The numbers don’t tell the whole story with Bruce Bochy. They tell some of it, of course: the smidge north of 2,000 managerial wins that he’ll retire with, the four World Series appearances, the three World Series rings, the fact that the 10 other managers to win 2,000 games and the nine others to win three or more championships are all in the Hall of Fame. Or that he’s managed for so long that earlier this month he became the source of a bit of baseball numerology: As of September 10, he, whose managerial career stretched from 1995 to 2019, carried a 1,995-2,019 record of wins and losses. Win no. 2,000 took place this month at Fenway Park, and as the game wound down, San Francisco Giants fans got a cheer going: “Bochy! Bochy!”
When the Giants manager hangs up his (very large) hat on Sunday after the Giants’ regular-season finale against the Dodgers in San Francisco, he’ll mark not only the probable end of his own storied career: It’s the end of an era for baseball, and for managers like Bochy—managers given the space, the years, and the trust to really cook.
Bochy, 64, spent nine seasons as a catcher with the Padres, Astros, and Mets, a career long enough to accrue some Forrest Gumpian highlights: He hit the lone walkoff home run allowed by Nolan Ryan in Ryan’s 27 seasons as a pitcher, got bowled over by Pete Rose in the 10th inning of the 1980 NLCS, and was one of the San Diego Padres players who fatefully tackled the Giants’ original mascot, Crazy Crab.
He picked up coaching almost as soon as he stopped playing. His rise was swift: Within five years, he was managing the Padres’ Double-A affiliate, became San Diego’s third base coach a year later, and then, after the 1994 season, plain old manager, making him, at 39, the youngest skipper in the National League. In 12 seasons, his Padres picked up four NL West titles and a National League pennant; since he decamped for San Francisco in 2007, San Diego has had precisely two winning seasons. The most recent of those, 2010, saw Bochy’s Giants win the division by two games, and then win the World Series, and then win it again two years after that, and two years after that.
Together, those three championships in 2010, 2012, and 2014 make up one of the most singular dynasties in baseball history. The off-on timing led to the crediting—or derision, depending on your allegiance—of “even-year magic,” but that magic was at least as much Bochy’s doing as it was the calendar’s. His three championship teams infuriated foes for seeming, particularly toward the end, to be so-so squads that repeatedly stumbled into lucky breaks (give or take a Madison Bumgarner); that 2014 team is the only World Series winner to squeak into the playoffs via the wild-card game. In truth, the alternating championships say more about the guy making the decisions, who followed 2011’s and 2013’s respective 86-76 and 76-86 seasons by winning it all. Every magic trick, after all, needs a magician.
But the time for dynastic managers like Bochy has nearly ended. At the start of the 2019 season, just five of 30 managers in Major League Baseball had been leading their teams for more than four seasons. The ability of a manager to wield much decision-making power has shriveled as front offices have taken ever more control over the on-field product. The grounds for firing have likewise grown: The Cubs, for instance, seem all but certain to part ways with Joe Maddon, who led the Northsiders to their first championship in 108 years in 2016 and a playoff berth in each of his first four years with the team, and nearly—OK, kinda—a fifth one this fall. It’s not enough; for most teams now, it’s not clear what could ever be.
And yet the Giants remained Bochy’s for 12 years, through seasons great and dismal, through the lost causes and the should’ve-made-it years alike, through the period when the team’s unofficial slogan was “Giants Baseball: Torture” and through the years that ended with parades. In his hands, baseball felt like something older, less fragile: Sometimes there are crap years and sometimes great ones, and neither will last forever.
He has rightfully earned a reputation as a bullpen tinkerer, jockeying his guys late in games. Sometimes this was to great effect, as with dispatching the Phillies in the 2010 NLCS by using three of his five starting pitchers in Game 6, or with Bumgarner pitching five innings of relief to close out Game 7 of the 2014 World Series on two days’ rest, an exertion so extreme that Bochy has described going to great lengths to avoid him between innings: “I never made eye contact with him. When he came off the field, I went up the tunnel to avoid him.” Or he might, say, have Jeff Samardzija pinch run for Bumgarner, who pinch hit for Matt Cain. Once, after a late-September game in which he made just one pitching change, he joked with reporters that he would “have to get on the treadmill to get [his] workout in.”
Through the years, Bochy cultivated a winking respect for the wisdom and caprice of “the baseball gods,” whom he once exhorted reliever Santiago Casilla to recognize alongside the Christian one when Casilla took a line drive to the shin after getting mouthy during a spring training game. During a rough patch in 2017, Bochy told reporters, “For some reason the baseball gods, I mean, they’re really testing us here and this group.”
That group has been steadfast over the years. His teams have changed—indeed, he’s been with the Giants longer than any player on the roster—but year in and year out, Bochy’s squads have spoken of their coach with reverence. He has famously been adored by his players, the kind of guy who, having been accidentally left behind by the team bus at Dodger Stadium in 2015, declined the offer of a ride from shortstop Brandon Crawford because he didn’t want him to go out of his way. Consider that last summer, after Bochy managed a game in San Francisco, he drove to the airport, took a red-eye flight (with a connection—egads) to Albany, New York, and then drove 90 minutes to Cooperstown to be at the Hall of Fame induction of Trevor Hoffman, whom Bochy managed for 12 seasons in San Diego. “There isn’t a guy who was in his locker room who wouldn’t run through a brick wall for the man,” Hoffman said afterward. Here in the days of coaching carousels and all-powerful algorithms, it’s hard to imagine many managers will ever get the chance to earn that kind of loyalty again.
With Bochy gone, the Giants will carry on with their rebuild, slowly stripping away the last pieces of those championship squads as one by one, players like Bumgarner and Buster Posey reach free agency, age out of everyday play, or make way for new faces; in Posey’s case, it’s eminently possible that he, too, may graduate from catching to coaching one day. And who knows—Team France has invited the French-born Bochy to coach the nation’s team in the 2021 World Baseball Classic, and the newly manager-less Padres are rumored to be interested once again. In the meantime, though, San Franciscans will have to settle for gathering the tugboats and sending Bochy off with one last foghorn to remember.