It would be easy, and appropriate, to enjoy the afterglow of the Giants' NL West division title by merely acknowledging the usual suspects: Aubrey Huff, Andres Torres, Brian Wilson, Buster Posey, Pat Burrell, Juan Uribe...
Wow. It is indeed a long list.
But it seems more suitable to tip the cap to two men who put that list of players together and made it click.
Defenders of general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy have been few and far between. Scroll to the comments sections of blogs and online articles and you’ll find one of the two assaulted as an “idiot,” trades maligned as “ridiculous,” and lineups dismissed as the “worst in history.”
To be fair, Sabean has made bad trades and free agent signings. I suspect, over 14 years, that would be true of any GM.
He seems to have particularly missed the mark as the Barry Bonds era came to a close, but then again, his challenge was particularly difficult: First, get to the postseason with Bonds still around; then, try to stay competitive while waiting for talented young players to arrive. In other words, rebuild while denying that rebuilding is taking place.
The thing is, Sabean critics over the years have urged us to sign Gary Matthews, Jr. and Carlos Lee and Alfonso Soriano and Jason Bay—every one high-priced, every one a disappointment. Some even have encouraged the trade of pre-Cy Young Tim Lincecum for Alex Rios so that we could finally get the “big bat.”
Critics will make suggestions, offer a rant, and move on. They never have to be accountable for any decision. Yes, Sabean is responsible for trading away Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano and getting, in return, a headache in catcher’s gear. But he is also responsible for trading Matt Williams for Jeff Kent.
Yes, Sabean is responsible for signing Barry Zito, Aaron Rowand, and Edgar Renteria. But he is also responsible for signing Andres Torres, Aubrey Huff, Juan Uribe (twice!), Pat Burrell, and Santiago Casilla.
From the beginning of the year critics wanted Madison Bumgarner in the rotation and Buster Posey as starting catcher.
While it is certain that the Giants would not have won the division sticking with Todd Wellemeyer and Bengie Molina, those veteran placeholders may well have provided the smooth transition needed for Bumgarner and Posey to step up when they did.
(Oh, and let’s not forget: Critics hated that Sabean failed to sign Brad Penny, who went on to sign for $7.5 million with St. Louis. Signing Penny, said the critics, would have allowed us to then trade Jonathan Sanchez for the proverbial “big bat.” Penny threw only 55 innings all year, and he was put on the shelf in May.)
Brian Sabean was famous for proclaiming in 1997 that he was “not an idiot.”
He wasn’t then. He isn’t now.
He is perhaps Executive of the Year.
We see Bruce Bochy much more, but ironically we have less evidence for loving or hating him. After all, he doesn’t trade or sign players. If a lineup is weak—and critics have suggested that some lineups are the worst in history—Bochy is only working with what he has.
Still, critics chimed in daily. Why is Bengie starting? Why is Rowand batting leadoff? Why is Renteria even still on the team?
Why not John Bowker? Why not Darren Ford? Why not (insert any minor league name here)?
It didn’t help for critics that Bochy always sounded like a dimwitted old guy hanging outside a sleepy gas station. He spoke slowly, said little, and did all this in a monotone sure to put you to sleep.
When it comes to lineup decisions, some will be poor, just as trades sometimes are. Tweaking a lineup is taking a chance, playing a hunch, and, oh by the way, dealing with real human beings.
Critics don’t have to deal with real human beings. Put the vet on the bench—big deal. Cut someone—who cares? It must be significantly harder when these are people you know.
But it’s not just that it is hard to tell someone he’s on the bench (Rowand), traded (Molina), or released (Wellemeyer). Making tough choices with care and compassion is what keeps a clubhouse in order. Rowand may not be able to hit a breaking ball anymore, but he’s a positive member of the team. Molina may not be able to run out a ground rule double, but he’s helped build that stellar pitching staff.
Beyond the first place finish, the best evidence of Bochy’s success may be this.
Look back over the 162-game season, the ups and downs. Think about that clubhouse fight you heard about. Or recall the player throwing bats around the dugout. Or remember the time players had to hold back teammates ready to go at it. Or...
Wait. There are none of those examples.
Other than pitchers occasionally being visibly miffed at being taken out early, this has been one content group. We’d have to figure that Aaron Rowand and Nate Schierholtz were frustrated to see the many new outfielders put on a Giants uniform, but fans saw none of that frustration. We merely saw two bench players ready to step in.
Undoubtedly fans don’t see much of the real Bochy. Dimwit? Right. He’s a modern-day Lt. Columbo wearing a baseball cap.
His players, however, know who he really is. Now they are reaping the benefits of being on his team.
The next challenge for Sabean and Bochy is devising a 25-man roster for the first round of the playoffs. It will require hard decisions and sensitivity.
We all will have ideas. Critics will have objections.
I’ll put my trust in the idiot and the dimwit.