Friday, August 17, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

World Series shows San Francisco Giants' Bruce Bochy is one of baseball's best managers

DETROIT — There are times, sources have confirmed, when Bruce Bochy does indeed laugh and joke and cut up and have a good time, revealing what's best described as a bone-dry sense of humor.

For a few moments in the dugout. Sitting around in his office. Out with some buddies on a fishing boat.

And most definitely in a hotel bar in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, during last winter's MLB tour when he encouraged Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton, who was part of his staff, to get up on stage to join the Indonesian band they'd cat-called into Lynyrd Skynyrd's Sweet Home Alabama — and offered to show a new acquaintance the hilarious video he still has on his phone.

"He dared to me to do it is what he did," Shelton said Monday. "We had a lot of fun."

But most of the time, Bochy seems anything but the life of a party.

He's a big man with a large presence and speaks in a booming voice, dipped in a bit of country, but doesn't say much beyond what he has to. He's not playing for a punch line, doesn't tell you how smart he is, won't show much personality or emotion, and definitely isn't going to let you see him sweat.

All of which makes him seem a boring guy and a heck of a manager, leading the Giants to their second World Series championship in the last three years.

"He's been unbelievable," team CEO Larry Baer said during Sunday's clubhouse celebration. "To overcome the adversity and the challenges … you've got to have a steady hand, and he's about the steadiest hand you could possibly imagine to see in sports.

"He doesn't get flustered, he's calm, he thinks it through. And he has the respect of the young and old, the people upstairs and downstairs, everybody.

"If there's a blessing in all of this beyond all the obvious, it's that this guy, this manager, is finally getting his recognition."

Bochy, 57, is usually overlooked, but that will be harder now that he's one of 22 modern-era managers with two Series championships — something Bobby Cox, Lou Piniella and Whitey Herzog don't have. Also, that he moved into the top 25 in all-time wins, ranking 23rd, and third among active, with 1,454.

One reason is that Bochy has always managed on the West Coast, 12 years with the Padres (losing the 1998 Series) and six in San Francisco. Another is that he doesn't go looking for attention.

"It's all about the players," he said. "I'm not just trying to shrug that off. I mean, it's great when you hear good things said about you, I guess."

But those around him rave about what a good job he does — "The best in the game," said infielder Ryan Theriot, who played last season in St. Louis for Tony La Russa — and how he does it.

"Sometimes managers get lost in how it really was for them (as players) and he doesn't forget that — he understands how hard this game is," said veteran infielder Aubrey Huff, the ex-Ray. "And he's unique with every individual personality. He gives whatever each person needs to hear. … He knows personalities. It's something intuitive, and he's got it."

So do opponents.

"He's one of the best managers in all of baseball, there's no question," Detroit's Jim Leyland said. "He's got a nice, calming influence about himself. You know who's in charge. He's everything that's good about baseball managers, in my opinion. He does it the right way. You never hear Bruce Bochy boasting himself or anything like that. You don't really hear much about him. He's terrific."

Bochy learned to be a good manager by being a not-very-good player. Born in France during his father's army stint, Bochy grew up on Florida's Space Coast, starring at Melbourne High then Brevard Community College, where, after his first Series title, the field was named in his honor. He was drafted (in the first round) and signed by the Astros — then spent a semester at FSU for kicks — then started a career that saw him spend parts of nine seasons as a backup catcher with the Astros, Mets and Padres. He became a minor-league manager then a big-league coach and then manager of the Padres in 1995, making four trips to the playoffs.

He moved to the Giants in 2007, and it has been a great match, he and general manager Brian Sabean good friends as well. This year, Bochy has drawn extraordinary praise for his handling of the bullpen, after losing closer Brian Wilson in April, and his juggling of the lineup after Melky Cabrera's suspension to find the right combination.

Bochy shrugs off the compliments, just like most of the questions, though he did agree to clear one thing up:

"I have as much fun as anybody," he said.

Maybe even more so now.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]

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