Bruce Bochy once took a bat to a flat-screen TV during a San Francisco Giants team meeting to make a point to his players. It just took a few more swings than he expected because it didn’t break on the first attempt as he had figured.
“It’s not like a regular TV where it shatters, it just went thud,” Bochy recalled this week.
Such moments of madness were rare for Bochy, who is known more for his even-keel temperament, and that made them all the more meaningful. While his legacy in San Francisco will always be capturing those three World Series titles in a remarkable five-year span, Bochy’s reputation for fairness and having a genuine way of dealing with players has been of utmost importance to him during a decorated 25-year managerial career.
“My hope is they know I care. I don’t always get it right as far as communicating,” said Bochy, who wraps up what has certainly been a Hall of Fame career this weekend. “I know there have been players who questioned how fair I was, too, and that’s going to happen in this job. If most of the guys feel that way (he was fair), it makes me feel good. I appreciate that. That means a lot to me.”
Bochy has spent the last 13 seasons with the Giants following 12 in San Diego, where he guided a Padres club led by Hall of Famers Tony Gwynn and Trevor Hoffman to the 1998 World Series. San Diego got swept by the Yankees. He never got fired along the way, joking he beat the Padres to it when he departed for their NL West rival up north.
A former first-round pick catcher who played nine major league seasons with Houston, the New York Mets and Padres, he opted to announce his retirement plans early in spring training to avoid any distractions for his club considering he faced regular questions about his future. He manages his last game Sunday.
Bochy arrived in the Bay Area just ahead of home run king Barry Bonds’ final season of 2007. He managed Bonds through his successful pursuit of Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record, choosing when to rest the seven-time NL MVP and when to push him amid the daily pressures of chasing the record.
Another Barry, Barry Zito, will never forget Bochy’s respectful approach in telling the left-hander — earning a team-high $18.5 million at the time — that he wouldn’t make the playoff roster in 2010, when the Giants went on to capture their first World Series title since moving West in 1958. They made it an every-other-year thing after that, winning titles again in the even years of 2012 and ’14.
“Such a professional. Boch is so composed. It’s almost like it doesn’t mean anything anymore when guys are yelling, but with Bochy he’s always so composed so when he did get mad or raise his voice — or, take a baseball bat through a flat-screen TV — then you’d listen,” Zito said. “He did that once. It was probably ’08. He had to have very difficult discussions with me about leaving me off the roster in 2010. He was always just so amazing at handling his players.
“He always treated me with respect even though a lot of times I didn’t deserve respect in the game at those times.”
Bochy, to this day, respects how Zito immediately got back to work despite the disappointing news. The 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner with Oakland, Zito came back from that to help the Giants win the 2012 title.
Others have noticed from afar how Bochy handles the tough matters.
“We have shared and exchanged ideas and thoughts over the years from a managerial basis,” said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, who played against Bochy and also managed regularly against him while with Colorado. “Watching from afar, the number of quality, elite players that have gone through here, they all speak glowingly of him on their way out. I don’t know if anybody bats 1.000. He bats close to 1.000. I also think he’s remained true to himself in his core beliefs. He’s a good baseball man and I think he has over time learned how to adapt, to improvise and overcome. I have nothing but the utmost professional and personal respect for him. It’s a Hall of Fame career. It’s a Hall of Fame manager. San Francisco and San Diego I think will both look back, they’re feeling it now, at what a wonderful opportunity they had to share the career with him.”
Repeatedly, Bochy has trusted his gut based on a player’s track record over time rather than looking at one bad day or slump.
“In his 25 years as a big league manager, Boch never had a team that underperformed. He never was given a team that was supposed to win a division, win a pennant, or win a World Series, but he always got the most out of his teams, his players, his coaches. He trusted the length of the season to allow players to be the best they could be by giving them every chance, every opportunity, while believing in them and putting them in the roles they needed to be in, and in what he needed from them to win as a team,” recalled Tim Flannery, Bochy’s ex-teammate and longtime third base coach in both cities.
Bochy understands what it takes to be a role player in the game, too. He was a career .239 hitter with 26 homers and 93 RBIs.
“Sometimes the tough moments are some of the most cherished memories, because people do things in tough times and that experience … being in the trenches and supporting each other, you grow very firm bonds and very strong bonds,” said Texas outfielder Hunter Pence, who lost his starting job with the Giants in 2018. “You just appreciate all the work and all the effort, just his whole character. Playing for him and being around him, he lights up the room, he’s funny, he’s fun, he’s smart and he gives you every opportunity to succeed. And I’m thankful for all of these things, not just one.”
Similar to the Zito situation, Bochy said one of his toughest conversations ever came in early August with Joe Panik, to let the second baseman know he was being designated for assignment. It never gets any easier to let a player go.
“You may think it does but it’s part of the job,” Bochy said. “This was one of the more difficult ones. I really like Joe, I respect him, of course appreciate everything he’s done here. I’m not going to lie, this was a very tough one, but it should be. You spend as much time as we all do together and for as long as we’ve been together, it’s going to be tough. If it’s not, you’re not human.”
Bochy’s approach has remained fairly simple: “I try to treat people the way I would want to be treated. I kind of have to remind myself of that. It’s not an easy game.”
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