Sabean's accomplishments worthy of spotlight
DETROIT -- Brian Sabean's 16th season as general manager of the San Francisco Giants might be his most satisfying. Not only is his team in the World Series for the second time in three seasons, Sabean is now widely seen as one of the very best in the business thanks to his ability to develop talent, hire and empower competent people and shape a roster, sometimes on the fly.
Sabean's baseball's longest tenured general manager, but he has flown under the radar thanks mostly to his reluctance to seek out the spotlight. He guided the Giants to the World Series in 2002 with a veteran team built around Barry Bonds, and a decade later, he's back with a club composed largely of younger homegrown players.
Indeed, the 2012 Giants are significantly different than even the '10 team that won the World Series. All eight everyday positions with the exception of catcher Buster Posey have changed in just two short seasons.
Third baseman Pablo Sandoval was part of the 2010 club, but he was banished to the bench for most of the postseason. Those homegrown players -- Sandoval, Posey, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and others -- are a tribute to the organization Sabean constructed, one that combines the best of traditional scouting work while also embracing new-age analytics.
His management style is to surround himself with smart people of all ages and baseball backgrounds and to give everyone a voice.
"Just me personally, I've always lived by the mantra, 'Know what you know, but know what you don't know,'" Sabean said. "Whatever you don't know, you'd better find the best expert in that area. You've got to be open-minded. You've got to be very challenged by people's thoughts. We like strong personalities.
"We like to be democratic in terms of how we arrive at a decision. We give everybody a first guess, and that's where you build the camaraderie and the loyalty. They know you want their opinion. We ask for everybody's opinion, but we make 'em accountable and keep 'em responsible."
Perhaps that's why the Giants have had such continuity through the years. They're so stable that two coaches -- bench coach Ron Wotus and pitching coach Dave Righetti -- served both Dusty Baker and Felipe Alou and then were retained by Bruce Bochy when he was hired before the 2007 season. Bullpen coach Mark Gardner worked for Alou, and he was retained by Bochy as well.
"There aren't man secrets in baseball," Sabean said. "People on the inside know everybody else's resume -- their skill set and their demeanor. We've been able to have some carryover. In sitting down with the manager to put a staff together, I've never been forceful one way or the other. It's been a cooperative effort. It's been a slam dunk those people would continue because they have that kind of reputation."
Sabean has a solid relationship with Bochy and includes him in the decision-making process.
"We're very close personally," Sabean said of Bochy. "At the end of the day, I believe the manager has a huge effect on how he handles the personnel, how he uses the personnel. Once the game starts, he's got to do it in real time. I just hope for his sake and the coaching staff's sake, they get the due recognition. These guys are at the top of their game, not only in baseball, but in any sport."
Roster building is as much an art as science, and through the years, Sabean has proven again and again that he's one of baseball's best at adding players who'll raise the talent level while also contributing to a cohesive clubhouse and a team-first attitude. When he acquired Angel Pagan last winter, very few baseball people slapped their foreheads and conceded another pennant to the Giants. Yet Pagan has been terrific down the stretch, both in the leadoff spot in the order and with his play in the outfield.
Likewise, when Sabean picked up second baseman Marco Scutaro, virtually no one predicted it would end up being the single smartest in-season move any general manager would make this season.
Sabean got outfielder Hunter Pence, too, a player Bochy had lobbied for after being around Pence in the All-Star Game. He liked Pence's energy and his enthusiasm and believed his personality would play well in a clubhouse.
Indeed, the Giants point to Pence's pregame speech prior to Game 3 of their National League Division Series against the Reds as perhaps the turning point of this postseason run. They trailed 0-2 at the time, but the Giants won three straight elimination games.
He has been part of the dramatic evolution of a franchise from one that drew tiny crowds in cold, damp Candlestick Park to selling out AT&T Park virtually every single night.
"We went through an era where we were Bonds-centric," Sabean said, "and that was a big attraction. Then starting for '09 and especially in '10, we gained a different character throughout the team. It's unique. I think any fans identifies with almost anyone on the team."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.