ORACLE PARK — Ron Wotus sat in the third row of the interview room and smiled.
As divisive new Giants manager Gabe Kapler fielded questions about his past — from how he handled assaults by his former minor leaguers as Dodgers farm director, to his dogmatic micromanaging in his early days with Philadelphia — he found an applause line when he said that Wotus would be retained.
In 21 years with San Francisco, Wotus has been a bench coach and base coach for now four managers. He doesn’t see his role as a consigliere or a guiding hand for the 44-year-old Kapler, but as a resource. Once a candidate for the job Kapler now has, and for other jobs throughout baseball, Wotus felt it was his duty to stay.
“In my heart, I really wanted to stay here,” Wotus said.
Wotus, who has been a coach under Dusty Baker, Felipe Alou and Bruce Bochy, interviewed for the vacant San Francisco job at the end of the season. When the Giants moved on, so did Wotus, interviewing for the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets bench coach positions. Wotus was going to be brought back by the Mets this week for another round with Carlos Beltran before the Giants settled on Kapler.
Kapler — who has spent hours with Bochy, who retired this season after 25 years, including 13 with San Francisco — talked to Wotus twice before he got the job.
“He’s been in this city forever,” Kapler said. “As I look for places to get perspective, part of the first couple of months entering an organization as a manager is going on a listening tour. That listening tour includes not saying as much, but really asking a lot of questions, something that I plan to do with Wo.”
Kapler knows what he doesn’t know. It’s a lesson the new Giants manager has learned the hard way over the last two years.
In the past, he’s been dogmatic and admittedly arrogant, both in baseball and in the way he tried to address a 2015 assault allegation against one of his minor leaguers while farm director for the Dodgers. Coming into a job vacated by Bochy, a future Hall of Famer, three-time world champion and noted relationship-builder, a lot of humility will come into play.
“I would like to have our coaches come into my office after games and challenge my in-game decisions,” Kapler said. “I just don’t believe in getting the best out of peopl who feel a little bit silenced, or like they can’t express their opinions, or like they can’t push back or challenge.”
Having watched and advised some of the game’s best tacticians during his time in San Francisco, Wotus will have a lot to say, but he views his place as more of an advisor, rather than someone who finished out of the running. He also has a unique insight into the clubhouse dynamic and culture — how to communicate with each player — along with on-field strengths and weaknesses.
“He managed two years,” Wotus said with a wink. “I never managed, right? If I can help him any way I can, when I was a bench coach, that’s what I felt my job was, to help the manager in any way I can. I’m going to be the third base coach, and all the other coaches on the staff, if he has questions, I’ll have answers, and I’ll give him my opinion. I don’t view my position as shepherding a young manager. I look at us as equals.”
Buster Posey — who Kapler met several weeks back for a lengthy talk in the Oracle Park executive offices — was open-minded about Kapler, the fitness freak with a laundry list of interesting blog posts and a reputation as an unorthodox thinker.
Bringing back Wotus will certainly help smooth the transition from the old-school Bochy.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Posey said. “I think his value to this organization, what I’m always so impressed with is how long he’s been doing it and the passion he still has about it. You get him talking about a certain play, something that went wrong with a defensive alignment or a shift or a bunt, he just loves it. Those are the types of guys you want to have around and spend your time with when you’re here, so I’m extremely excited.”