There isn’t much time remaining for San Francisco Giants fans to enjoy future Hall of Fame manager Bruce Bochy, the grizzled figure of calm who’s led the organization to an unprecedented run of success in recent years.
Bochy this week announced his plan to retire after the 2019 campaign, and while he wants to stay in baseball thereafter in some capacity, his decision to leave the managerial post will mark the end of an era. The farewell tour over the coming months will be much-deserved.
That’s because Bochy has not only been expert in-game tinkerer in San Francisco for more than a decade, but also a strong clubhouse leader as a rotating cast of players has cycled through the franchise. His track record stacks up with the greatest managers in the history of baseball, and one could reasonably argue he belongs in the conversation as a top-10 manager of all-time.
Think that’s going too far? Consider this: Nine other managers have won at least three World Series rings, and all of them are in the Hall of Fame. Just 10 managers have earned more career wins than Bochy. With 82 wins in 2019 — the benchmark for a winning season — Bochy would tie Leo Durocher on the all-time wins list. Another victory on top of that would propel Bochy past Durocher and into the top 10 for total wins, remarkable company considering the many sustained runs of dominance lining the history of the sport.
When discussing Bochy’s legacy, it’s also necessary to consider what he’s had to work with in forming a dynasty in San Francisco.
While the Giants’ titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 were in large part due to the skills of their top players, the team was not quite at the level of the late-1990s Yankees or Braves, or even the peak of the 1980s A’s or 1970s Reds in terms of pure ability. In fact, there were likely just two Hall of Fame players on any of those Giants rosters — Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey — compared to at least three on most dynastic predecessors.
With the Yankees, Joe Torre had Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, Tim Raines and later, Mike Mussina and Alex Rodriguez to work with (Clemens and Rodriguez might not make the Hall of Fame for performance-enhancing drug reasons, but they would otherwise likely qualify).
With the Braves, Bobby Cox had Chipper Jones, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. With the A’s, Tony La Russa had Dennis Eckersley, Rickey Henderson and Mark McGwire (McGwire also might not make the Hall of Fame for performance-enhancing drug reasons). With the Reds, Sparky Anderson had Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and Pete Rose (Rose of course is banned from baseball — and therefore the Hall of Fame — for life, for betting on baseball as a manager).
All of those teams had incredible not-quite Hall of Fame players too, from Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada in New York to Jose Canseco and Dave Stewart in Oakland. Yet Bochy, equipped with an immensely-talented-but-by-no-means-historic roster, guided San Francisco to three World Series victories in five seasons, a feat accomplished by just one of the above groups.
Think about the role players who emerged to — at least for one postseason run — inexplicably play like superstars under Bochy. In 2010, it was outfielder Cody Ross, claimed midseason off waivers, hitting five playoff home runs. In 2012, it was journeyman infielder Marco Scutaro, acquired in a midseason trade, winning NLCS MVP and Barry Zito pitching a World Series gem. In 2014, it was Travis Ishikawa blasting the walk-off home run to win San Francisco the pennant.
And of course, Bochy’s ability to manage the bullpen set him apart from his peers. Rather than grind his starting pitchers into dust — a fault that’s doomed many managers come the postseason — Bochy trusted and beautifully navigated a group of relievers featuring Brian Wilson, Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez, each of whom were solid performers, but far from legendary individuals.
The impact Bochy has had on his players is clear from those who return to visit either as guest Spring Training instructors or just to pop by during the regular season. Last year, Wilson, Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong filtered through the clubhouse with high praise for Bochy. Even Fred Lewis took time to reminisce with his former manager this past summer almost 10 years after his last game with the Giants.
“He’s got a lot of poise. When your leader is a rock, it leaks into your team,” said outfielder Hunter Pence of Bochy to The Los Angeles Times in 2014, perfectly summarizing the words of many players who have competed under the manager.
Even as his career extended into an era in which people downplay the role of managers, Bochy has continued to stand out. We may never see another manager so central to a team’s success, not when front offices are increasingly eager to meddle in day-to-day team affairs and advanced statistics shift focus toward on-field performers.
So before Bochy bids his final farewell, make sure to acknowledge his mark on the game. He’ll be too humble to do so himself, instead deflecting attention to the players he oversaw.
“[Retirement] will give me time to go back and reflect,” Bochy said Monday. “Even watch some games, and think about some of these great achievements, milestones these players have reached. You know, I’ve always had a deep appreciation for the gifts and talents of these players.”