Friday, June 3, 2011

Brian Sabean: Unprofessional Hypocrisy

By The Common Man

Last week, baseball fans were understandably devastated that Baby Buster Posey, the cute little backstop that everyone loves, got hurt in this collision at home plate with Marlins outfielder Scott Cousins:

Posey ended up with a broken leg and torn ligaments and is out for the season. From what The Common Man has seen, Cousins definitely initiated the contact, and did not make any effort to avoid Posey, who was not blocking his path to the plate. That said, Cousins’ play was not illegal, was not dirty, and is in keeping with what he had been taught as a runner. As Keith Law pointed out the other day, the play was not dirty, but nor was it necessary. But it is the end result of generations of baseball players and fans who have tolerated violent collisions at the plate. Cousins may not have done what was right, but he did what he understandably thought he was expected to do.

Yesterday, however, Giants GM Brian Sabean disagreed, telling a local radio station,
“If I never hear from Cousins again or he never plays another game in the big leagues, I think we’ll all be happy. He chose to be a hero in my mind, and if that’s his flash of fame, that’s as good as it’s going to get, pal. We’ll have a long memory. Believe me, we’ve talked to (Mike) Matheny about how this game works. You can’t be that out-and-out overly aggressive. I’ll put it as politically as I can state it: There’s no love lost and there shouldn’t be.” (h/t to Hardball Talk)

But Sabean is not only wrong here, he's also a complete hypocrite, who doesn't mind home plate collisions when his guys don't get hurt.
First of all, however, his statements are beyond unprofessional. Sabean is calling out a member of an opposing roster, and seems to be actively and publicly rooting for his career to end. He also makes a vaguely threatening statement that his club will have a long memory. Players and fans, caught up in the heat of the moment might be forgiven for making such statements. However, as the General Manager, Brian Sabean is supposed to be the adult in the room. He is supposed to have perspective. Especially a week after the event happened. Brian Sabean is supposed to take the high road and stay above petty grudges with individual ballplayers. Brian Sabean is supposed to be better than this.

But he’s made it clear that Giants pitchers, players, and coaches will be on the hunt for Cousins. He’s made it clear that he will tolerate thugism and retribution for a play that he and his team have endorsed and used in the past. Don’t remember? Think back to 2003, when JT Snow left his feet in game 4 of the NLDS to try and dislodge the ball from Ivan Rodriguez.

As you can see, Rodriguez had the ball and was attempting to apply the tag. Like Cousins, Snow altered his angle of approach to take Pudge on head-to-head. Now, Snow got the worst of that encounter it would seem. But he also made no attempt to slide, and seemed, to The Common Man at least, to try to jump into Rodriguez.

What did Sabean have to say about this play? Was it dirty? Was it “out-and-out overly aggressive?” Apparently not, because that offseason Sabean signed Snow to a new contract and installed him at 1B again.

But that was in the playoffs, at the end of the game. Perhaps that can be forgiven. But what about in 1999, when FP Santangelo knocked Dave Nilsson out of game in a collision at the plate.  Santangelo was one of the most valuable Giants that year and played regularly for the club.  Nobody took him to task.  Too long ago?  What about in 2005, when Giants outfielder Todd Linden took out Marlins catcher Matt Treanor during a game in June? Linden played another two years with the Giants, and was undoubtedly praised for his hustle.  His aggression wasn't chastised, it was rewarded.

No, the problem that Sabean has with Scott Cousins’ play is that his catcher got hurt. The Giants are significantly weakened because of Posey’s injury, and have lost their most marketable star. It’s a shame. But the blame is not ultimately with Cousins. It’s on a baseball culture, cultivated and supported by the Giants and Sabean, amongst others, that placed significant value on being able to steamroll a catcher, make a highlight reel, and score at any cost. Brian Sabean isn’t just wrong, unprofessional, and more than a little mean. He’s a hypocrite and he should apologize.

(By the way, a huge thank to you for seeing the mutual benefit involved in making their videos embedable.  That is terrifically helpful to TCM and will be to MLB as well.)

Update:  Good friend and fellow genius Larry Granillo also has an excellent post up about this same topic.  Great minds, thinking alike. Larry also points to this play as another excellent example of Sabean not caring about home plate collisions when his hitters are the ones delivering them:


William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Ultimately, the goal of good writing is to make people think. Your post did that for me and changed my mind about Sabean's comments.

I agree that the culture and what is taught about the play needs to be changed. I also agree that everyone has been doing the same thing up to this point. The sad and unfortunate fact is that one of baseball's brightest new stars was extinguished and he has a long road back to recovery.

Roland said...

Your an idiot! Whenever a player malaciously tries to end another persons career, it is never good for the game! I still feel bad about how Pet Rose ended the career of Ray Fosse and how his life will never be the same! You watch that video and Cousins purposely plows into Posey instead of trying to reach for the plate! Even Cousin's guilt shows as he quickly reaches for Posey after giving him an unnecessary hit! If Posey was blocking the plate, then this article has different meaning! If you say this is a part of baseball, then you should also write how retaliation is also part of baseball! So Sabean is just talking baseball!!! Once again, stupid article!

The Common Man said...

Dear Roland, Sweet Roland,

If you believe that Scott Cousins was actively (and maliciously!) trying to end Posey's career, you are a) beyond hope, b) beyond reason, and c) reading a lot into Cousins' actions that he claims were not there.

Did he hit Posey intentionally? Of course he did. Was it unnecessary? Yes, it was. But if he wanted to end Posey's career, why did he feel guilt immediately afterward, as you point out? You can't even be logically consistent in your spittle and rage.

TCM is saying that this play is part of baseball culture, but that that baseball culture should change. And TCM is saying that, for Brian Sabean to complain about it now, when he apparently has no trouble with Pablo Sandoval going high into the face of Ryan Doumit or JT Snow launching himself at Pudge Rodriguez, is hypocritical.

The Common Man said...

Also, The Common Man is assuming you're a Giants fan here, do you also condemn Sandoval? Should the Pirates throw at his head the next time they play? How does that additional violence make the problem (that you apparently abhor) any better?

Roland said...

Cousins intentions were not to end Posey's career but he maliciously rammed into him unnecessarily! How can you compare his take out hit to Sandavol's??? Sandavol is twice the size of Cousins and didn't do the plow in blow but if you look at Cousins play, he totally clobbers Posey whereas Sandavol had the catcher waiting with ball in hand and his brush off wasn't nearly as violent for a guy twice the size! I'm a Giant fan but not an Indians fan and I still felt the same way about Fosse and what a jerk Rose was! What! You never felt guilt for doing something you probably didn't need to do??? So do you think Billy Beane is a pussy for telling his catcher to be more careful?

The Common Man said...

Watch your language on The Common Man's blog, Roland, or your comments will be deleted. Otherwise you're welcome to say whatever you want.

Now then, actually, if you look at it, Sandoval came in like a freight train, and came in high at Doumit's head (which is interesting, considering what we know about concussions). If you're paying attention, you'll see Doumit absorb the blow by actually applying the tag while allowing himself to fall backwards. Panda, as you said, was a behemoth, and would have absolutely destroyed Doumit if he hadn't.

You seem to be, again, missing the point of the article though. One, the culture around MLB that tolerates such hits is wrong and should change (to that end, indeed, Billy Beane's instructions to his catcher are an excellent start). The Sandoval hit was no different from the Cousins one, except for the actual outcome, and neither have any place in baseball. Two, Sabean has no trouble with the hits his players inflict. Only those they absorb.

Roland said...

Sorry for the language but it was more intended as a weak person not a bad word. I guess I am angry cause baseball cannot afford to lose a player like Posey as well the Giants. To me, the anger is like a drunk driver who hits an innocent victim which is seriously injured or killed and the drunk walks away unscathed! How much better I'd feel if it were Rose or Cousins who were seriously injured instead of Posey or Fosse since they were the ones who initiated the uneccessary contact and weren't even drunk in doing so but definitely jerks IMO!

The Common Man said...

Baseball can actually afford to lose a ton of great players. It will weather Buster's absence as it has weathered Strasburg's, Mauer's, Mantle's, and Ruth's before. Posey will be back and be a very good player for (hopefully) a long time, and the game will go on in the meantime.

The Common Man doesn't like that analogy at all because of the serious difference in potential outcomes. Also, unlike drunk driving, the plays that Cousins and Rose made were not only completely legal but encouraged by the culture of the game. Their behavior is not excused because of this, but it means we need to do more than just getting angry at Cousins and Rose. We need to change the way the game is taught and what behaviour is valued around the league.

Matt K said...

Yeah, as a giants fan, i've gotta say i pretty much totally agree with you on this one. Watching posey clawing the dirt after that hit was one of the most awful experiences that i've ever had as a fan, and while, yes, when watching replays it does appear that Cousins was unnecessarily aggressive (Posey WAS set up well in front of the plate) i never once thought that Cousins felt anything but awful about the aftermath of his choice. As has been reiterated time and time again - illegal/dirty, no, unfortunate/unnecessary, yes (though the blame for that lies more with baseball rules and traditions than anything else). As devastated as i was as a fan about losing posey for the season (and perhaps permanently as a catcher) even I had started to find the blustering 'we need to injure one of theirs' talk on the giants blogs i read pretty obnoxious, though it was clearly just an emotional and immature reaction to the pain that all giants fans were feeling and i would generally let it slide. but this is just ridiculous. i mean, if posey doesnt want to accept cousins' apology i can understand that, especially with the pain that he is in (though i hope that as time passes he can find it in him to at least let cousins get the guilt off his chest), but sabean sounds like some ignorant radio-show moron and it just makes the giants look like complete whiners and entitled jerks, which unfortunately plays into the bogus image SF fans already seem to be getting post-WS. honestly, i thought the big giants news today would be about their rare offensive outburst over the last series with the Cards, or their commendable participation with the 'it gets better' project that launched today, but unfortunately Sabean had to go on his ridiculous tough-guy rant. great writeup as usual, and hope that people realize that these views do NOT represent the vast majority of Giants fans feelings.

The Common Man said...

Great point about the It Gets Better video, Matt. TCM was remiss in not doing a column on it, now that it's up. Thanks for the reminder.

John said...

I agree with your initial comments of your post about the play being legal and unnecessary. I also agree with the fact that Sabaen should not have voiced his opinion and are hypocritical in relation to the past. No doubt about the fact that he is and sounds like a New Yorker.......But,the not-so-subtle dig at cute "Baby" Posey are well kind of bush-league. He was hurt on a legit baseball play and is on the DL with a severe leg/ankle injury unlike a certain backstop in Minnesota. Could you remind me of the DL status on Joe Mauer? Oh wait, I remember now "leg weakness".

The Common Man said...

Sorry John, The Common Man should have been more clear. He was not, in any way, making fun of Posey's toughness. Rather, he was riffing on a) Arrested Development and b) how quickly Posey became beloved of all of America, a National Treasure that must be protected at all costs. This is not to malign his abilities (he's an excellent player) nor his gumption (he's probably got plenty).

John said...

My apologies for questioning Mauer as well. Unfortunately for both players, I see their days behind the plate numbered. I believe the days of the franchise catcher are gone due to the "culture" and money in today's game. I really don't think the Twins want to lose Mauer on a bang-bang play at the plate considering the amount of money they committed to him.

Quite honestly without Posey, the Giants don't win the world series. Without the ring, Brian Sabean would not be the Giants GM. It really bought him another 3-5 years that in my opinion he didn't deserve because of bad trades (AJ)and signings (Zito, Rowland, Tejada) over a long period of time. Hope that gives a little perspective on his hindsight.

Joe Rubino said...

I'm glad that Johnny Bench weighed in on this since I am tired of Posey and Sabean whining about the injury. Bench blames Posey's poor positioning and says he needs to learn how to make this play properly. For contrast, look at how pros like Tim Flannery and Pudge Rodgriguez handle the situation in the plays involving the Giant's Sandoval and Snow. By teh way, the Snow play is identical to the Cousin's play in every detail. Last play of the game, throw from left field, runner opts to try to knock the ball losse- identical. The only difference was that Pudge stayed on his feet and Posey went to his knees. Another part of this controversy is Posey's staement. He said that "he in no way condones threats of any kind against Cousins and his family". That is is totally weak. He is distancing himself from the crazy fans comments but he is not condemning them, nor has he taken even one of Cousin's repeated phone calls nor acknowledged his numerous apologies.

Let's face it, this controversy exists for only one reason and one reason only: Posey is a star while Cousins is a scrub. It's like Sabean is saying "how dare a scrub player take out my star!" It makes me sick. This play occurs ten times a year and no one says "Boo." No one on the Marlins complained about J.T. Snow for bowling over Pudge in the exact same way. Sabean should be fined for his behavior.