Bruce Bochy's Staying Power Far From 'Buzzard's Luck'
Bruce Bochy will enter 2011 as the National League's most tenured manager, assuming Braves skipper Bobby Cox retires next fall as planned. Bochy has managed in the NL longer than Tony La Russa and Charlie Manuel, and longer without interruption than Lou Piniella, Dusty Baker and Joe Torre.
Next you might ask, who's Bruce Bochy?
Confused at times with Bruce Bochte, a former American League hitter, Bochy is a former NL catcher who entered the managerial pool in 1995 with the Padres and is still afloat, now guiding his fourth Giants team.
"He really loves the game," said Giants general manager Brian Sabean, who hired Bochy in October 2006 and last year bumped his contract through 2011. "He knows he's only one of 30 guys in the job and takes it very seriously. He appreciates what it means and is very humble.
"He's very consistent -- a lot of which people don't see. He's got a hard side, and he's got a humorous side."
Take it from West Coast Bias, which has watched countless games managed by Bochy while much of the baseball world slept: Bochy is as good or better than many of the managers he opposes. He's not loaves-and-fishes good, but the Giants could do a lot worse.
Foremost, Bochy generally earns and keeps the respect of his players. Partly because he played in the majors for nine seasons. Partly because he shoots straight and never blasts a player through the media. Partly because, even at age 55, the 6-foot-4, 250-pounder appears capable of throwing a ballplayer through a wall.
He's among the best managers at handling a bullpen, said Trevor Hoffman, the all-time saves leader who was Bochy's closer for 11 years in San Diego.
"He doesn't get greedy," Hoffman said, meaning that Bochy resisted the urge to heavily tax Hoffman until at the best time.
A backup for most his major league career, Bochy is deft at developing his bench players. The team's corresponding gains are better versatility, and more overall energy and camaraderie, which helps give the impression that his teams are "scrappy" and "energetic."
The manager's first job is to not screw up the team, and Bochy gets that part right, too. A lot of manager don't. Ballplayers can smell the phony ones from a mile way. Once that happens, the manager is dead. Bochy is still around. Connect the dots.
Among the lesser-known reasons for his longevity are the acupuncture needles that released Bochy from mind-bending pain eight years ago. The back and neck pain, Bochy figured, was the price of years spent either squatting behind home plate or blocking it from charging baserunners, whether during his amateur days in Florida or as a major leaguer with the Astros, Mets and Padres. By 2002 the pain had become insufferable. Surgery was booked to repair disks in his back and neck. On the day before his surgery, Bochy sought out a doctor of Chinese medicine in San Diego.
He figured that he had nothing to lose.
Into Bochy's body went the acupuncture needles.
Away went the pain.
And it hasn't come back.
"I feel great," Bochy said from the dugout a few days ago.
Mimicking a golf swing that eight years ago would've dropped him to his knees in agony, he then stood upright and smiled "It's incredible," he said.
Sabean said Bochy's dry sense of humor is another positive, keeping Giants players loose in the dugout.
Bochy has his own quirky vernacular, one that blends baseball-speak with salty words, and often makes colorful use of animals.
When stumped by a ballplayer's performance, Bochy sometimes says he's "buffaloed." His pitchers who are overly stubborn "try to bull their way through innings." Misfortune that besets his team is "buzzard's luck." And if Bochy is "buffaloed" to the point of rage over his "buzzard's luck," he uses the word "horse" to modify a verb that's unprintable here.
"That's my automatic ejection word," Bochy said, smiling.
Lest you think Bochy is without flaw, know that he's absorbed some arrows in his 15 seasons.
Juxtaposed against La Russa's Cardinals, his Padres did not look as prepared a few times, notably the three playoff series in which the Padres lost nine of 10 games. However, the Cardinals tended to be the more talented team, particularly in 2005, when Bochy directed San Diego into the playoffs largely on the strength of its bench and bullpen.
At times, some of Bochy's younger players wondered if Bochy was too much of a buddy with some veteran players. They sensed a blurring of the line between leader and ballplayer.
The most significant critique of Bochy came from the manager's longtime friend and boss in San Diego, Kevin Towers, who told me on the record in 2005 that Bochy needed to give more playing time to young outfielder Xavier Nady. The comments by Towers -- who was getting an earful from his development staff at the time -- made it easier for others later to accuse Bochy of favoring veterans over youngsters. Some Giants observers, for example, wondered last year if Bochy stuck too long with veteran outfielder Randy Winn, perhaps stunting the development of Nate Schierholtz.
Understand that the contributions of veteran players tend to allow young managers to become veteran managers. Bear in mind that, for most of Bochy's tenure, the Padres were brutally bad at drafting or signing amateur hitters of value.
Sabean attacked the notion that Bochy prefers veterans to younger players.
"I think that's a tough knock for any manager," he said. "I don't believe in that label, and I''ll tell you why: When it comes to young players you have to have an all-in mentality. And, you have to be in the right place in the right time.
"The most difficult thing to do in sports, which is doubly tough for a manager, is to try to win and develop at the same time. More and more, kids are getting to the big leagues earlier. More and more, kids aren't prepared to play up here and deal with the failing. I don't think that's fair, whether it's Bruce or anybody else who is the manager.
"So much depends on surroundings," said Sabean, who lives in the same condo building as Bochy, a short walk from San Francisco's bayside ballpark, "or the year you're in. The expectations. What your options are without that player or players. You have to exercise tremendous patience, and you have to have a buy-in from everybody to do that."
The Giants were in rebuilding mode when Bochy joined them. In other words, they stunk. They finished in last place, losing 91 games. They lost 90 games the next year, then jumped to 88-74 last year.
Bochy's fourth Padres team was his best, winning 98 games and ascending to the World Series. He said this, the fourth of his Giants teams "is the best" he's managed in San Francisco, adding, "Now, it's up to us to go out and do it. But in mind, there's no question it's the best team."