Sabean Goes Off, People Freak Out

Wow. That’s pretty much the reaction du jour after Brian Sabean unleashed his verbal vengeance on Scott Cousins yesterday. Perhaps it’s that general managers don’t usually talk that way. Perhaps it’s that, more than a week after the incident in which Buster Posey was lost for the season, a guy in a position usually reserved for settling volatile situations has instead served to inflame this one.

A brief recap. In an interview on Giants flagship KNBR yesterday, Sabean said the following:

  • “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 (former catcher 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.”
  • “If I never hear from Cousins again or he never plays another game in the big leagues, I think we’ll all be happy.”
  • “If you listen to the kid’s comments after the fact, he pretty much decided and it was premeditated that if he got a chance, he was going to blow up the catcher to dislodge the ball, And if you watch frame by frame from different angles, he does not take the path to the plate to try to score. He goes after Buster, right shoulder on right shoulder, and to me, that’s malicious.”

(Listen to the entire thing here.)

By referencing Matheny, Sabean was essentially promising retaliation. (Matheny, a catcher whose career was ended by a spate of concussions after too many collisions at the plate, was widely quoted as saying that situations such as this should be settled on the field.)

By calling the play malicious when it clearly was not, by wishing ill upon Cousins, by unleashing what by almost every account is an over-the-top tirade, Sabean has in the minds of most pundits gone too far.

Which may have been precisely his point.

The Giants don’t face the Marlins again until August, at which point Cousins—currently batting all of .159—might not even be on the team. Meanwhile, Sabean has sent an unequivocal message—not just a warning that one takes liberties with the Giants at one’s own risk, but that this type of play is drawing both notice and response.

Since the accident, Sabean has advocated for a reexamination of the rule that allows home plate collisions, especially those such as the one that injured Posey, in which the catcher cedes the baseline in an effort to avoid unnecessary contact. (Sabean, in fact, is not the first GM to get involved with the issue this week; Billy Beane has already instructed Kurt Suzuki to get out of the way and employ sweep tags.)

Baseball will probably opt against enacting any sort of rule change, at least in the short term, so the Giants’ GM is taking the law into his own hands. His volley was a clear message to would-be catcher stalkers: You better be damn sure that’s your only way of scoring, because if it’s not, we’ll be watching.

Sabean will likely be disciplined by MLB for his comments. Sabean likely does not care.

This issue is bigger than the Giants. In this regard, Sabean is taking one for the team—all those within baseball who share his views on the topic.

Did he go too far in his assessment? Absolutely. But did Sabean—who, while notoriously frank, is no dummy when it comes to public relations—feel that was the best way to get his message across?

Almost indisputably.

Update (June 3): The Giants just released this statement (note the explanation sans apology):

This is a very emotional time for the Giants organization and our fans. We lost for the season one of our best players to a serious injury and we are doing everything we can to support Buster Posey through this very difficult time. We appreciate Scott Cousins’ outreach to Buster Posey and to the Giants organization.

Brian Sabean’s comments yesterday were said out of frustration and out of true concern for Buster and were not meant to vilify Scott Cousins. Brian has been in contact with Florida Marlins General Manager Larry Beinfest to clarify his comments and to assure him that there is no ill-will toward the player. He has also reached out to Scott Cousins directly.

The issue of catcher safety is a complicated one. There are a number of differing opinions around the circumstances of last week’s collision and about what baseball should do to prevent serious injuries in the future. This issue goes far beyond last week’s incident as there have been a number of recent collision-involved injuries.

We have been in contact with Joe Torre, Major League Baseball’s executive vice president for baseball operations, and have asked for a thorough examination of this issue for the health and safety of all players.

We intend to move beyond conversations about last week’s incident and focus our attention on Buster’s full recovery and on defending our World Series title.

- Jason

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Sabean Goes Off, People Freak Out

  1. I really don’t get what all the fuss is about. Posey got hurt because he put himself in a position to get hurt. He did this to himself because he doesn’t know how to properly prepare for a collision at the plate. Period. I like the play and MLB does not need to make any rule change whatsoever.

    • Jason Turbow

      Mike, if you’re referring to Posey’s positioning on one knee as he tried to catch the ball (which trapped his foot underneath him, instead of allowing him to fall backward upon contact, had he stayed on his feet), it’s difficult to disagree. But he was positioned perfectly, on the inside of the plate, to make a sweep tag as Cousins passed by.

      Perhaps this is a matter of safety being taken for granted; Posey was out of the baseline, and so assumed there would be no contact, and so was unprepared for the resulting collision. It’s clear that his learning curve is still a thing in progress.

  2. Bob Cipolla

    So now it’s Posey’s footwork that is the problem? How many of us would have been able to survive uninjured the blindside impact of a 200 pound object launced at 15+mph? Collisions at home plate are bound to happen when catchers block the plate, with or without the ball. Posey was on the first base side of the plate preparing to make a sweep tag. Where in “The Code” does it say that this vulnerable position calls for “drilling?” If so, I say bring back the forearm to the firstbaseman’s head, the rolling chop block at second base, and high spikes going into third. If it’s “manhood” we are defending, let’s get rid of those sissy batting helmets, and bring back the beanball. Cousins did not make a clean hit.

    • Jason Turbow

      Nope, actually his footwork was a big problem. Had Posey been on his feet instead of one knee — standard positioning for seasoned catchers — he’d have been knocked cleanly backward. It still would have hurt, and who knows what other kind of damage might have been incurred, but Posey’s inexperience was clearly a factor in the outcome. (This doesn’t discount the conversation about the propriety of the hit, but it must be noted.)

      • Bob Cipolla

        I accept Posey’s contribution to his injury, and that part is history that won’t be changed. Other catchers, and coaches, will learn to practice and teach a safer defensive style, including foot work. I don’t think Cousins’ primary goal was to injure Posey, I think the worst of his competitive instincts took over causing him to “blast” Posey despite an avenue to the plate being open. Cousins had every right to try to dislodge the ball “on his direct path to the plate”, but he clearly turned his body & dove in the direction of first base at Posey’s location. This attack on the individual, as opposed to pursuit of the plate is what bothers me, not that collisions and injury will sometimes occur in competitive sport.

      • Jason Turbow

        Cousins clearly went out of his way to get to Posey — no doubt because he thought that to be his best chance at scoring. With that in mind, he did nothing wrong. The rules-change debate is a legitimate one, but Cousins’ actions were legal — and right in line with what he’d been taught to do in that situation. Hate the rule, not the player.

        Also of note: Johnny Bench wasn’t thrilled with Posey’s positioning, either.

  3. Simon

    I have thought of another angle as to why I say that Cousins was WAY in the wrong on this one – line of sight.

    Put simply, Cousins could see where Posey had set up and had time to avoid him. Posey, on the other hand, may not have been able to see Cousins and had his sights on the ball (even though he dropped the thing).

    If Posey does come back as a catcher, maybe he’ll get rid of the hockey mask and adopt the more traditional mask as I believe that gives him more peripheral vision and it’s way easier to take off which is what probably would have been done in previous times.

    • Interestingly, just before this he was hit in the chin by a foul and it really rattled him, and the announcers were talking about the coach in the dugout trying to convince catchers to use the old school masks due to their impact protection.

      Supposedly Posey really likes his new style mask so it will be interesting to see if anything changes. They call them hockey style masks but the similarities aren’t really that close…they’re too flat and not angular enough to deflect the force as well as a true NHL mask.

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