When San Francisco’s Brian Sabean attended his first general managers’ meeting in November 1996, he was the only new kid on the block.
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Now look at him.
Other general managers may be more flamboyant, but none has the longevity of Sabean.
He has become the dean of general managers.
How times have changed.
There have been 68 general manager changes since Sabean replaced Bob Quinn with the Giants in September 1996, including seven general managers who are on their current job for their first spring this February.
Since the start of spring training a year ago, there have been more changes made with general managers (seven) than field managers (six). This is only the fifth spring in history in which there are more new general managers than field managers, and all five times have occurred since 1972.
Remember 1972? That was the start of a 23-year stretch in which baseball suffered eight work stoppages.
Coincidence? Not likely.
Prior to 1972, only twice were more than three general managers replaced from one season to the next — five in 1962 and four in 1966. Since 1972, at least four general manager changes have been made from one season to the next 31 times. A record eight changes were made prior to the 1986, 1988 and 2008 seasons. In addition to this season, seven changes were made going into the 1978, 1991 and 1994 seasons.
What’s happened in the last 40 years is the financial challenges of baseball have escalated, and as a result there has been a demand for great accountability among the men who make the personnel decisions.
There are only five general managers who have been in their current job more than a decade. Sabean has run the Giants for 15 years. Billy Beane in Oakland and Brian Cashman of the New York Yankees both have 14 years in their current job, Dan O’Dowd has 12 seasons in Colorado and Kenny Williams has 11 with the Chicago White Sox.
Change does not necessarily mean new blood. Of the seven general managers in new jobs this spring, only three are in the job for the first time — Jerry DiPoto with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Ben Cherington in Boston and Jeff Luhnow in Houston.
Terry Ryan returns to the job in Minnesota after four years as an adviser. Jed Hoyer moved from San Diego to the Chicago Cubs, where former Boston general manager Theo Epstein is the new vice president of baseball operations, with former Arizona general manager Josh Byrnes replacing Hoyer in San Diego. After 10 years out of the game, Dan Duquette returned in the fall as general manager in Baltimore. He previously spent two seasons as the general manager in Montreal and eight with Boston.
Three of the six managerial changes since last spring have involved first-time field managers — Dale Sveum with the Cubs, Robin Ventura with the White Sox and Mike Matheny in St. Louis. Ozzie Guillen moved from the White Sox to Miami. Bobby Valentine, who previously managed Texas and the New York Mets as well as spending time in Japan, has taken on the Red Sox challenge. Bob Melvin, former manager in Arizona and Seattle, replaced Bob Geren in Oakland during the 2011 season.
Don’t expect instant success. Only four first-year managers have won a World Series — Bob Brenly with Arizona in 2001; Ralph Houk, 1961 Yankees; Eddie Dyer, 1946 Cardinals; and Bucky Harris, 1924 Washington Senators.
Houk won AL pennants his first three years with the Yankees, but managed only two second-place finishes in his next 17 managerial seasons, which included time with Boston and Detroit.
More qualifiers create tougher path
A second wild-card team in each league is expected to be added this postseason. There is a financial motivation as adding more postseason games figures to enhance television revenues. There also is a competitive push to make the change, which will have the wild-card teams in each league play each other for the right to advance to the final four in each league.
Of late, it’s been more rewarding to go into the postseason as a wildcard than owning the best record in baseball, which has led to a desire to create a bigger challenge for the wild card, which made its debut in the baseball postseason in 1995.
Consider that since 1995, the team with the best record in baseball has won only three World Series — the New York Yankees in 1998 and 2009 and Boston in 2007.
Five wildcards, however, have won world championships, including defending world champion St. Louis, Boston in 2004, Florida in 1997 and 2003, and the 2002 Angels. In that same time span, five other wild cards have won pennants, but lost in the World Series — Colorado in 2007, Detroit in 2006, Houston in 2005, San Francisco in 2002 and the New York Mets in 2000.