— Ryan Gorcey (@RyanGorcey) September 29, 2019
ORACLE PARK — Madison Bumgarner lingered on the field, perhaps for the last time as a San Francisco Giant, after lining out as a pinch hitter in the fifth inning. As he did,Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw looked first to his old rival, then to the San Francisco dugout, doffing his cap to retiring manager Bruce Bochy.
Bochy had decided against starting Bumgarner in the final game of his managerial career — and, with free agency looming, possibly the last of Bumgarner’s Giants career, too — but made sure to give his ace a prope send-off, pitting him against Kershaw as a gesture at the duels the two lefties have had over the past decade — duels which Bochy loved. Bumgarner took off his helmet and enjoyed a lengthy ovation before lining out to third.
In a sport increasingly governed by matchups, analytics and equations, Bochy — who ended his 25-year managerial career with a 9-0 loss to the Dodgers in a spring training-esque cavalcade of in-game switches — was one of the last old-school, by-the-gut skippers. In a game increasingly played on computers, with a record 64 players used by the Giants in their worst home season in franchise history, Bochy was, to the last, unfailingly human.
On his final day, Bochy said, “I just wanted to do something for Madison.”
Before a nice-try-good-effort digital foghorn salute signaled the start of Sunday’s game, Bochy stood on the top step of the dugout, carrying his grandson Braxton on his hip. Fans chanted and stood. Bochy blinked back tears. It was Braxton who took off his hat first. Then, the old catcher caught a surprise first pitch from his son Brett, a former Giants reliever.
“I worked out yesterday and I got going pretty good on my knees, so I told him not to bounce it,” Bochy said. “It was a perfect throw.”
When Bochy went to the plate to exchange lineup cards with Los Angeles manager — and former Bochy player — Dave Roberts, Roberts went up sans chapeau. Another chant began. Another perfunctory, almost embarrassed wave from Bochy. Another tip of the cap.
After a miserable five-run first that saw three hits — including a bases-clearing Corey Seager double — roll through the shift, right where fielders would traditionally be positioned, Bochy let starter Dereck Rodriguez go out on a second-inning strikeout of AJ Pollock.
Then came the video tributes. From country superstar Garth Brooks — who played in parts of two spring trainings with the San Diego Padres when Bochy was skipper in 1998 and 1999 — to Will Smith, to Tyler Beede, Jeff Samardzija and Bumgarner (“You’re my favorite manager. You’re the only manager I’ve had, but you’re still my favorite,” he twanged), Sunday was full of the humor, grace and heart Bochy brought to the game, his truest value apart from his bullpen wizardry.
It’s the reason why his players, once they realized the playoffs were out of reach, pushed even harder for him to win his 2,000th game, going 33-19 in June and July. It’s why upwards of 50 former players returned to honor him, including the reclusive Tim Lincecum and Roberts, who donned a Thank You Boch shirt over his Dodger sleeves and joined his 2007-09 teammates, Bochy’s first Giants. Barry Bonds hoisted him up and flung his Dodgers cap into right field.
Before the festivities commenced, when prompted by Pablo Sandoval, center fielder Kevin Pillar — getting a rare day off — predicted Bochy would cry in the postgame ceremony. “He’s French, so the chances are pretty good,” Pillar said.
When Pillar stepped to the plate as a pinch hitter in the eighth, with Five for Fighting’s “Superman” playing (courtesy DJ Brandon Crawford, referencinf Pillar’s nickname), the Giants’ leader in nearly every offensive category received a standing ovation. It was his first at-bat since being named the Willie Mac Award winner by players and coaches on Saturday
Pillar came to the Giants long after Bochy, at the start of spring training, had announced that this season would be his last. He got to Dodger Stadium late on April 2, thanks to a cross-country flight from Toronto, so he had to speak with Bochy after the game. He needed writers’ help to find Bochy’s office.
With center fielder of the future Steven Duggar already seemingly up to stay, Pillar didn’t know what his role would be, exactly. He’d been a center fielder his entire professional career. It’s where he felt at home.
“Through that transition of going from a team I was with my whole career to a new team, a new stadium, a new league, Boch was awesome in letting me establish myself in this clubhouse, in this league, a new environment and playing a position I’m most comfortable,” Pillar said.
“I think that’s kind of the ‘It’ factor,” Pillar continued. “I think that’s something that people don’t really talk about. It’s one of those intangibles that’s just feel for the situation, feel for the player, feel for probably what was best for me in that moment. That didn’t come with him flipping a coin or him writing stuff down or reading analytics. That was just the human side of this game, and doing what was best for me, but what he felt was best for our team in the moment. That’s something I’ll always appreciate.”
In July of 2017, Pablo Sandoval didn’t need to look for Bochy’s office. He knew right where it was when the Giants signed him to a humbling minor league deal after his implosion in Boston. He didn’t want to go in and see Bochy, the man who handed him the 2014 World Series trophy first, who didn’t want him to enter free agency in the first place, but wanted the best for his player.
Upon his exit from San Francisco, Sandoval had trashed the organization, saying the Giants hadn’t tried hard enough to keep him. The only two guys he’d miss, he said, would be Bochy and Hunter Pence.
When he returned, Sandoval said last week, “I was shy to go in there and talk to him.”
But, go in he did. He’s kept going in, every day.
“He would always be open for me. He let me be me,” Sandoval said, his voice catching in the back of his throat. “That’s one of the things I love about him. He’s the type of guy, he told me to have fun, and keep this clubhouse loose. That’s what I do. That’s the thing he told me that first time: ‘I want you to be loud, and I don’t want you to step back from nothing.’”
Sandoval made it a point to rehab in the City during Bochy’s final week. He wanted to be here. He walked into Bochy’s office again on Sunday morning, and sat among the boxes of nicknacks and wall hangings and souveniers from his farewell tour. The lamented that Sandoval, on the shelf with Tommy John surgery, wouldn’t be able to play all nine positions in one game. They also reminisced.
“I came here with a mission: Keep everybody loose, and keep Papa happy in the office,” Sandoval said. “We’re as close as a son and a dad. It has to mean a lot for me to call him that. He’s a family guy, he loves his kids, loves his grandkids. You follow those guys, because those people, the way they love their family, the way they love their kids, they teach you the right way to be outside the field.”
As the final out was recorded in the three-hit loss, the fans chanted Bochy’s name. The grounds crew dug up the lightly-used home plate, which saw only 271 Giants runs scored this season. Bumgarner would later present it to Bochy, after members from Bochy’s first three years and each of the title teams entered, ending with Tim Lincecum, who gave Bochy a deep hug.
Sandoval gave a heartfelt, emotional, tearful farewell on the video board and at the microphone, thanking Bochy for letting Panda be Panda. He, Brandon Crawford, Posey, Bumgarner and Brandon Belt gave Bochy a gift that, Sandoval said, he’ll be able to pass on to his grandkids. None of the men divulged exactly what it was.
After addressing Bochy’s wife kim and his sons and grandsons, Ryan Vogelsong said,”Remember, all these guys back here, all the guys that aren’t here, we’re also your family, too. We’re going to miss you, the City is going to miss you, baseball is going to miss you.”
And, just like Pillar said, Bochy cried.
Posey, in his video, couldn’t fathom the toll that over 30 years of travel took on Bochy, and his family. For that, for his guidance, for the memories, lessons and the humanity, Posey said: “I take my hat off to you.”