Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa Bay area product Brian Sabean early on showed skills that helped him lead San Francisco Giants to World Series championship

Friends and colleagues say Brian Sabean, GM of the world champion Giants, is a great leader and listener.

Getty Images

Friends and colleagues say Brian Sabean, GM of the world champion Giants, is a great leader and listener.

ARLINGTON, Texas — When Brian Sabean showed up at St. Petersburg's Eckerd College in the late 1970s, two things were readily apparent.

First, that he wasn't going to get very far playing second base. "He was a coach in the making early on," said Joe Lefebvre, a high school teammate in New Hampshire and at Eckerd.

Second, that once he stopped playing, there was no limit to how far he would go. "Absolutely no question — from the first time I met him, you could see how focused he was, how driven he was," said Bill Mathews, a teammate then and the Eckerd head coach now. "We learned by trial and error in college, but he didn't do that. He had that great intuition and that great sense. He never made bad decisions.

"He knew what he wanted to do, and he did it."

Thirty-some years later — after stints as a student coach at Eckerd, an assistant at Saint Leo, then as an assistant and head coach for two years at the University of Tampa before going into pro baseball in scouting and player development for the Yankees — Sabean is still doing things his way.

And given the champagne dripping off his gray hair late Monday in the visiting clubhouse at Rangers Ballpark, he's apparently doing them right as the general manager of the World Series champion Giants.

"What Brian's done is nothing short of exceptional — not just this year, but over a period of time," Giants president Larry Baer said. "You'd be hard-pressed to find a better job done by anybody in putting together a baseball team and keeping it together and doing it in a way that weighs and balances everything."

Sabean, true to his New England upbringing, deflects the praise and insists their success is the product of a team effort. The closest he got to taking any credit during the celebration was to say, "I'm just happy for a lot of people behind the scenes."

But his leadership, whether he wants to acknowledge it or not, is considered a primary reason.

"He's a great guy to work for because he allows you to do your job," said Lefebvre, who has been with the Giants as a coach or executive during Sabean's full tenure. "He takes all of our opinions, we talk about it, and he's going to make the final call."

"It's like a family, and he makes you feel that way," said Steve Balboni, another New Englander and former Eckerd teammate who works for the Giants as a pro scout.

Sabean — the longest-tenured GM in the game, having just completed his 14th season, with a .535 winning percentage — describes his management style as pretty simple: "Hire good people, trust them and delegate." Also, keep a low profile, remember the people in uniform are most important, maintain good relationships with the staff. "And use your people," he said. "Use their knowledge. Get everyone in on it and then make the tough decision based on a lot of information."

What further distinguishes Sabean, 54, is a reputation for operating old-school — based more on what he and his people see and hear than what their research and data folks come up with. Also, hitting coach Hensley Meulens said, "He works a lot with his gut feeling."

It hasn't always worked out, and Sabean has heard plenty of criticism, starting when his first trade in November 1996 was to ship out fan favorite Matt Williams, and growing louder when they went six seasons (2004-09) without making the playoffs and several of his big-ticket deals (Barry Zito, Aaron Rowand) didn't work out. Just this spring, ranked him 27th of the game's 30 GMs (with Tampa Bay's Andrew Friedman first). Sabean memorably responded once to fans by referring to the "lunatic fringe" but mostly just learned to take it. "Turn the other cheek," he said. "I've been good at doing that."

Sabean's biggest successes this season were composites: Refusing to trade any of his young starting pitching to bolster the offense, then making a series of small in-season acquisitions that made a big difference — Cody Ross, Javier Lopez, Ramon Ramirez, Jose Guillen and, yes, Pat Burrell.

The decisions are tough, the stakes high, the results high visibility.

And Sabean is clearly the right man for the job.

"He always had that intangible," Lefebvre said. "He didn't play much, but he was always a leader on our team. He was just one of those guys, and he had that early on.

"I didn't know GM or what, but I always knew he'd be successful. That's part of his pedigree."

Marc Topkin can be reached at

Longest-tenured GMs

Name, team Hire date

Brian Sabean,9-30-1996


Billy Beane11-17-1996


Brian Cashman2-3-1998


Dan O'Dowd9-20-1999


Kenny Williams10-24-2000

White Sox

Larry Beinfest2-12-2002


Dave Dombrowski4-8-2002


Jim Hendry7-5-2002


Doug Melvin9-26-2002


Theo Epstein11-25-2002

Red Sox


Tampa Bay area product Brian Sabean early on showed skills that helped him lead San Francisco Giants to World Series championship 11/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 10:09pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Scotty Bowman says 'it's about time' Andreychuk got HOF call


    For Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman, Dave Andreychuk finally being part of a Hall of Fame class is especially gratifying.

  2. Dave Andreychuk going into Hall of Fame (w/photo gallery)


    Dave Andreychuk said Monday began "business as usual."

    Dave Andreychuk battles Calgary's Andrew Ference during Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final.
  3. UPDATE: Rays finalizing deal to get SS Hechavarria for 2 minor-leaguers


    UPDATE, 4:27: In making the deal, the Rays add an elite-level defender to an infield that could use the help. But it also raises a number of questions, such as will they now move Tim Beckham to 2B? Does this mean Matt Duffy is not coming back this season? Is Daniel Robertson or Taylor Featherston going to …

    Adeiny Hechavarria is a two-time Gold Glove finalist who could help settle the Rays sometimes leaky infield defense.
  4. Timmy Claus is coming to town


    The circus is coming to town.

    Well, close enough.

    Timmy the Tebow is coming to Tampa Bay.

    It’s true. At least it could be. St. Timothy has been promoted by the New York Mets to high Class-A Port St. Lucie. If he stays promoted, Tebow should be in Tampa Bay for eight games beginning August 10 …

    Coming soon: Tim Tebow will hit Tampa Bay in August.
  5. Ranking Malik Zaire among 2017's top transfer quarterbacks


    The Florida Gators' Malik Zaire is among many transfers who could become starters at their new school. Here's how he stacks up in our rankings of top transfer quarterbacks: