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When I posted an item praising Brian Sabean yesterday, I knew I’d get some negative response. Fair enough. Some people even wrote that Billy Beane is a better GM and that the Giants winning the World Series under Sabean doesn’t mean all that much.

Let’s be clear about this. Winning the World Series means everything. In baseball there is nothing more important. Beane has not won a World Series. That means he has not accomplished what Sabean has. There is no more to the discussion. Beane may or may not have excuses but they don’t matter. He has not won the World Series or been to the Series. We’re talking black and white here.

No other Bay Area GM is at Sabean’s level.

Trent Baalke — has not won the Super Bowl, nor has his team been in the Super Bowl. When the Niners win the Super Bowl, let’s talk.

Reggie McKenzie — a rookie.

Bob Myers — a rookie.

Sabean looms over all of them.

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Comments

38 Comments

  1. lameduck

    OK, so which GM has the best taste in wine?

    August 1st, 2012 10:28 am

  2. CohnZohn

    lameduck, I’m gonna have to go with Sabean. He’s a known pinot noir drinker. Billy doesn’t drink much wine — his dad does; he’s been spotted tasting on Olivet Road. I don’t know about the others, although Baalke strikes me as a diet coke guy. Here’s a funny story. a few weeks ago i joined Bochy’s pregame newser in the dugout. When he saw me he smiled and asked me to hang around after. When he was done he said I had mentioned in a column about him drinking big cabs and Sabean drinking pinots. Lo and behold, Hess winery sent down cabs for him and pinots for Sabean. I think Bochy holds me in higher regard now. “I like other things,” he said to the other writers. “Like red pickup trucks.” He made me laugh. I don’t have any juice with red pickup trucks.

    August 1st, 2012 10:33 am

  3. Tony

    While the ultimate goal of winning a team championship may have not happened yet for some of the guys above, one in particular is already equal or better than Sabean. That GM is Trent Baalke, while Baalke doesn’t have a Super Bowl, his team is probably in the best position to win one.

    The way you should compare each GM is by when they entered their team’s league as the GM, what was the state of their team? What was the record? What moves did the GM do to improve the team and the record?

    When Brian Sabean came into the Giant’s GM role in 1996 and traded Matt Williams to the Indians for Jeff Kent, Jose Vizaino, and some prospects, the fans nearly tore him apart. Same thing happened with Trent Baalke drafting Aldon Smith last year when every fan wanted a new QB and Alex Smith run out of town.

    Also, if you want to compare, it took Sabean 6 years as the GM to reach the World Series with Bonds, Kent and the gang, which they lost. Then another 8 years to go back and win it… I really hope it doesn’t take Trent Baalke 6 years just to reach the Super Bowl and 14 years total to win it since becoming the GM of the 49ers.

    August 1st, 2012 10:42 am

  4. CohnZohn

    Tony, Until Baalke gets the 49ers into the Super Bowl, he is not in the discussion with Sabean. As I said,it’s black and white.

    August 1st, 2012 10:45 am

  5. Neal

    With all due respect Lowell, you favor Sabean because you have a good working relationship with him, if you wrote something bad, Sabean is very sensitive and would hold a long grudge with you. Sabean is not so great, between Rowand, Huff, Freddie Sanchez, what is that, about 34 million bucks in dead money. I won’t add Zito in that because that was a McGowan screw up, anywhere else this guy would of been fired.

    August 1st, 2012 11:08 am

  6. Capts

    Lowell, is Eric Spoelstra a better coach than Jerry Sloan? Was Barry Switzer a better coach than Jim Harbaugh? Is Dan Marino a lesser QB than Trent Dilfer? Like a coach or QB, a GM is at the mercy of chance. If you don’t think luck played a factor in the Giants winning, I don’t know what to tell you. That was one of the least talented WS teams in history.

    August 1st, 2012 11:19 am

  7. CohnZohn

    Neal, I have a good working relationship with Beane. We’re quite cordial with each other. I get along fine with Bob Myers and want to know him better. I got along with McKenzie when i interviewed him and want to know him better. I don’t know Baalke as well as I should. I’m not sure anyone knows him well.

    August 1st, 2012 11:33 am

  8. Tony

    I have to second Capts….if you apply the same logic to players, the only ones that should be in the HOF are the ones who won a championship.

    August 1st, 2012 11:47 am

  9. Lo Sbandato

    Until recently, all the other Bay Area teams were utter crap. Some still are. Most of the guys named hardly have a track record at their position. Sabean looms over them like a pantomime villain almost by default.

    On the other hand, that raises the question, especially about Baalke: how much is this Niners’ squad really “his” team?

    August 1st, 2012 11:53 am

  10. Dennis

    Lowell, we are just not going to agree on this one. I just can’t share your opinion that it is black and white. I cannot agree that the Cub’s would have won a World Series if only they had a great GM. There are other things at play there.

    If I am going to start a franchise and had to pick from one of the Bay Area GM’s to run it it would be Baalke without question. Beane would be next. Myers is a rookie but may have potential. And I am not familiar with the Sharks GM because I don’t follow them. Has I have repeatedly said, Sabean as done less with more. He is a good GM but not great. But thank you for keeping the discussion going. It is a fun one.

    August 1st, 2012 11:55 am

  11. Kommon Senze

    I think the more accurate way to describe Sabean is that he has been more successful than Billy Beane. You can’t really argue ‘better’ because the notion is very subjective (the exact opposite, imo, of a ‘black and white’ debate). There’s no argument there. I’m a Giants fan, and I’ve long felt Sabean has been under-appreciated for what he has done.

    Has he made some mistakes? Absolutely.. all GMs have made them. Sabean’s have tended to be of the financial nature, but anyone believing that Beane hasn’t made a few mistakes in his constant shuffling of deck chairs for the A’s is not being terribly objective, either.

    I like how Beane has managed with his limitations, and there’s no question some of his tactics have been very forward-thinking and influential on how the game is viewed. I think his legacy, even without a championship, probably has a much greater impact on the game than Sabean’s will.

    As for Baalke, I would agree that it’s a bit premature to be considering him the ‘best’ (regardless of the subjective nature of that discussion), because we’ve only begun to see what he might accomplish. There have been many GMs who have started off strongly, but been unable to sustain that level over time. When a GM has continued to put together winning teams over several years, that eliminates a lot of the ‘luck’ involved. Sabean and Beane, respectively, have shown they can do this. That’s why I think they both deserve credit for what they’ve done. The arguments for calling either the ‘best’ in the Bay Area are strong on both sides.

    August 1st, 2012 11:59 am

  12. Kathy

    Agree with you, Lowell.

    August 1st, 2012 12:05 pm

  13. Lo Sbandato

    Dennis – Baalke? Really? He’s only been in the job for a little over a year. What game-changing acquisition has he engineered? And as much as I hate to say it, this past exceptional season (which may in fact be an exception) must be credited more to Harbaugh than anyone else.

    August 1st, 2012 12:12 pm

  14. Sean

    Interesting anecdote about Bochy and wine. It’s stories like that that alter one’s view of a person. He’s a rough edged guy that I always took for a PBR and Marlboro man. Perhaps there’s more to him than a grumbly voice and constant stubble.

    August 1st, 2012 12:13 pm

  15. Lo Sbandato

    And I know nobody here cares about the Sharks, but since 2000, they’ve been the most successful Bay Area team by miles. Doug Wilson would be the hockey equivalent of Beane : great regular season records, disappointment in the postseason (three losses in the conference finals in 10 playoff appearances).

    August 1st, 2012 12:18 pm

  16. CohnZohn

    Sean, Bochy is a whimsical, clever, delightful man.

    August 1st, 2012 12:20 pm

  17. Brian in Oakland

    Lowell, if you were starting an expansion baseball team and could hypothetically take either Sabean or Beane, who would you pick and why?

    August 1st, 2012 12:24 pm

  18. CohnZohn

    Brian in Oakland, If I were starting an expansion team I would pick Beane. He’s brilliant at spotting cheap talent and young players. But if I were putting together a possible World Series team, I would pick Sabean. He’s done it and he’s competed on the big stage year after year and Beane has not really done either.

    August 1st, 2012 12:44 pm

  19. B-Rad

    With me, Sabean has a pass until 2016 because of the W.S. in 2010.
    But in the previous 6 years, 2004 – 2009, he was getting his brains
    beat out each year by 1, 2, or 3 teams in our division with
    a lesser payroll, sometimes much smaller.

    In early September, 2010, the Giants (with the largest payroll in our
    division – $99 MIL) was 5 games behind the Padres with the smallest
    payroll – $38 MIL. I was having a conniption when I left the country
    for a couple months and almost fell out of my chair a month later when I
    picked up a paper to learn the Giants were rolling along in the playoffs.

    This year, prior to the recent spate of trades, the Giants had the third
    largest payroll in the NL, just $400,000 behind #2 Miami, but way
    behind Philadelphia. The Giants at $118 MIL were well ahead of
    LA at $95 MIL (don’t know how that stands now) and even further
    ahead of ARIZ, SD, and COL.

    August 1st, 2012 12:55 pm

  20. Stan

    If I was starting and wanted to win a world series..I go Sabean. If I wanted a GM who wants to known for flash and never winning the big one..well,I dont hire that guy. I’m not interested in having the best AAAA team every year.
    I will repeat what I said on the A’s blog, I dont care if Beane loses and I call him a liar,or if Beane wins,and I call him a liar. Its what he deserves for his theory that the A’s cant win,cant compete in Oakland. Like any bogus science theory,its been exposed as flat Earth thinking. Beane said just back in May on THEGAME, “We cant compete with the Angels or Texas”. So,Beane painted himself into the no credence corner. Not me or others. Beane.
    They are competing and winning in Oakland. If Beane wants to put out “Just Luck, a fluke”..then go ahead Slick, see if that works.

    August 1st, 2012 1:13 pm

  21. Stan

    And my advice to any other billionaires who buy a bay area sports team? Don’t tell Stan “If I had more money ,I could win”..I WILL be right here,and there to post my answer.

    August 1st, 2012 1:17 pm

  22. MJ

    I will have to echo the sentiments about Doug Wilson. No team in the bay areas’ 4 major sports has been as successful over their tenure than his. Sabean has been a gm for 15 seasons with many unsuccessful (non-playoff) seasons. Under Wilson they have made the playoffs every season, and made it twice to the western conference finals, which one could argue is a much tougher road to walk. Baseball is 2 rounds and the world series, and the first round is only 5 games, or was. NHL is 7 games every series. Give Wilson 15 years and he will have a title.

    And the exclusion of the Sharks on every one of these “best of the bay” lists really looks bad. Will you stop covering the 49ers when they play their games in Santa Clara? It seems you either look down on hockey or the south bay. What be it?

    August 1st, 2012 2:02 pm

  23. Stan

    And why I hate daytime TV. Because I was too slow to change the channel the first minute of the Maury show I was forced to hear “And Pumpkin says this IS Deshaun’s baby”. How does Povich do that everyday? He hasn’t saved enough?. Garbage.

    August 1st, 2012 2:05 pm

  24. Kommon Senze

    I think that’s a misconception, Lowell, regarding Beane. When has he had the opportunity to “build a team for the big stage.” He’s been limited in keeping his own FA, let alone going out and adding to the payroll via FA. Outside of getting to the WS and winning a championship, his record in Oakland (despite the handicap) has been equal to Sabean’s.

    As I said before, you can call the argument of who has had more success “black and white,” and you can argue that Beane’s handicap is not an excuse in that regard, because success is not arbitrary; it can be evaluated objectively. However, when determining who has been ‘better,’ that’s entirely subjective and the limitations that Beane has had, in that discussion, are absolutely fair.

    Despite having hundreds of millions less to spend over his tenure as GM, Beane has the same number of playoff appearances in his 14+ years as the GM as Sabean.

    Beane – 5 playoffs (14+ years)
    Sabean – 5 playoffs (15+ years)

    His winning percentage is nearly identical.

    Beane – 1263 – 1108 (.532)
    Sabean – 1354 – 1178 (.534)

    Beane had a stretch of 5 straight years with 90+ wins, and 4 straight years in the playoffs at his peak. Sabean had a stretch of 5 straight years with 90+ wins and 3 out of 4 years in the playoffs at his ‘peak.’

    Do you honestly think that Beane couldn’t have possibly turned one of his teams a little further in the playoffs if he had the ability to be a buyer instead of (at best) a status quo GM at the trade deadlines?

    Again, I agree with your premise that Sabean is underrated by many, and that Beane sort of gets a pass by some (not all) due to his limitations. That’s a fair point. But it’s also fair to say that Beane has done more with less, and unfair to suggest he can’t do more with more because he hasn’t had that opportunity.

    August 1st, 2012 2:13 pm

  25. Neal

    Lowell,

    I thought you did a column about Baalke weird voice and said he gave you the cold shoulder in the elevator or something like that.
    Doug Wilson is a disappointment, his trades and the dilution of the farm system last year was pretty bad.

    August 1st, 2012 2:33 pm

  26. CohnZohn

    Kommon Senze, Thanks for your post. You simply cannot prove Beane would do more with more. You can believe it, hope it, stress it. But there is no proof.

    August 1st, 2012 2:35 pm

  27. Kommon Senze

    I’m not saying he could do more with more. I’m saying, he never had the opportunity, so to ding him for not doing it is not a fair criticism. What he’s done with the resources he has had is near equal to what Sabean has done. It’s a fair rhetorical note to question what he might have done (which is different from arguing what he could have done – an important nuance), had he been given the resources and opportunity.

    August 1st, 2012 2:46 pm

  28. CohnZohn

    I’m not dinging him for what he has not done. I am simply not giving him credit for something he has not done which, on the other hand, Sabean has done.

    August 1st, 2012 2:55 pm

  29. mike

    But you can prove that Beane can do more with less than Sabean.

    It is impossible to compare GM’s with money and GM’s without money to spend. There are many factors incuding the ball parks and the cities.

    When you add in all the x factors I take Billy Beane. He does more with less.

    And when it comes to a better franchise its the A’s hands down.

    Although the A’s have been here only since 1968, with an inferior ball park and city, they have won far more World Series than The Giants and the one time they had a chance to face the Giants in the Series they crucified them ( 4 straight).

    I’m a life long Giants fan but the A’s have been the better team over time and in the Bay Area.

    We are lucky to have two teams with great history’s.

    August 1st, 2012 3:05 pm

  30. Kommon Senze

    You characterized him as being only capable of finding cheap/young talent, but not on putting together the roster to go after the big prize. I think that’s not an accurate characterization. Teams don’t win 90 games 5 straight seasons if they’re merely a quality ‘expansion’ type of organization. That’s the point I have issue with.. it’s not accurate.

    The very question you ask, by definition, is rhetorical. Because of that, disqualifying arguments that are trying to delineate the rhetoric is questionable.

    When an MVP vote is taken, it’s subjective, right? There are various criteria to consider, so the people who vote take their best guess, and every factor plays into it. Some feel team performance is important, but that didn’t keep Andre Dawson from winning a MVP award. To me the argument about who is “the best” is precisely this type of discussion. I see it as shades of grey, not black and white.

    Now there are more objective awards, like the Rolaid Relief Award. Or (in hockey) the Richard Trophy for top scorer. These are looking strictly at who puts up the most of something in a given category. If you’re going to argue the measurables, yes.. Sabean has earned that title in the Bay Area. That’s why I noted that if you are going to argue his ‘success,’ you’d have a fair argument.

    But, outside of that criteria, I think Beane has shown both that he understands more than just talent evaluation but how to build contending teams. Oakland would not be a playoff team if he didn’t have that understanding. They wouldn’t get to the ALCS if they were merely a collection of good talent for the price. Pittsburgh has collected tons of good, cheap, young talent.. what they have not done is put together good teams. That’s the difference.

    I’m a Sabean supporter, mind you (and a Giant fan). Defending his record is fair game. But I think, in an effort to defend his stature, you’re inaccurately describing Beane’s actual impact and abilities.

    August 1st, 2012 3:06 pm

  31. Dennis

    Kommon Senze makes a lot of sense. I agree with him. Sabean has been successful, but I think Beane is a better GM – plain and simple. He has done a better job in getting more out of less. I just don’t like all the dead money Sabean has racked up during his tenure.

    August 1st, 2012 4:06 pm

  32. B-Rad

    As an addendum to my previous post, in 2011 ARIZ won the NL West
    with a payroll of $54 MIL. The Giants were second with the highest
    payroll in the division – $119 MIL.

    How is it even possible to piss away an extra $65 MIL and still
    finish 8 games back?

    August 1st, 2012 4:09 pm

  33. Stan

    Kommon Senze is re writing history. Beane’s best work was when he was GM and pre John Fisher,Lew Wolff days. You know,when Beane never bashed Oakland. Those days. Those were the days when Beane had to win to keep his job. It did change didn’t it? Standards and goals.

    August 1st, 2012 4:44 pm

  34. chris

    quite a debate over GM’s here. I definitley give the edge to Sabean. Since 1996 he’s made more trades that have helped make the Giants make the playoffs, and has drafted and developed young players that have become great pros, like a CY Young winning Lincecum.
    Beane has drafted and developed nobody, and his specialty has been aquiring washed up has beens, who at the most have had one good year (Frank Thomas). And regarding Trent Ballke……I cant believe how delusional 49er fans are over this guy after last seasons success.
    Was Ballke a great GM before Harbaugh showed up? Hell no….its so obvious to an objective observer Raider fan like myself, that it was Harbaugh who made all of the key player aquisition decisions last season that made the team a Super Bowl contender, just like Bill Walsh did in the 80′s.

    August 1st, 2012 7:08 pm

  35. Johnc

    Ok , I am going with the Dennis theory that “even a blind squirrel gets lucky and finds an acorn now and then”. Sabean main functions seems to be to shuffle mediocre talent into the team each year. . He landed Beltran but let him get away because of a lapse in judgement. He let Keppenger get away. The incredible pitching staff comes fromt the Giant farm system.Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner come from the Giant organization. Sabean had nothing to do with that. I am not sure how they got Vogelsong. So in a nutshell , the hitting on Giants sucks with men on base. Posey came from the Giant farm system. Pence is the best thing Sabean has done in the last two years as well as stealing Melky Cabrera from Kansas City with the trade for Sanchez. I will give him that one and the. Zitto contract was negotiated by former general manager

    August 1st, 2012 9:25 pm

  36. stretch

    Lowell, I’m having a hard time with your logic. In no way is this as black and white as you make it out to be. Based on your reasoning Trent Dilfer is a better quarterback than Dan Marino, Cody Ross is a better outfielder than Ted Williams, and Mario Chalmers is a better point guard than John Stockton. Even if the GM has the overall responsibility for the franchise, so much more goes into a successful season than simply putting bodies on the field. Injuries, owner meddling, poor officiating, and a poorly timed losing streak are beyond the control of any one person and can all have a profound effect on an individual season.

    The only way you can judge a GM is by their body of work because that will tend to even the odds on most of the variables noted above with the exception of owner meddling. By this measure, I would probably list Sabean first, although Beane would be a very close second. While Baalke has gotten off to a great start he would have to be third due to a limited track record. Myers and McKenzie would be tied for fourth and fifth because neither has any track record, although I think both have gotten off to a good start.

    August 2nd, 2012 9:11 am

  37. Stan

    Johnc credits the Giants farm system…and then says Beane is better?..whaa? WHERE would Beane be without what has been the best scouting system in baseball..pre Beane and all?
    From Reggie in 68- Yoenis in ’12,the A’s have produced stars..and Beane-unlike EVERY other A’s era hasn’t won a World Series.
    Instead..MLB is scattered with former A’s stars Beane traded.

    August 3rd, 2012 10:12 am

  38. Stan

    If I felt better ..I would give you the full list..lol. Take my word.

    August 3rd, 2012 10:13 am

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