With his John Wayne gait, push-broom mustache and basso profundo voice, 6-foot-3 Bruce Bochy cut an imposing figure as a big league manager. It was a humorous lie. The truth and the magic of Bochy were in the deftness of his touch, be it acquiring the deepest trust from his players or wringing the slightest advantage out of a baseball game. Every one of his players were the better for knowing Bochy was on his side—before, during and after games.
Only Connie Mack and Bochy held down a big-league managing job for 25 uninterrupted years—and Mack owned the team for which he worked for 50 years, the Philadelphia A’s. Bochy’s run with San Diego (1995-2006) and San Francisco (2007-19) ended on his own terms. At age 64, Bochy enters his final game with a 2003–2028 record—but 44-33 (.571) in the postseason, when he did his best work. He does so as a future Hall of Famer and, along with predecessors such as John McGraw, Casey Stengel and Earl Weaver, a rare managerial brand.
Padres general manager Randy Smith considered no other candidates when he hired Bochy, then 39 and the team’s third-base coach, as his manager. Smith wanted “someone who could handle a pitching staff,” and called Bochy “the best managerial prospect in the game.” That scouting report was prescient.
Bochy won the most games in San Diego and San Francisco, and is the only man to bring the World Series to San Diego and the title to San Francisco. The man who once wrote a book about taking walks made his reputation mostly on the wisdom of his 11,783 ambling, teetering trips to the mound to change pitchers.
Bochy ran games with the foresight of a chess grandmaster, which is why his Giants won the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Those championship teams were 13-3 in one-run postseason games. His bullpen was 13-2. Most famously, in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, he pulled his starter, Tim Hudson, after only 28 pitches, and used his ace, Madison Bumgarner, for the last 15 outs—breaking the record Mack set in 1929 by sticking with Lefty Grove for a 13-out postseason save.
It wasn’t just the pitching. Every year fading, veteran players would show up in San Francisco and Bochy, like some wizard of a life coach, would squeeze the last, best baseball out of them: Aubrey Huff, Andres Torres, Pat Burrell, Cody Ross, Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro, Hunter Pence, Mike Morse … Bochy, ever humble, would claim the cool weather in San Francisco kept older legs fresh.
True to form, when Bochy addressed his players in the clubhouse in Boston in September after win number 2,000, he told them, “It doesn’t happen without you guys. Thank you all so much. It means so much. I’m not going to get emotional here, but it’s not what was on my mind, I swear to you. For you guys to do what you did in July and get back in this thing and for this to happen, thank you.”
Born in France, the son of an Army sergeant major who moved the family every three years, Bochy learned early lessons about the foundations of his managing: discipline and getting along with people. He played nine years in the big leagues, but averaged only 40 games a year (in one of them he hit the only walkoff homer Nolan Ryan allowed).
“I think I started getting ready when I was a player,” Bochy said when the Padres hired him. “With my background as a backup catcher and all the games I observed, I had to learn something about the game.”
At 64, Bochy is one year younger than his father, Gus, was when he was fatally stricken with a heart attack. Bochy underwent four heart procedures from 2015-17, but in the past two seasons said his health has been robust.
His next job is to dote on grandkids and stay connected to baseball in some way, which already has fueled speculation that another club may convince him to manage again. In spring training, when Bochy announced he was retiring, he explained it in the manner of running a game. “I’ve managed with my gut,” he said. “So it’s a gut feeling. It’s time.”