In case you missed it, Baseball America named the Giants their Organization of the Year. The Giants stumbled a bit in their personal interview, but they absolutely nailed the evening wear segment. It was a natural choice -- the Giants won the World Series on the strength of an incredible run of first-round success as well as mid-season acquisitions. That’s how to do it. That’s the secret sauce.
Of course, my least favorite part of the article was this:
"Sabean caught lightning in a bottle with the FA pickups, and I am terrified at the confidence that it gives him," wrote one anonymous critic on a bash-Sabean site. "As long as he refuses to even talk to other GMs on the phone, I want somebody that can sustain this run, rather than get lucky on a FLUKE."
Another poster who calls himself "Timmy C" offered up the following astute observation:
"Look at all these idiots here kissing Sabean love [sic] just because the Giants won the Series! The only good Sabean did this year was fix all the bad he had already done. Yay for him. He still sucks."
Whether those opinions are the work of a few dyspeptic cranks or discerning Giants-watchers who think Sabean lucked into a title, they're a reflection of the stress inherent in the job these days. In an age when everyone has access to a social network site and a forum to express a knee-jerk opinion, the concept of a "honeymoon" is obsolete.
While I've been critical of Brian Sabean quite a bit, I’d like to think the criticisms weren’t pulled out of a vacuum. It’s not as if the Giants continually built powerhouses that continually lost 80-90 games because of unexpected injuries, bad calls, and mongoose attacks. For two years, everybody knew that the Giants would be dangerous with an offense that could escape the gravity of "wretched" and move into the orbit of "unremarkable." Yet for two years, Bengie Molina was the cleanup hitter. The Giants entered a season with Fred Lewis as the #3 hitter. If you weren’t frustrated, you weren’t watching.
Yet the best example of Sabean’s critics was someone who typed, "Look at all these idiots here kissing Sabean love"? Gee, was it too hard to find a better source of intelligent dissent, like in the comments section of a YouTube video, or on the bathroom wall of a Chevron? I can’t find the original "bash-Sabean site" with a Google search, by the way, and I’m more than a little curious. If anyone here knows where that came from, please humor me.
What the BA article does a good job of, though, is exploring the most underrated part of Sabean -- his willingness to listen. When Sabean was feeling pressure to build an offense, and one of the top college hitters in the draft (Beau Mills) fell to the Giants, he took a high school pitcher (Madison M. F. Bumgarner). There had to be some temptation to take the hitter who was perceived to be close to the majors. Sabean didn’t even know if he’d still be with the Giants when Bumgarner came up, but there was someone he trusted in the room who said, no, that’s the guy. That’s the best player available. Sabean listened. He listened to the people who wanted to draft Tim Lincecum, and he listened to the people who threatened to set the building on fire if he traded Lincecum. You can roll your eyes, but that’s why the Giants won a championship, and it isn’t something that all (even most?) GMs would do.
The good and the bad of Sabean combined in a slow cooker, and after a decade or so, the result was a championship. His bullpen building was the garlic, and his reluctance to trade starting pitching was homemade chicken stock. His willingness to tweak and adjust his roster was just the right amount of salt and pepper. The drafts he oversaw were the meat and potatoes. And his idea of what makes a good lineup was some sort of freaky mystery ingredient from a Food Network reality show -- when they lifted off the lid, it was expensive-yet-unrefrigerated offal for all. For a few years, the end result was tepid intestine-and-snout slurry. Last year, it was a delicious and surprising delicacy. It was worth the wait.
Congratulations to the Giants for being the obvious choice for Baseball America’s Organization of the Year. They earned it.1
1By winning the World Series in 2010, in case you hadn’t heard