A curious theory has developed in the last couple of years — that the general manager’s hands were tied because Magowan had forced decisions on him.
That doesn’t jibe with what I’ve observed and learned from several one-on-one meetings with Magowan. The pattern I’ve seen is exactly as Magowan described it at his retirement news conference: He, Larry Baer, Sabean and the baseball people meet to discuss goals for the team and it is then Sabean’s job to decide on specific player moves.
The most relevant conversations I’ve had with Magowan were during the Giants’ first five seasons in their new park, when they had a very successful run. Magowan is not a self-effacing man. Yet, he consistently praised Sabean and never once suggested he might have played a role in Sabean’s good decisions.
When we talked during the 2002 World Series, he was angry because manager Dusty Baker was getting praised for the team’s success — but his anger came because he thought Sabean wasn’t getting enough credit. Again, there was no suggestion that he should be getting more credit himself.
The bad baseball decisions started to pile up after that and so did the media-driven theory that Magowan was to blame for insisting that the Giants build around Bonds. In fact, there was nothing wrong with that plan because Bonds was the dominant offensive player in the game, but the players brought in by Sabean as the supporting cast were inadequate.
The anti-Bonds rants ramped up before last season, when the Giants re-signed Bonds, a decision one writer claimed had been forced on Sabean by the “marketing people.”
In fact, Sabean had gone after sluggers Carlos Lee and Alfonso Soriano first, but struck out on both. He had to sign Bonds because, without him, the Giants’ lineup would be as weak as, well, as weak as it is this season. Bonds wasn’t needed to sell tickets. The Giants had already sold their season tickets, which were tied to tickets for the All-Star Game.
One particularly virulent Bonds critic wrote this year (twice!) that the Giants would win five more games this season just because Bonds wasn’t here. Doesn’t look that way. A big bat in the middle of the lineup trumps a harmonious clubhouse.
Meanwhile, Sabean proved once again that he can no longer accurately evaluate talent when he said last week that the Giants had a chance to make the playoffs because they were “hanging around third place.” The only reason they were there was that the NL West has been the weakest division in baseball this year, a whopping 21 games under .500 after the weekend games.
The Giants need to develop players who will still be around in 2010, which is the first season they can realistically have a chance to contend for the postseason, unloading veteran players — even one as productive as Randy Winn — to make room for younger players. But Sabean’s comments make me worry that he will trade away prospects to get a veteran player for the second half of the season.
And sure enough, if he does, there will be Bay Area writers who will insist it was Magowan’s fault. The devil made me do it.