his coaches, then Sabean’s own staff and scouts.
“Brian’s a great credit deflector,” Giants President Larry Baer said. “I think anybody would be hard-pressed to find a better performance by a general manager from beginning to end than what Brian’s done.”
San Francisco’s postseason rotation of Lincecum, Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and rookie Madison Bumgarner is the first homegrown foursome in the World Series since the runner-up 1986 Boston Red Sox. There’s also rookie catcher Buster Posey, the Giants’ fifth overall pick in the 2008 draft, and this season’s majors saves leader, closer Brian Wilson. Both have come through San Francisco’s system.
“The timing’s good. The organization needed it and the fan base needed it. I don’t worry about myself,” Sabean said. “It’s rewarding because of the process. Every sector of the organization chipped in.”
Across San Francisco Bay, Oakland general manager Billy Beane gained national acclaim for his statistics and numbers-oriented sabermetrics analysis, inspiring the best-seller “Moneyball” but not winning the A’s a title.
Sabean, however, has found success doing things his way – relying on his eyes, and the expertise around him. He is a regular in the stands during postseason workouts and batting practice, just watching and observing his players at work. He rarely takes his eyes off the field, even with his front-office mates sitting around him.
“You go back to his Yankee days, he’s got the eyes,” Baer said. “He’s got the scout’s eyes.”
After most games, Sabean stops by Bochy’s office and they discuss everything from the roster to who might play the next day. Bochy appreciates Sabean’s hands-on approach and daily interaction.
The 54-year-old Sabean is the longest-tenured GM in baseball, about to complete his 14th season with San Francisco. He became the Giants’ GM in 1996 after three years in player personnel. He was in the Yankees’ organization from 1985-92 as a scout, scouting director and player development director.
“I’ve had a pretty good career and I think I’m balanced without this happening,” Sabean said. “I’m pleased that the fans are excited, everybody’s family is excited, including my own. I’m happy for our ownership group. I’m very fortunate and honored to be as long tenured as I have been. It’s a blessing.”
Yet a year ago in October, Sabean’s future with the Giants wasn’t certain. Then, he and Bochy each received two-year contract extensions with a club option for 2012 from managing partner Bill Neukom.
Neukom saw enough positive signs from a club that stayed in the wild-card chase until mid-September in 2009 but missed the playoffs for a sixth straight year. Even after Bochy’s first season – and Bonds’ last – in 2007 ended with a 71-91 record, some fan message boards called for his firing. Others figured Sabean deserved a shot to turn things around with Bonds finally out of the picture.
He has done that at last.
Sabean, who has long said he’d like to stay in San Francisco forever, isn’t ready to proclaim the Giants a perennial contender after one breakthrough season.
“I don’t want to put us in that category yet,” he said.
Sabean guided the Giants to the 2002 World Series as the wild card and NL West crowns in 1997, 2000 and ’03, their last year in the playoffs before this remarkable run.
“I think he really wants the attention to go to the players,” said John Barr, a special assistant to Sabean who is with his seventh big league team. “He’s been phenomenal. He’s been relentless in bringing us to where we are. He’s been relentless in doing whatever he can to make this team better, and that’s 24 hours a day. We’re all happy that he allows us to be part of it. I feel fortunate to be able to work for him. He’s one of the best general managers I’ve worked for.”
Sabean has taken heat at times for signing players to big contracts like pitcher Barry Zito’s $126 million, seven-year deal through 2013 with a club option for 2014, and a $60 million, five-year contract for center fielder Aaron Rowand done in December 2007. The acquisition of Freddy Sanchez from Pittsburgh at the 2009 trade deadline seemed to be a disappointment last year when Sanchez couldn’t stay on the field because of injuries. But he has been a reliable, healthy option most of this season after beginning the year on the disabled list following December shoulder surgery.
Sanchez has come through with his bat and glove this World Series.
“No. 1, he has operated on a budget that is not a slam dunk, killer budget,” Baer said. “The key thing is, you get temptations. In ’08, especially, we weren’t winning, ’07 was a rough year. The temptations for a quick fix … those temptations are real and between the eyes. Brian sucked it up and had the thinking we could come out on the other end. And here we are on the other end.”
(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)