An Ode to San Francisco Giants Manager, Bruce Bochy
By Jeff Young
Bruce Bochy is entering the final year of his contract with the San Francisco Giants. Farhan Zaidi has not tipped his hand one way or the other on whether he will retain Bochy beyond this season, but the general sense is Bochy will not be retained.
Bochy fell into the Giants lap back in 2007. As Felipe Alou‘s managing career came to an end, the Giants were in search of a new one.
Bochy had been managing the Padres for 12 seasons when the Giants asked for an interview. Surprisingly, the Padres allowed Bochy to interview.
It was surprising since Bochy had been relatively successful. He recorded 951 regular season wins as the Padres head skipper. He also led them to the 1998 World Series. Bochy was quickly named the San Francisco Giants manager. The search for a new manager never appeared to extend beyond Bochy.
Bochy inherited a roster that was very much in transition. The expectations were not high. And, his biggest task in his first year was to manage Barry Bonds as Bonds broke the home run record. It was not until the 2009 season when the championship window unexpectedly opened.
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The Giants developed the core of this window through their farm system. This core included Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Pablo Sandoval, Sergio Romo, and Brian Wilson. A year later, both Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner were added to that core. The three championships were won due in large part to this core. Also, the Giants made several savvy moves to acquire Freddy Sanchez, Hunter Pence, Marco Scutaro, Jeremy Affeldt, Michael Morse, and many more.
Despite the quick and consistent infusion of talent, the Giants still needed to make the right in-game calls. Bochy was at the helm for each championship. In 2010, Bochy managed a team of misfits. The games they played were torturous. The margin of error was always razor-thin.
The Giants got clutch hitting and incredible pitching performances. However, Bochy knew when to play certain players such as Cody Ross, and how to best utilize his bullpen. The Core Four was born during this season. In 2012, Bochy likely had his most talented roster. Posey was the MVP, and Cain was pitching at a CY Young-caliber level.
Despite this, the Giants quickly ran into trouble in the playoffs. They fell 0-2 against the Reds. A motivational speech from Pence saved the day, and the Giants made an improbable comeback. In the NLCS, the Giants were down yet again. The fell 3-1 against the Cardinals. Bochy’s coaching acumen was on full display during another improbable comeback.
Bochy tabbed Zito to start Game 5 of this series, and Zito rewarded San Francisco with a win. During this and the next 2 games, Bochy effectively employed a surprise bunt by Zito, and a hit-and-run by Ryan Vogelsong.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny was not prepared for either. The San Francisco Giants only gave up 1 run in the final 3 games of this series, and came out victorious. Zito’s Game 5 performance changed the momentum, and Bochy’s instinct to pitch Zito was part of that.
The Giants swept the Tigers in the World Series. In a surprise to many, Bochy tabbed Zito to be the Game 1 starter. Yet again, Zito rewarded Bochy’s decision-making.
In 2014, the San Francisco Giants limped into the playoffs. Both Matt Cain and Angel Pagan were out with injuries. Brandon Belt and Michael Morse were just returning from injuries.
The Giants were the underdogs for much of the playoffs, and survived 2 more elimination games. Of course, Madison Bumgarner put together one of the greatest pitching performances in postseason history. That certainly helps.
However, the Giants did not get much from the rest of the rotation, and Bochy had to navigate through that. The Core Four consisting of Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla, and Jeremy Affeldt combined to give up 1 run in the 2014 postseason. Bochy knew his relievers, and how to best use them.
In addition to this, Bochy relied on Travis Ishikawa to play left field in the playoffs. Ishikawa had little game experience at the position, but he had Bochy’s trust.
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Bochy led the San Francisco Giants to one more elimination game win in 2016. It helped that Madison Bumgarner continued his postseason dominance.
The last couple of years have not been great. The toll of losing seems to be taking a toll on Bochy. Also, questions remain about his health.
He makes some questionable game management decisions during the regular season. Though, it is fair to wonder whether he has the personnel to employ his in-game strategy.
Bochy has a 975-969 record as the Giants skipper. His record could very well fall below .500 after this season. But, Bochy’s legacy will always be remembered for how he managed in the playoffs.
The Giants won 10 consecutive elimination games during Bochy’s tenure. That type of success is unprecedented. It is the sign of a manager who can keep his cool while the stakes continue to get higher.
As the season begins, questions will continue to be raised about Bochy’s future. Without any clarity from Zaidi, it is difficult to guess the direction he may go as Bochy’s contract expires. For what it is worth, Zaidi said all the right things about Bochy during his introductory press conference. And, Bochy will always be a team player as well.
If this is Bochy’s swan song as the Giants manager, then he has exceeded all expectations that were in place when he took over. The manager has such a big influence over the results of every postseason game.
Every decision is thoroughly analyzed. Bochy made very few decisions in the postseason that could be characterized as a bad decision. Plus, he coached circles around the opposing managers.
It is hard to argue with the results. Bochy managed through 3 championships, and it was never easy. He had good teams, but he knew how to best utilize his players to maximize their value and performance.
If this is it for Bochy, his legacy is sealed. He is one of the great managers in not only Giants history, but baseball history. If this is it, it has been one incredible ride.