There was no logical explanation for what he did. The 1996 season had come down to the last game, against the Los Angeles Dodgers, win or go home, and Bruce Bochy as the manager of the San Diego Padres had a tough call to make. He needed a starting pitcher. Bob Tewksbury, while rested, had last started a game 12 days earlier and given up six runs in 31/3 innings. No one had confidence in him because he “couldn’t get anybody out” in the second half of the season, recalls Tim Flannery, then as now Bochy’s third-base coach.
Bochy went ahead and named Tewksbury.
“In my own mind, I’m thinking, ‘What the hell is he doing?’” Flannery recalled recently. Tewksbury pitched seven scoreless innings that September day, and the Padres won the game in extra innings to take the National League West title. Flash forward 12 years, and Bochy as San Francisco Giants manager tapped Tim Lincecum (10-15, 5.18 ERA) for a pair of critical relief appearances against the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 World Series, after his down season as a starter. Lincecum struck out eight, allowing no hits and no runs in 42/3 innings.
As Bochy brings the NL West-leading Giants into Toronto to play a pair of interleague games against the Blue Jays on Tuesday and Wednesday, he is closing in on 1,500 wins in his 19th year as a manager, with 2010 and 2012 World Series titles in the bank. Those represent Hall of Fame credentials in the age of sabermetrics, for a man who stands in defiance of the stats-based wave in Major League Baseball, instead relying on instinct, experience and people-management skills to achieve success.
“He’s patient, he never gives up on a player,” Flannery said. “That confidence he gave Tewksbury … I’ve seen him do that with Timmy early in the season, too. It still boggles my mind. I’m very impatient and overreactive whereas he’s not that, he’s steady, he looks at the big picture all the time.”
Bochy, a .239-hitting backup catcher in nine seasons, remains as steady, stoic and up-front as when first handed the managerial reins in 1995. He fretted then about burning bridges with locked-out players during a labour dispute as their replacements took over the clubhouse, yet one season later had the Padres in the playoffs and, in 1998, into the World Series against the New York Yankees.
He has digested a number of business books about management theory, in particular Phil Knight’s autobiography about building Nike, and another, Nuts, on the growth of Southwest Airlines by Kevin Freiberg, a friend of Bochy’s. He’ll also collect and use motivational devices, last year a clip from the movie about race car driving when it came time in the season to put pedal to metal.
The manager’s position is the last peg in an organizational effort to develop individual players into big-leaguers and the team into a championship-calibre unit, as he sees it. Opposed to the nerdish element populating front offices and fan chat rooms these days, he believes in the human dynamic – team chemistry – as a significant factor in the equation.
“You can continue teaching them how to play, but they’ve got to play together and become a cohesive group,” Bochy, 58, said during a recent interview at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
“That’s why I take it personal, especially with the sabermetrics. They say, ‘You should play these guys today because the numbers show it.’ These guys aren’t robots, they are human beings and they have to be treated like that in order to play the game the way it should be played, and to play together. … Managing people is the most important aspect of the game, more so than the game itself.”
A sturdy man with a deep, gravelly voice, he means what he says. He’ll set the bar, and if a player is underperforming, try to understand the reasons, whether personal or physical, and take action accordingly. If a player is disenchanted, he’ll try to find out why and deal with it. He doesn’t pander in order to be liked. He’s about straight talk.
“They have to know what you expect out of them,” Bochy said, “your style of baseball, how you want to play the game. That’s true in any sport.”
Ultimately, he’ll make the tough call for the good of the team. In 2010, highly paid pitcher Barry Zito was left off the playoff roster, only two years later for Bochy to bank on him rather than Madison Bumgarner in Game 5 of the 2012 NLCS, with the Giants trailing the St. Louis Cardinals 3-1. Zito pitched splendidly and Bumgarner came back to beat the Tigers in Game 2 of the World Series. During the regular season, outfielder Melky Cabrera, now with the Blue Jays, “carried” the Giants with his bat until being suspended in early August for using a performance enhancer. Bochy left Cabrera off the postseason roster because the other players had gelled through the stretch run.