Bochy guides Giants to second title and boosts Hall chances
Maybe now he will get his due. Maybe now when they talk about the game's all-time greats, they'll talk about the baseball lifer who has now won 1,454 games and three pennants, the manager from San Francisco who led a crew of freaks, outcasts and reclamation projects on this wild and improbable run, and who, on a cold and rainy October night in Detroit, won his second World Series in three years.
Bruce Bochy is a simple man -- "humble and understated, no-nonsense, that's the way he's always been," says his older brother, Joe. Bruce lives across the street from the ballpark, so he can walk to work every afternoon. His wife, Kim, buys his clothes. He likes to end a long day with a glass of wine, the TV tuned to the Military Channel. In the dugout he's as stoic as a Royal Guard, and his philosophy on managing ballplayers is simple, too: "You just let players play," he likes to say, "and you let them be who they are."
In the Giants clubhouse there is a likely NL MVP winner (Buster Posey), a $112 million ace (Matt Cain), a Freak (Tim Lincecum), a Panda (Pablo Sandoval) and a Great Clubhouse Orator (Hunter Pence), but to get to the heart of the 2012 world champs, you must go to the man who, against all odds, found a way to bring his team together. The manager of the Giants is not going to win any awards this offseason but he is the real Manager of the Year for 2012 (sorry, Davey Johnson). He lost his second baseman before the season began and his closer in early April. In August he lost his best hitter at the time to a drug suspension. His All-Star third baseman made two trips to the disabled list. His two-time Cy Young winner had the worst season of his career, and was virtually unusable as a starter. And his team still won 94 games and ran away with the NL West.
"There's a special, encouraging environment here," says Pence, the outfielder who was acquired from the Phillies at the July 31 trade deadline is known for his William Wallace-like pregame oratories. "A feeling that we're in this together, and it comes from [Bochy]. We're calm because he's calm. It begins with him."
Every player in the clubhouse will tell you about a moment in the season when their manager was there for them. Ryan Vogelsong will tell you about his awful August, and how important it was that Bochy kept facing the reporters every day and insisting that Vogelsong was still his guy. Sandoval will tell you about his own struggles, and the time Bochy pulled him aside and told him, "Even Tony Gwynn went through slumps when I played with him. I'm not worried about you." Brandon Belt will tell you about his rocky rookie season and how Boch stuck with him when "it was real easy to give up on me."
It's easy to forget now that the fans used to call him Botchy, when the losses were piling up during his first years with San Francisco in 2007 and 2008. "The thing about Bruce," says Joe Bochy, a scout for the Padres, "is that he doesn't care what anyone else thinks. He's always been like that, his entire life. Totally fearless."
No, he has never been afraid of making the tough calls. In 2010 he benched Aaron Rowand, and he left Barry Zito off the playoff roster. This October, he pushed all the right buttons as he out-managed the Reds' Dusty Baker, the Cardinals' Mike Matheny and the Tigers' Jim Leyland. His gutsy decision to start Barry Zito over Madison Bumgarner in Game 5 of the NLCS, with his Giants down 3-1 in the series, may have been the biggest call of the postseason. He brought Bumgarner back for Game 2 of the World Series, and the 23-year-old lefthander shut down the Tigers. He managed the bullpen beautifully, from his late-inning moves in the winner-take-all Game 5 of the Division Series against the Cincinnati, to his brilliant usage of Tim Lincecum in the Series.
And now, maybe they'll talk about him as a Hall of Famer. He is one of 14 managers to win 1,400 games and more than one World Series. (Only one of those managers, Ralph Houk, is not in the Hall.) He is now one of three managers in Giants franchise history to win two titles and is 8-1 in Series games. And he is still only 57.
Late Sunday night, he stood in the middle of the visitor's clubhouse at Comerica Park and hoisted the trophy over his head as champagne sprayed everywhere. At last, there was Bruce Bochy, front and center, where he belongs.