Bruce Bochy returns to San Francisco: ‘You could tell how much winning meant to him’


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SAN FRANCISCO — When Bruce Bochy glances at the gleaming Rolex on his wrist, he can tell more than the time. He can tell you the answer to a terrific baseball trivia question.

Who was the last San Francisco Giants player to wear No. 15?

That was Bochy’s number, of course, during his accomplished 13-year tenure as the Giants’ manager. It’s a number that is unofficially out of circulation now, although it probably won’t be long before the Giants officially retire No. 15 with a ceremony and perhaps a statue unveiling. For two months at the end of the 2011 season, though, it belonged to someone else. The Giants paid a dear price, top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler, to rent Carlos Beltran from the New York Mets. And Beltran paid a dear price, including the sales tax, to rent No. 15 from Bochy.

The trade didn’t work out for the Giants. But Bochy always had a knack for coming out ahead.

He’s done it again in his first season with the American League West-leading Texas Rangers, who mosey on over from Oakland to begin a three-game series in San Francisco Friday night. It’ll be Bochy’s first game as a visiting manager at the Giants’ waterfront ballpark — the one where he orchestrated so many memorable victories from the home dugout and soaked up so many cheers — since his final season with the San Diego Padres in 2006.

And he comes to town with weight in his holsters. The Rangers are 68-47, their offense is the most prolific in the game, and they lead the major leagues with a plus-175 run differential.

“Trust me, I know I’m blessed,” Bochy told reporters in Oakland. “This is a great group here, starting from ownership to the front office to the staff to the players. For me to get back in, I felt like it had to be a great fit, and it certainly has been. I’m lucky to have such a talented group and guys who play the game right.”

When Bochy stepped down as Giants manager after the 2019 season, it was more a sabbatical than a retirement — although most visiting teams showered him with parting gifts anyway, most of them 80 proof or more. (“I’m guessing he can’t give it all back, if you know what I mean,” shortstop Brandon Crawford said.)

Bob Melvin presents Bruce Bochy with a bottle of wine on Aug. 24, 2019. (Lachlan Cunningham / Getty Images)

If Bochy hadn’t thrown his hat — size 8 1/8 at last check — back into managing, he would’ve been an automatic selection to the Hall of Fame’s class of 2024 when the Eras Committee meets in December.

But the Hall of Fame can wait. So can the official number retirement ceremony and all the World Series reunion celebrations. Bochy, 68, will never run out of occasions to come back to the crowds at 24 Willie Mays Plaza.

For now, the occasion is to face the Giants. And work every gambler’s angle to beat them.

There will be time for stories, though. Anyone who spent time around Bochy has loads of them. Here are a few that instantly came to mind last week for some of the people closest to him in San Francisco:

Longtime bench coach Ron Wotus

“He had a lot of good meetings, a lot of effective meetings. But there was a moment that made me realize this was the right guy to get accountability in this clubhouse and move in the right direction. It was his first year (in 2007) and he started off calm. Then he picked up a baseball bat and took a whack at the television in the clubhouse. He told the guys that we need to be focused on the game for three hours. Guys were watching TV, they were coming out late. So he took the bat to the TV, and what was a little bit funny about it — you expected the TV to explode. And it just sort of went thud! Because the new ones don’t smash. So that pissed him off even more. A couple more thuds and he destroyed it. He got worked up, he let the players have it. It was one of the last times I saw a manager get into the players a little bit. There’s a certain accountability that comes with the game. And I thought it was a defining moment for him. He wanted this team to realize what’s important. Boch always had that presence. He’s the guy in charge, right? It’s like meeting John Wayne. But he didn’t run over with the mouth. When he had something to say, it was pertinent. You listen more when someone leads you in that manner.”

Giants head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner

“We’re in Pittsburgh and Matt Cain was hitting. It had rained earlier so it was wet in the dugout. And Cain lines one in the dugout right at Boch. And Boch goes straight down, on his ass, and he whacks his head on the dugout floor. He gets up, says, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine.’ The inning ends and I can tell he’s not fine. So I take him downstairs and he’s spinning. I told him, ‘Boch, just stay here for two or three innings. Wo’s got it.’ So Boch is pacing and pacing for a couple innings and finally says, ‘I’m going back out.’ So I go down with him to make sure he’s OK. As soon as he gets in the dugout and tells Ronny he’s back, there’s a bang-bang play at first. So he jumps out of the dugout and, I can’t say ran, but fast-walked to first base to argue the call. And he got, like, three-quarters of the way out there and got dizzy as hell. He barely got to the umpire, like five feet away, half-hearted argued, came back and sat down. So I’m keeping an eye on him, a couple outs go by, and he looks over and says, ‘Groesch, that was a bad move. I ain’t feeling too good.’ He just hated to miss any of the game.

“And the other one, Hunter (Pence) in Colorado. He goes back on a fly ball, hits the right field wall. Hunter usually gets up. But he got the wind knocked out, banged his knee. So I start running out there, and it’s a long run. Go try running in Colorado when you’re not used to it. By the time I get out there, Hunter is up and moving and in typical Hunter style, he says, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine.’ By the time he does that, Boch had just got out there. I said, ‘Boch, he’s fine.’ And he says, ‘Don’t you dare go back. I gotta catch my breath.’ So we’re slowly walking back and I say, ‘Hey, I’ll race you back to the dugout.’ And he said, ‘Don’t you move!’ We get back to the dugout and I look over and asked Boch if he was OK. And he says, ‘Goddamn Hunter, I’d just put a dip in. My head’s spinning like crazy.’”

Brandon Crawford

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Bruce Bochy congratulates Brandon Crawford on Aug. 8, 2019. (Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)

“All his speeches. They didn’t happen very often. But when they did, it was when we really needed something as a team. Even if it didn’t fire everybody up necessarily, he made sense of what we were going through. He was always really good at finding a story to relate to or even a movie. I’m almost positive he showed ‘Days of Thunder’ in Colorado. And it worked. The specific one is probably Cincinnati (in the 2012 NL Division Series), down two games to none, and the Bible story he had all prepared about Gideon. And then Hunter (Pence) just completely took over afterwards. But Boch’s speech was still really good, too. Even the ones that aren’t as memorable, I always remember when Boch gave a speech, we were winning the game. That’s how we felt.”

“The first thought for me was my very first spring training, just getting to spend time with Boch on the field knowing how long he’d been at it, and seeing the joy and excitement he had to be standing behind the cage when guys were hitting. That’s something I think about quite often. That’s why he’s back doing it again. He’d say, ‘Man, I just love doing this too much to not be out there.’

“Another one that comes to mind is a behind-the-scenes moment. We were having a tough time with a certain player, as it’ll happen from time to time. I went to Boch and asked what his thoughts were. I was more of the mindset of, ‘Hey man, you need to drop the hammer on this guy.’ And Boch looked at me and said, ‘I can’t, Buster. I can’t do it. I’ll lose him. I’ll completely lose him.’ Boch says, ‘What’s going to be better for the team, having this guy on the field or not?’ And that was a learning moment for me. As a leader, you have to be malleable and flexible in your approach to different guys. It can’t be one size fits all. Even if on the surface it’s a pretty unpopular decision among the group, he was still thinking about the big picture. That’s a tough call too, right? What if you lose the group, you know? And I’m sure he assessed all those risks and did what he thought would be best for the team overall.

“I haven’t watched enough Rangers games, but I know when we were playing, he rarely had any notes with him. He did his homework before the game. I identified with that as well: having all that preparation fresh in your mind, but then letting your instincts take over and watch what unfolds and make decisions based on that. Whereas now you see a lot more tactical decisions being made while looking into a binder or an iPad or something like that.

“The other one that pops into my mind is the flight back from Texas after the 2010 World Series and the gigantic grin on his face as he walked about the plane. He made sure to spend time with each of the guys. You could tell how much winning meant to him. But it was important for him to share his joy with everyone on that plane who had gone through that journey together. It was one of those cool moments that’s emblazoned in my mind, seeing this giant human walking around with a childlike grin on his face.”

(Top photo of Bruce Bochy from 2019: Stan Szeto / USA Today)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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