For Giants' Bochy, postseason burnishes Hall of Fame credentials
When Travis Ishikawa hit his game-winning three-run homer off Michael Wacha, he not only sent the Giants to the World Series, but he also may have sent manager Bruce Bochy to the Hall of Fame. Regardless of the outcome of the coming matchup with the Royals, the 59-year-old skipper's resume is now gaudy enough to give him an excellent shot at eventual enshrinement.
With the Giants' defeat of the Cardinals, Bochy has now presided over four pennant winners, namely the 1998 Padres and 2010, 2012 and 2014 Giants. He's the 23rd manager to reach that milestone, and all 22 of the others have plaques in Cooperstown. Some are there more on the basis of their work as pioneers (Harry Wright and Charlie Comiskey), others as 19th-century managers (Ned Hanlon and Frank Selee) who never reached the World Series (which began in 1903), and still others at the tail end of their careers as players (Cap Anson, Frank Chance and Fred Clarke), but all have been recognized nonetheless. So have a handful of managers with two (Al Lopez and Wilbert Robinson) or three (Bucky Harris and Whitey Herzog) pennants. That quartet has just three championships between them, a total Bochy could equal if his Giants prevail.
It helps that Bochy got an early start on his managerial career, as he's got 20 years as a major league pilot before reaching 60. After spending nine years in the majors as a light-hitting backup catcher with the Astros (1978-80), Mets (1982) and Padres (1983-87) plus another season as a Triple-A player/coach, he was just about to turn 34 when he took over the Padres' Low-A Spokane affiliate in 1989. He spent four years in the Padres' chain and another two (1993-94) as a coach on the big club's staff under manager Jim Riggleman before taking the reins after the 1994 season, when Riggleman left to take the Cubs' job; he was just 39.
Fueled by an 11-player blockbuster that brought Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley from Houston to San Diego — not to mention having Tony Gwynn amid a run of four straight batting titles — the Padres improved from 41-70 (.404) in the strike-shortened 1994 season to 70-74 in 1995, Bochy’s first season. They jumped to 91-71 in 1996, good enough to edge the Dodgers for first place in the NL West and to net Bochy NL Manager of the Year honors.
That was just the Padres' second postseason appearance, following their 1984 pennant under Dick Williams, though it ended quickly, as they were swept out of the 1996 playoffs by the Cardinals, but two years later, Bochy’s Padres won 98 games, still a franchise record. After ousting the Astros in the Division Series and the Braves in the NLCS, they returned to the World Series, only to be steamrolled by that year's 114-win Yankees juggernaut.
Alas, that was his high-water mark in San Diego; the departures of Caminiti, Finley and staff ace Kevin Brown via free agency, as well as the trade of slugger Greg Vaughn, weakened the team. The Padres spent the next five seasons below .500, three of them dead last in the NL West, their payroll sliding from the middle of the pack to the bottom five, with attendance in cavernous multi-use Qualcomm Stadium slipping as well. Bochy's teams lost 96 and 98 games in 2002 and 2003, respectively, the team's final two seasons before moving into beautiful new Petco Park.
Thanks to the revenue boost provided by the new park — which drew over three million fans in its first season, still a franchise record — as well as the emergence of Jake Peavy as the staff ace, the Padres enjoyed a resurgence. They won 87 games in 2004, and while they slipped to 82-80 the next year, that was nonetheless good enough to take first place in a dreadful division. They repeated in 2006, but in both years, they were dispatched by the Cardinals in the Division Series.
When Bochy, who had one year remaining on his contract, was told that he would not receive an extension from the cost-conscious Padres, he was allowed to explore other opportunities, and he was quickly snapped up by the Giants, whose 71-year-old manager, Felipe Alou, had been ousted after two straight losing seasons and three out of the playoff picture. While the team lost 91 and 90 games in his first two seasons, the Giants have finished above .500 in five of the past six, winning two division titles and a Wild Card berth as well as the 2010 and 2012 World Series. For that six-year span, their .539 winning percentage is the NL's fourth-best, behind the Cardinals (.558), Braves (.550) and Dodgers (.545), with St. Louis as the only other NL team to win multiple pennants.
Weighted down by his lean years with the Padres and those first two with the Giants, Bochy's career winning percentage is just .502; he's 1,618-1,604 overall, 14 games above .500. Leaving aside the fact that he's trending upward — 76 games above .500 since the start of the 2009 season — a near-level record isn't the impediment you might think it would be to enshrinement. Among Hall of Fame managers, Connie Mack (217 games below .500), Harris (61 below) and Robinson (one above) all made it, the latter two with fewer pennants and world championships than Bochy. Meanwhile, Bochy's win total already ranks 18th all-time, and he's poised to climb higher. Sometime next year, he'll surpass Ralph Houk (1,619) and Dusty Baker (1,671), while Jim Leyland (1,769) is two years away and Lou Piniella (1,835) three; of the managers above the latter, only Gene Mauch (1,902-2,037 and zero pennants) is outside of Cooperstown.
It isn't just longevity that's fueling Bochy's run, however — it's his remarkable run of October success. While he was just 8-16 in the postseason with the Padres, with two series wins out of six, he's 30-11 with the Giants, with nine series wins if you count this year's Wild-Card Game; more to the point, he hasn't lost a postseason series since moving to San Francisco. Among managers with substantial careers in the Wild Card era, Bochy's total of seven postseason appearances is tied with Baker, Piniella and Mike Scioscia, trailing Leyland's eight, Tony La Russa's 14, Joe Torre's 15 and Bobby Cox's 16. The last three are on another level and of a different generation; they all began managing in the late 1970s, won division titles in the 1980s, spent at least 29 seasons at the helm and now trail only Mack and John McGraw in wins and games managed. Fittingly, they were enshrined this past July.
That trio aside, note that the remaining quartet of Baker, Leyland, Piniella and Scioscia has a combined total of six pennants and three championships to Bochy's four and two (and counting). Among that group, Bochy (38 postseason wins) trails only Leyland, with eight of the latter's 44 victories coming in his agonizing pre-Wild Card era NLCS losses to the Reds (1990) and Braves (1991, 1992). The only three managers with more postseason wins than that are, of course, Torre (84), La Russa (70) and Cox (67).
Bochy hasn't exactly been sitting on his hands during those postseason runs, either. He's burnished his credentials as one of the game's top tacticians with astute bullpen management and a bit of innovation. Think of Tim Lincecum becoming a weapon out of the bullpen in 2012, or Ishikawa taking over leftfield, a position he hadn't played in the majors before Sept. 25, only to start all but one of the team’s postseason games and supply two of their biggest hits in the NLCS (his three-run double in Game 3 being the other of note). After building a reputation as a tough manager for a young player to break in under, he's gotten better at trusting the kids. Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner were both rookies in key roles when the Giants won in 2010, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford were in their first full major league seasons in 2012, and Joe Panik is currently a rookie.
It's unclear if Bochy has the desire to stick around the dugout for the better part of another decade as Cox, La Russa, and Torre did, but some back-of-the-envelope math suggests that if he does, he could wind up sixth in wins, just below them. He's currently 576 behind Sparky Anderson, who would take roughly seven seasons to catch. That would certainly punch Bochy's ticket to Cooperstown, but even if he chooses an earlier exit, he's already got the credentials for a date on the dais.