GIANTS GENERAL manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy live in the same building near AT&T Park in San Francisco, which is a convenience on the many nights they get together in Sabean's office near the Giants' clubhouse after a game. Sometimes Bochy waits for a lull in the conversation—his cue to muster up a "Well, gotta go...."—but the opening never comes. It might be four o'clock in the morning before the last story is told and the last glass is emptied.
"We have the luxury of not driving, of just walking across the street," Bochy says. "We'll sit there and talk about baseball and other things, not just the game. Brian is a great storyteller, and when he gets on a roll there is no stopping him. It's usually about 1:30, 2 o'clock when the [George] Steinbrenner stories start to come. And then you know you'll be there a while."
Lee Elder, one of Sabean's senior advisers and like his boss an émigré from Steinbrenner's Yankees, often sits in on the spirited chats, which are addenda to the usual pre- and postgame visits of Sabean and his longtime advisers. "My office is open to them," Bochy says. "Managing to me is so much easier or so much more difficult depending on your relationship with the general manager. When you have the relationship we do, it allows you the freedom to say what you want."
Says Giants president Larry Baer, "Nothing is more important in sports than the relationship between the general manager and the manager or coach. It works here because they respect each other. Boch can have a say in acquisitions and Sabes can have a say in lineups. They know the other one has the final decision, but they know their opinion is respected."
November 10, 2014
Last week the Giants became the first National League team in seven decades to win a third World Series in five seasons, holding off the Royals to win a thrilling Game 7 with the tying run on third base. San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner, 270 innings deep into his season, nailed down not just the last out but also the 14 before that, all on two days of rest after his second win of the Series as a starter. It was the stuff of instant legend.
Sabean, 58, and Bochy, 59, are the winning team within the winning team, two gray-haired baseball wise guys with weak spots for black open-collar shirts and players who care as much about winning as they do. The 2014 Giants, an 88-win regular-season team, will be remembered more for their will than their greatness. In winning their three World Series, Sabean and Bochy have kept constant only one spot among the eight everyday players (catcher Buster Posey) and only one spot among the four starting pitchers (Bumgarner). And yet the strings they pull and the levers they throw keep producing the same results in October. When facing elimination San Francisco is 8--0, while outscoring the opponent 47--11. They don't know when to quit.
SABEAN AND BOCHY became a tandem after the 2006 season, even though Bochy still had one year remaining on his contract to manage the Padres and Sabean didn't know Bochy personally. Sabean is both demanding and fiercely loyal, traits he picked up from Steinbrenner while running the Yankees' scouting department from 1986 to '92. (Sabean picked up more than those traits; he secretly dated Steinbrenner's secretary, who became his first wife.) He saw how Steinbrenner kept his staff on a competitive edge. At any moment he might call upon you for an opinion or a solution, which meant you had to be prepared at all times. Winning was stressed at every level of the minors, so everyone learned how to deal with pressure.
The Yankees fielded losing teams every year from 1989 through '92, their only stretch of four straight losing seasons since they became the Yankees in 1913. (Steinbrenner was banned from baseball for the last 2½ of those seasons.) But at the time, the organization was also an incubator of playing talent and bright minds. The group would not only create a dynasty in New York but also influence the rest of baseball. In the New York organization in '92 alone were future general managers Sabean and Brian Cashman; future managers Don Mattingly, Brad Ausmus and Trey Hillman; rookie manager Buck Showalter; future coaches Torey Lovullo, Hensley Meulens, Curt Young, Gary Denbo, Roberto Kelly, Mike Gallego and Brian Butterfield; and future world champions Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter. All four of those key players were signed while Sabean was in charge of scouting.
Sabean joined the Giants after the 1992 season as assistant to GM Bob Quinn. Many of Sabean's key cabinet members today were with him in the Yankees' organization: Meulens, the Giants' hitting coach; pitching coach Dave Righetti; Kelly, the first base coach; assistant hitting coach Joe Lefebvre; assistant GM Dick Tidrow; special assistant J.T. Snow; pro scouts Steve Balboni and Brian Johnson; Elder; and senior adviser Paul Turco.
"If you get a chance and he lets his guard down, Brian talks a lot about Steinbrenner," Johnson says. "He'll say, 'We're like the Yankees of the West.' The Yankees weren't very good in the late '80s and early '90s, but we were loaded with talent, especially in the coaching ranks. They taught baseball the way it was supposed to be played."
Sabean's gift for valuing opinion is evident in the loyalty from the people who surround him. "This is my seventh year," said assistant general manager John Barr, "and I'm the most junior guy around."
Sabean's roster is full of longtime Giants: vice president of pro scouting Jeremy Shelley (21 years), Tidrow (20), assistant GM Bobby Evans (21), director of player development Shane Turner (19), Elder (15), Righetti (15) and director of quantitative analysis Yeshayah Goldfarb (14).
Balboni, Lefebvre and scout Stan Saleski went all the way back with Sabean to their playing days at Eckerd College. Saleski was a legendary amateur pitcher who once matched Mark Fidrych for 12 innings in a double no-hitter in a Massachusetts American Legion game—until Fidrych finally won in the 13th, 1--0. Saleski hurt his arm as a senior and pitched two years in the Yankees' minor league system before New York made him a scout at age 23. He worked in baseball for the next 36 years, including the past 16 for the Giants. Last month he was assigned to provide World Series advance work by covering the ALCS between Kansas City and Baltimore. On Oct. 11, the day of ALCS Game 2, Saleski died unexpectedly in Baltimore. He was 59 years old.
The next night Sabean couldn't bear to go to the ballpark to watch the Giants play Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cardinals. Sabean, Balboni, Elder and a few others booked a private room at a St. Louis restaurant, away from a television.
Four nights later, when Travis Ishikawa made like Bobby Thomson and sent the Giants to the World Series with a walk-off home run, Sabean, sitting in his box at AT&T Park, dropped his head into his hands and sobbed.
A FEW HOURS before the final game of the World Series, Bochy huddled with Righetti and other staff members to map out a worst-case scenario. What if he had to use a quick hook on Tim Hudson, at 39 the oldest Game 7 pitcher in Series history? Bochy had been here before. In Game 6 of the 2010 NLCS at Philadelphia, with a chance to win the pennant, Bochy pulled his starting pitcher, Jonathan Sanchez, with no outs in the third inning of a 2--2 game. San Francisco won the game 3--2.
"Sometimes it's an overused praise," Sabean said, "but [Bochy] does rely on everybody on the roster. And he's as good as there is when it comes to the best-laid plans of running a game. He had rehearsed Game 7."
Reliever Jeremy Affeldt would be the first reliever in to pitch out of a jam. He would be the bridge to Bumgarner, who would be used to start an inning. Bumgarner would be the bridge to set-up man Sergio Romo and closer Santiago Casilla. Bochy figured Bumgarner could give him two or three innings—except Bumgarner blew up the plan by being better than Bochy dreamed. The lefthander was not a bridge to more relievers; he was a bridge to long-dead World Series legends such as Christy Mathewson, Waite Hoyt and Carl Hubbell.
Bumgarner already had been the MVP of the NLCS, and Sabean ran into him after he stepped down from a podium to accept that award. The GM thought about the kid he drafted out of Hickory, N.C., in 2007, how he was a fierce competitor but how "his demeanor is like glass"—so even and smooth, especially now as a 25-year-old owning the postseason.
"Hey," Sabean said to Bumgarner that day, "what are you going to do when you grow up?"
The answer came quickly. Bumgarner won Game 1 against the Royals, 7--1, and he won Game 5, 5--0, with the most strikeouts (eight) ever in a World Series shutout with no walks. It was after that game that Kansas City outfielder Jarrod Dyson, searching for comfort if not clairvoyance, said, "We don't have to face Bumgarner no more."
Bumgarner kept coming out to the mound in Game 7. The fifth inning. Then the sixth. The seventh. The eighth. (None among Bochy, Righetti or Posey even bothered to ask him how he was feeling after the eighth.) And the ninth. Sabean made his way from a press-level box to the visitors' clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium. But when he saw workers hanging plastic sheets over the lockers in anticipation of the celebration, he ducked into a side room with other members of his cabinet to watch the end on television.
The first two outs came quickly. Then Alex Gordon lined a single to centerfield, where a misplay by Gregor Blanco allowed the ball to bounce to the wall, where the intersection of leftfielder Juan Perez and the bouncing baseball resembled a man pulling a potato out of the oven without an oven mitt. By the time Perez corralled it and threw it to shortstop Brandon Crawford, Gordon was pulling into third base under the astute stop sign of coach Mike Jirschele.
Sabean grew tense. Bochy, even with Casilla warming, didn't dare move. Truth be told, Bochy had decided Bumgarner was staying in to face not just the next batter—Salvador Perez, a righthanded hitter—but also the one after that, lefthanded Mike Moustakas, if needed. "He's a unique kid," Sabean said of his pitcher. "He's very grounded and strong as an ox. He's got an inner courage to do what he did."
At that moment Tidrow thought about the reports his scouts filed before the series on the Royals. Two defining characteristics stood out. The first was that the Kansas City hitters were crushing pitches on the outer half of the plate. Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Perez ... they all were diving into pitches with full-blown confidence. You had to pitch them inside. This worried the Giants because two of their starters, Jake Peavy and Hudson, no longer threw with the kind of velocity you need to pound hitters inside. (The two of them allowed 14 runs in 132/3 innings in four starts.)
The second characteristic was that the Royals were eager to play the hero. They brimmed with such youthful confidence that they would expand the strike zone to get a hit rather than take their walks and leave it up to the next hitter.
Bumgarner was the perfect antidote to both traits. He loves to pound his fastball and cutter on a hitter's hands, and he has such precise control of his fastball that he can locate it just above the top of the strike zone, where the big dreams of eager hitters die.
Bumgarner threw six fastballs to Perez, every one to a target so high that Posey rose slightly from his crouch to reach them. Perez swung at all but two, the last one resulting in a foul pop-up that was caught by third baseman Pablo Sandoval. It was the 92nd high fastball Bumgarner threw in the Series. The Royals managed to get a hit on only one of them.
Three days after the World Series, and one day after another parade in San Francisco, Bochy finally had a quiet moment with Bumgarner. It happened in Bochy's office at AT&T Park.
"What you did was a great and historic effort," Bochy told him. "I don't know if you even realize what you did. Hopefully, you'll have time one day to look back at all the greats of the game who never did what you just did."
Bumgarner, ever glasslike, never broke from character. Had he done so, he might have pointed out that Bochy, too, had entered a hallowed realm. Bochy joined only eight other managers to win more than 1,500 games and three World Series. The others are all in the Hall of Fame. Likewise, Sabean, given his groundwork for the Yankees' dynasty and his architectural work for the Giants' three-for-five run, may join Pat Gillick as the rare general manager from the free-agent era to be elected to the Hall.
Neither Bochy nor Sabean is done chasing championships. Both of them are signed through 2016. They signed contract extensions on the same day in '13, just as they did on the same day in '11, and just as they did on the same day in '09. This is how they do their best work, even if it's four in the morning: together.
"It's usually about 1:30, 2 o'clock when the Steinbrenner stories start to come," says Bochy of his postgame chats with Sabean. "And then you know you'll be there a while."
The Royals were eager to play the hero. They would expand the strike zone to get a hit. Bumgarner was the perfect antidote.