Brian Sabean

This article was written by John J. Burbridge Jr.


San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean speaks during the World Series parade on October 31, 2014. (SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS)


With their World Series triumphs in 2010, 2012, and 2014, the San Francisco Giants accomplished what no other National League team since the St. Louis Cardinals in 1946 had been able to do: win three world championships in the space of five seasons. The architect of this success was general manager Brian Sabean.

Brian was born on July 1, 1956 in Concord, New Hampshire to Clarence Royston “Roy” Sabean (pronounced Say-be-an) and Gloria (née Nicholas) Sabean. Roy was a firefighter and director of the state marshal’s office while Gloria was a topographer for the State of New Hampshire.1 The family also included a daughter, Jan, and two boys other than Brian, Darren and Gaylen.

While growing up in Concord, Brian played baseball and football for the Concord High School team. He was selected as an All-State linebacker. A baseball teammate of Brian’s at Concord was future major-leaguer Joe Lefebvre. After graduation, Brian and some friends matriculated at the University of Maine in Orono to play football and baseball. A separated shoulder ended his football career and Brian decided to transfer to Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida to play baseball. At Eckerd, his baseball coach was Bill Livesey, who gave Sabean his first job, student assistant coach, while Brian also played second base. Unfortunately, the shoulder injury forced Sabean to end his baseball career.2

After graduating from Eckerd in 1978, Sabean became the manager of the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox, a collegiate summer team in the Cape Cod Baseball League. In 1979 he was hired by St. Leo College in Florida as their assistant baseball coach. After spending a year at St. Leo, Brian moved on to be an assistant coach at Tampa University from 1980 through 1982. Brian was named head coach for the 1983 season and led Tampa to a NCAA tournament appearance in 1984.

While Sabean was coaching in Florida, Livesey took a position with the New York Yankees. Sabean’s old coach was instrumental in arranging for Brian to become a scout for the Yankees in 1985.3 Sabean was quickly promoted to Director of Scouting in 1986 and became Vice President of Player Development in 1990. While with the Yankees, he laid the foundation for the franchise’s success in the late 1990s by signing what became the core of those outstanding teams: Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada. He personally scouted Jeter and made him the sixth overall pick in the 1992 draft.

While working for the Yankees, Brian engaged in a secret courtship with Barbara McArdle, secretary to George Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ owner. When asked why he kept it hush-hush, he said they wanted to keep their personal and professional lives separate, He also added, “Once we found out we were a commodity we made a pact we wouldn’t talk too much about it. In the end, I really don’t know who knew. I knew some people were genuinely surprised. I don’t think Steinbrenner knew, but who knows with his tentacles in the organization.”4 They married in 1987 and had four sons, Colin, Sean, Darren, and Brendan.

In January 1993 Sabean headed west, becoming assistant to the general manager and vice president of scouting/player personnel for the San Francisco Giants. The GM, Bob Quinn, had previously served in that role with the Yankees, so he knew Sabean. The Giants won 103 games in 1993 but failed to make the playoffs. From 1994-96, the aging club never finished above .500. At the end of the 1996 season, the club fired Quinn and named Sabean his successor.

As general manager, Sabean realized he would have to act quickly to reverse the Giants downward slide. His first move resulted in death threats on his voicemail — he traded the popular slugger, third baseman Matt Williams, and outfielder Trenidad Hubbard to the Cleveland Indians for shortstop José Vizcaino, pitchers Joe Roa and Julian Tavarez, and second baseman Jeff Kent plus one million dollars.5 Amidst the criticism, Sabean defended the trade and proclaimed, “All of sudden I went from being the guy who is going to help the club to being an idiot. Well, I’m not an idiot.”6 Sabean realized that the Giants needed help up the middle. He now had a new shortstop and second baseman. Another important deal was the trade with the Los Angeles Angels for J. T. Snow. Sabean was acquainted with Snow, having signed him while with the Yankees.

The Giants improved considerably in 1997 winning 90 games en route to winning the NL West. At the 1997 trade deadline, Sabean orchestrated another blockbuster deal with the Chicago White Sox acquiring pitchers Wilson Alvarez, Danny Darwin, and Roberto Hernandez for six minor leaguers. The trade with the White Sox illustrated Sabean’s strategy of trading marginal prospects for experienced major leaguers. This approach paid rich dividends for Sabean and the Giants during the coming years.

Although the performance of these acquired players was somewhat disappointing, they provided the depth necessary to secure the NL West title. Unfortunately, the Giants were swept by the Marlins in the first round of the playoffs. A key acquisition after the 1997 off-season was a trade with those same Marlins for Robb Nen, who would become the Giants closer in years to come.

In 2000 the Giants once again won the NL West but were eliminated by the New York Mets in the playoffs. During the 2001 season, Sabean once again made a mid-season trade that proved very beneficial, acquiring pitcher Jason Schmidt from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Schmidt finished the season with the Giants going 7-1, but even with this addition, they failed to reach the playoffs. After the season, the Giants signed Schmidt to a five-year contract. He became the mainstay of the club’s starting rotation in the coming years.

The Giants reached the World Series in 2002. To give the team a lead-off hitter and shore up the defense, Sabean acquired Kenny Lofton from the White Sox at the trade deadline. Lofton delivered the key hit in the playoff victory against the Cardinals that advanced the Giants to the World Series against the California Angels. In Game Six, with the Giants ahead 5-0 and a three games to two lead in the Series, they were on the verge of victory — but an overworked bullpen blew the lead, and the Angels went on to win Game Seven as well.

After the disappointment of 2002, Sabean and the Giants were faced with several critical decisions. Dusty Baker had announced that he was leaving to become the manager of the Chicago Cubs. Sabean and the Giants quickly hired Felipe Alou as manager. Jeff Kent, Reggie Sanders, and David Bell, who had all contributed significantly in 2002, signed free-agent contracts with other teams. To replace them, Sabean signed veterans José Cruz, Jr., Ray Durham, and Edgardo Alfonzo as free agents. The Giants went on to win 100 games but were defeated by Florida in the playoffs as Cruz dropped a fly ball in the 10th inning of the final game. Sabean was honored by being named Executive of the Year by The Sporting News after the season.

In the 2003-04 off-season, Sabean once again traded young talent — pitchers Francisco Liriano, Boof Bonser, and Joe Nathan — for catcher A. J. Pierzynski. This was probably the worst trade Sabean made because Liriano and Nathan went on to have productive major league careers and Pierzynski lasted just one year as a Giant. While the Giants were still a contending team in 2004, criticism was mounting. Both fans and sportswriters began questioning some of Sabean’s moves and the apparent jettisoning of young talent in favor of older players. An important factor influencing this strategy during the years 1997-2004 was the new stadium (initially called Pacific Bell Park) in downtown San Francisco. The building of the ballpark was privately financed, and thus the Giants ownership was dependent on high attendance to maximize revenue.

After the 2004 season, the Giants signed Armando Benitez as their closer and Moises Alou to support Barry Bonds, who lacked the offensive support that was once provided by Kent batting behind him. They also signed free agents Mike Matheny and Omar Vizquel. Benitez was ineffective and injured while Alou spent considerable time on the disabled list. Even with this infusion of talent, 2005 was the Giants first losing season under Sabean. Criticism continued to escalate that the front-office strategy of avoiding high draft picks by signing free agents was not the best approach. Sabean defended this strategy by stating, “Quite frankly, we’re very reluctant to overspend in the draft. We’re cautious in that regard because it’s so fallible, Our focus is spending as much as we can and being as wise as we can at the major-league level and using the minor leagues to supplement and not leaning on it totally.”7 A move that illustrated the issues with such a strategy was the signing of Michael Tucker in 2004, which cost the Giants their first round pick. In 2005, the team forfeited its first three picks in the draft as a result of the free agent signings.

On a personal note, in 2005 Sabean married his second wife, Amanda Dowd. Brian and his first wife Barbara had divorced in 2002. Sabean and Amanda have two sons, Aiden and Declan, joining his boys from the first marriage.

The Giants also suffered through a losing season in 2006. As a result of the decline in performance, managing partner, Peter Magowan, and Sabean indicated that change was necessary. More emphasis would be placed on acquiring young talent through the draft and less on acquiring veterans although such players would still be needed to address roster weaknesses. Sabean stated, “Older and experienced hasn’t worked.”8 In the 2006, 2007, and 2008 drafts the Giants selected Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, and Buster Posey, respectively, as their first picks. All three made significant contributions to the team’s future success. It should also be noted that Sabean and the Giants had selected pitcher Matt Cain as their first pick in 2002. While they made a commitment to getting younger, they also signed Barry Zito to a $126 million, seven-year contract. Zito was expected to anchor the Giants staff but became a major disappointment, although he contributed significantly in the 2012 postseason. The Giants record in 2006 kept them from losing their first pick in the 2007 draft, which resulted in Bumgarner.

Another major decision after the 2006 season was not renewing the contract of manager Felipe Alou, then 71 years old. While Alou left on amicable terms, he did express frustration about certain aging players he was given by Sabean, “I don’t believe one manager enjoys having players die in their hands. I had here the last two years a number careers finish here.”9

Sabean led the search for the new manager and was stunned that Bruce Bochy of the San Diego Padres was available. Bochy had an additional year on his contract with San Diego, but Sandy Alderson, the Padres CEO, and Kevin Towers, the general manager, allowed the Giants to recruit him.10 Many consider the hiring of Bochy to be Sabean’s best decision in his tenure with the Giants. What did Sabean see that made Bochy so attractive? He later explained, “Everybody inside the division going back to when San Diego had a full deck in regards to a major league team, knew this guy was a difference maker. If you looked at the ’98 (Padres) team, and the cast of talent and characters on that team, if it hadn’t been for the Yankees they win the World Series. So he was known industry-wide, including his convention to be able to handle pitching staffs and more so bullpens.”11

The 2007 season was the last year for Barry Bonds, the all-time home run leader, as a Giant. Barry was surrounded by considerable controversy during most of his tenure with the Giants over his suspected use of performance enhancing drugs. Some of this rubbed off on the Giants management and Sabean. In the Mitchell Report, it was revealed that team trainer Stan Conte had told Sabean that he suspected Bonds’ personal trainer Greg Anderson of distributing steroids.12 Apparently, Sabean and the Giants management did nothing with this information. In the January 2007 congressional hearing on steroids, Congressman Henry Waxman called for Commissioner Bud Selig to discipline both Sabean and Peter Magowan.13 In defense of Sabean and Magowan, some pointed out that most clubs did nothing with such information.14 During the 2007 season, Sabean received an extension through the 2009 season. This extension came as a surprise to some, since the Giants were in last place at the time and had suffered through two losing seasons plus the steroids issue.15

Both 2007 and 2008 were losing seasons but San Francisco rebounded to win 88 games in 2009. First round picks, Lincecum and Cain, had emerged as top-of-the-rotation starters. 2009 also saw the emergence of Pablo Sandoval as an offensive threat. With the success of the Giants in 2009, Sabean received an extension through the 2011 season.16

As noted earlier, the Giants won the World Series in 2010. For most of the season, they were trailing San Diego but the Padres suffered a September losing streak allowing the San Francisco to take the lead. They staved off the Padres on the last day of the season. A move by Sabean in August contributed significantly to his team’s success. The Marlins placed outfielder Cody Ross on waivers. The injury-riddled Padres could have used another outfielder, but the Giants put in a waiver claim and, to Sabean’s surprise, acquired Ross. The move not only bolstered them but also kept him away from the Padres.17

In the postseason Ross became a Giants hero with his timely hitting including two home runs against Roy Halladay of the Phillies, a future Hall of Famer. Other notable acquisitions by Sabean that contributed to the 2010 success were Aubrey Huff,. Pat Burrell, and José Uribe. Sabean also provided Bochy with an excellent bullpen, anchored by Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo, and closer Brian Wilson. He also made a mid-season deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates for left-handed relief specialist Javier Lopez. The pairing of young home-grown stars with veteran role players paid big dividends for Sabean and the Giants.

Two days after the Series ended, the City of San Francisco held a parade for the Giants. Sabean, whom many considered devoid of significant emotion, commented on his response to the excitement. “One of our senior officers came over and told us, ‘When you turn that corner on Montgomery, you’re not going to believe the sea of people,’” Sabean said. “Then it happened, and I got a lump in my throat. I almost lost it, and everybody I talked to was the same way. Just the enthusiasm and the outpouring of emotions, we weren’t ready for the crowd.18 It was during this parade that the usually stoic Sabean realized the magnitude of the Giants achievement.


San Francisco Giants GM Brian Sabean, right, is presented with the 2010 World Series trophy by Giants owners Bill Neukom, left, and Larry Baer, center, on November 1, 2010. (SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS)

San Francisco Giants GM Brian Sabean, right, is presented with the 2010 World Series trophy by Giants owners Bill Neukom, left, and Larry Baer, center, on November 1, 2010. (SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS)


2011 saw the Giants miss out on the playoffs even though they won 86 games. During the off-season both Sabean and Bochy had their contracts extended through 2013 with club options for 2014. CEO Larry Baer stated, “Brian and Bruce are certainly two of the finest professionals at their respective positions in all of baseball. They have effectively built and fostered a winning tradition at all levels of our organization. I have no doubt that they will achieve continued success for the Giants in the coming years and beyond.”19

2012 was another magical season as San Francisco once again won the World Series, sweeping the Detroit Tigers after defeating the Reds and Cardinals in the playoffs despite being on the verge of elimination. Once again, Sabean made both pre-season and trade deadline moves that paid significant dividends. Before the season, the Giants traded for Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera. After an excellent start, Cabrera was suspended in mid-season for the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The acquisitions at the trade deadline of Hunter Pence to bolster the outfield and Marco Scutaro to play second base proved to be especially timely.

However, the team regressed in 2013. In response, before the 2014 season, the Giants and Sabean signed both Tim Hudson and Michael Morse to free-agent contracts. Early in the 2014 season, San Francisco promoted 2011 first-round draft pick Joe Panik from the minors to play second base. At the trade deadline, the Giants acquired Jake Peavy from Boston. All four of these players would play significant roles that year.

San Francisco won 88 games and finished second to the Dodgers in the NL West. The Giants qualified for one of the two wild-card berths, and defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates in the wild-card game. They then knocked off the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs, once again winning the NL pennant. They went on to win the World Series against the Kansas City Royals. The most valuable player of the Series was Bumgarner who started and won two games and then pitched five innings of shut-out ball in Game Seven. Once again, the success of the Giants in this period can be attributed to their first-round draft picks plus Sabean’s ability to address Giant needs with free agent signings and smart trades especially at mid-season. With the exception of Zito, Sabean typically avoided getting into bidding wars for high-priced free agents. Rather, he wisely selected players such as Hudson and Morse who were much more affordable.

Given three championships in five years, Sabean reflected both on his achievements and the culture he had hoped to create. After the Giants beat the Cardinals in the 2014 NL Championship Series, he broke down and cried stating, “They are like a bunch of cockroaches. You gotta kill ’em all off. If you’re going to get one, you gotta get ‘em all.”20 Giants players seemed to understand the “cockroach mentality”. Tim Hudson tried to explain it by stating, “Maybe because he was a scout, it comes from his history of seeing and evaluating players and not only seeing their physical tools, but their mental side.”21 Sabean also added, “We’ve got a lot of high character people, and these guys are tough, tough guys. They’re men in every sense of the word, but they play this game with the passion and respect of Little Leaguers. All that’s contagious, and that’s kind of been the culture we’ve been able to develop over the years.”22

As the 2015 season was about to begin, San Francisco announced some front office changes. Sabean was promoted to Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, while Bobby Evans who had been assistant general manager was promoted to executive vice president and general manager. Sabean would no longer be responsible for the day-to-day activities of general manager although many felt given the collaborative nature of Giants decision-making, his opinion on moves would still be valued.23 His contract as Executive Vice President was to run through the 2019 season.

The Giants once again finished second to the Dodgers in the NL West but did not qualify for a wild card in 2015. To shore up the starting pitching in 2016, Evans negotiated multi-year contracts with pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto. They also signed Denard Span to play center field and gave shortstop Brandon Crawford a lucrative six-year contract extension. At the beginning of the season, Brandon Belt also signed a six-year extension.

During the first half of the 2016 season, the Giants played excellent baseball leading the league at the All-Star break. Though the club slumped in the second half of the year, finishing in second-place again, they did gain the second wild-card spot. They won the wild-card game but lost to Chicago in the playoffs as the bullpen collapsed in the final game after starting pitcher Matt Moore had pitched superbly for eight innings. In a mid-season deal, the Giants had acquired Moore from the Tampa Bay Rays for popular third baseman Matt Duffy and minor leaguers Michael Santos and Lucius Fox.

To bolster the bullpen in 2017 after the meltdown in the previous playoffs, the Giants gave Mark Melancon a four-year deal worth $62 million. Melancon had been an excellent closer with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Washington Nationals. Unfortunately, he suffered through ineffectiveness and injuries throughout 2017. After the season, Evans and the Giants traded Christian Arroyo, Denard Span, Matt Krook, and Stephen Woods for Evan Longoria.. As a result of the 98-loss season, it was announced in February 2018 that Sabean would have a more hands-on role in 2018.24 Having him more involved indicated ownership’s concern over the decision-making of Evans, even though the latter retained his GM role.

However, 2018 proved to be another bad year — the Giants came in fourth in the NL West with a record of 73-89 plus a dismal finish to the season. As a result of the club’s recent performance, non-productive long-term contracts, and some bad trades and free agent signings, Bobby Evans was fired on September 24, 2018. It was also announced that while Sabean would help in the pursuit of a new general manager, the new GM would report to team president, Larry Baer, not Sabean.25 With such a move, the franchise obviously wanted a new regime to run baseball operations. On November 6, Farhan Zaidi, general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, accepted an offer to become the head of baseball operations for San Francisco. Sabean was retained as Executive Vice President. In February 2019, Bruce Bochy stated that he would not return as Giants manager in 2020.

With Bochy’s departure and Sabean’s diminished influence, an era that spawned three world championships ended. What made this partnership so successful? One possible sign was that both men lived in the same high-rise building quite close to Oracle Park from April until October (in separate condos). The cohesion between the two was always apparent even though the two have remarkably different personalities — Bochy always “calm and cool,” Sabean “fiery and emotional,” as they describe each other. “We’ve been collaborative, and I really believe that’s the reason we’ve had success,” Sabean said.26

Though his contract expired at the end of the 2019 season, Sabean was retained as a senior advisor and scout.27 Given the success of the Giants and Sabean’s contributions to that success, speculation has arisen as to whether he belongs in baseball’s Hall of Fame.28 If Bruce Bochy is considered a lock for induction, why should Sabean be excluded? Yankees GM Brian Cashman, who worked with Sabean in New York, praised Sabean as a should-be Hall of Famer at the GM meetings near San Diego in 2018. Cashman called Sabean “one of the unsung heroes” of the New York dynasty for his role in drafting or signing Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Bernie Williams. “Sabes got the three rings from the Giants, and he should have rings from the Yankees,” Cashman said. “His name’s on the ’96, ’98, ’99 and 2000 (championships) as much as anybody else’s, if not more, actually.”29

Cashman certainly puts forth a strong argument. In his 46 years in professional baseball, Brian Sabean has had a strong impact on teams that have won seven world championships and numerous playoff games. Not many executives in the history of baseball have enjoyed such a level of success.

Last revised: November 20, 2020



The author wishes to thank SABR members James Forr and Rory Costello for both their editing and suggestions to enhance this biography, which was also fact-checked by David Kritzler.


Photo credits

©2015 S.F. Giants



1 Gloria Sabean. Obituary,

2 Henry Schulman. “He’s hoping his new look team will silence the Critics, “ San Francisco Chronicle, March 30, 1997,

3 Henry Schulman. March 30, 1997.

4 Henry Schulman. March 30, 1997.

5 Andrew Baggerly. “Death threats and silver shovels: Lessons Farhan Zaidi can learn from Brian Sabean’s unpopular trade of Matt Williams two decades ago, The Athletic, December 18, 2018,

6 David Bush. “GM Defends Williams Deal / Sabean ‘I am not an idiot,’” San Francisco Chronicle, November 16, 2006,

7 John Shea. “Giants prospectus/Sabean makes the most of maligned farm system,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 18, 2018.

8 Henry Schulman. “Giants bid fond adieu to Alou.” San Francisco Chronicle, October 3, 2006,

9 Henry Schulman. “Giants make ‘painful’ decision, won’t renew Felipe Alou’s contract,” SFGATE, October 2, 2006,

10 Henry Schulman. “Padres’ loss is Giant gain/GM Sabean is stunned Bochy was available,” SFGATE, October 28, 2006,

11 KPNR Staff. “Brian Sabean explains why he hired Bruce Bochy in 2006,” September 9, 2019,

12 Mark Fainaru. “Mitchell report sheds light on what Giants knew about Bonds,” ESPN, December 13, 2007,

13 CBS News. “Baseball Execs Chided By Congress,” January 15, 2008,

14 Bruce Jenkins. “Don’t blame Sabean for not blowing the whistle,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 19, 2008,,

15 Andrew Baggerly. “Giants sign Sabean to extension,” The Mercury News, July 13, 2007,

16 Henry Schulman. “Sabean, Bochy get two more years,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 14, 2009,

17 Ben Nicholson-Smith. “Cody Ross Awarded To Giants,” MLB Trade Rumors, August 22, 2010,

18 Jerry Crasnick. “Bringing the Giants forward, from behind,” November 15, 2010,

19 CBS Sports. “SF Giants Grant Contract Extensions to Sabean Bochy,” November 29, 2011. https://sanfranciscocbslocal/2011/11/29/SF-giants-grant-contract-extensions-to-sabean-bochy

20 Carl Steward. “Brian Sabean’s formula for the Giants: Tough, gritty determined,” East Bay Times, October 20, 2014/Updated August 15, 2016,

21 Carl Steward. October 20, 2014/Updated August 15, 2016.

22 Carl Steward. October 20, 2014/Updated August 15, 2016.

23 Steve Adams. “Giants Extend Sabean, Bochy; Sabean Promoted, Evans Named GM,” MLB Trade Rumors, April 3, 2015,

24 Andrew Baggerly. “Giants Ownership Directs Brian Sabean to Reassume Day-to-Day Responsibilities,” The Athletic, February 15, 2018,

25 Henry Schulman. “Giants fire Bobby Evans as GM; Bruce Bochy, Brian Sabean will return,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 24, 2018,

26 Associated Press. “Giants resign manager Bruce Bochy, GM Brian Sabean,” March 23, 2013/Updated March 28, 2013,

27 John Shea. “Sabean plans to return to Giants, discusses his role, Bruce Bochy’s farewell,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 25, 2019,

28 Bruce Jenkins.“Why former Giants GM Brian Sabean is worthy of Hall of Fame,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 1, 2020,

29 Henry Schulman. “Giants’ Baer Zaidi Praise Sabean, who remains as advisor, scout,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 1, 2020,

Full Name

Brian R. Sabean


July 1, 1956 at Concord, NH (US)

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