What the San Francisco Giants accomplished in this year’s post-season was nothing short of remarkable. In an October run that lived up to the size of their name, the Giants swept the Detroit Tigers in four straight games, came back from a 3-1 deficit in the National League Championship Series, and became only the third National League franchise in the last 90 years to win two World Series in three years.
But what’s also remarkable is how much Giants general manager Brian Sabean has changed the way the Giants went about winning all those games. After an era in which the team was built around the home-run power of one player—Barry Bonds—it has become a club focused instead on getting many team members to make contact with the ball. That’s an extraordinary cultural and managerial shift to make; but for the Giants, it appears to be working.
As the New York Times reported in a writeup about Sabean Saturday, only four teams in the MLB have struck out fewer times this season than the Giants, meaning the team has placed a big emphasis on hits rather than homers. The team also ranked first in sacrifice flies—another sign more players are playing for their team rather than the glory. And in the just-ended season, the Giants had the most victories without a homer, and the fewest home runs of any team.
Yet they still managed to do what had been unimaginable just a week and a half ago: sweep the World Series. And not on the backs of a coronated superstar, but thanks to unexpected heroes like Sergio Romo, Gregor Blanco and Barry Zito. As the Post’s Thomas Boswell put it, the series “contained no walk-off homers, no game-saving plays and no contests for the ages, although this final World Series game was absolutely first rate. The insane theatrics of the cardiac Cardinals last year may have blurred our ability to measure greatness. Maybe we’ve been numbed.”
The Giants have been called an overlooked team and Sabean an underrated manager. And with the Giants’ win, the long-running debate over whether leaders should build their team around superstars or should recruit a team of players who each manage to step up when it counts appears to be getting an answer. Leaders who emphasize everyone hitting a single rather than everyone swinging for a home run, quite simply, get more people on base. That goes for baseball, and for managing people when it comes to just about everything else.
Jena McGregor is a columnist for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.