Giants' Bochy quietly building Hall of Fame resume
No manager did a better job than the Giants' Bruce Bochy in 2012. His strength is also one of his weaknesses when it comes to the voting for National League Manager of the Year. First, there are several other very good candidates. Second, in Bochy's case, he makes it all look so easy.
People tend to underestimate Bochy because he speaks slowly, makes his points methodically and really doesn't seem interested in shining a light on himself. In that way, he's like his boss, Giants general manager Brian Sabean.
2012 Manager of the Year finalists
|American League||National League|
|Bob Melvin, OAK||Dusty Baker, CIN|
|Buck Showalter, BAL||Bruce Bochy, SF|
|Robin Ventura, CWS||Davey Johnson, WAS|
To understand Bochy's genius is to understand his job, which is to get players to ignore the noise outside the clubhouse and to play hard every single night. And to convince them that the team must come first.
It's also to communicate openly and honestly and to make players understand he cares about them. It's to convince them that every decision is based on the big picture.
If you began watching the Giants in just the final weeks of the season, you may not understand the great work Bochy did this season. By then, San Francisco was one of the three or four best teams in baseball, a team clearly capable of winning the World Series for the second time in three seasons.
Bochy's best work had come in the prior five months, when:
He lost closer Brian Wilson to an elbow injury during Spring Training and his best offensive player, Melky Cabrera, with 45 game remaining in the regular season.
Despite the losses, Bochy kept his team focused in one direction. There was at least one team meeting and dozens of smaller chats, his way of letting the Giants know that they still had enough to win.
He expertly reworked the assignments in his bullpen and moved his lineup around, finding a combination that worked with Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro at the top of the batting order.
Bochy deftly handled Tim Lincecum's four-month slump. This issue alone could have torn the Giants apart, and there's no instruction booklet for helping a young star through the first real crisis of his career.
Bochy kept giving Lincecum chances, and then when he was forced to make a decision about his playoff roster, he took the bold step of sending Lincecum to the bullpen. There, Lincecum did his best work of the season while helping the Giants win another World Series.
Bochy worked two gifted young players, shortstop Brandon Crawford and first baseman Brandon Belt, into his lineup, nurturing them through the first few months of the season as they experienced the usual bumps in the road.
He seamlessly incorporated a slew of new players into his clubhouse, including Hunter Pence and Scutaro, who were acquired for the stretch run. That the Giants remained a cohesive group is a tribute both to the type of people Sabean acquired and to Bochy's ability to create the right environment.
Bochy would be the first to tell you he's part of a great organization. Ownership spends to keep a competitive product on the field, and Sabean has constructed a great top-to-bottom organization.
With virtually every seat sold at AT&T Park, the Giants have one of the best home-field advantages in the game.
San Francisco won the World Series, but not in the traditional way: it hit just 31 home runs at home and scored fewer runs than five other NL teams. The Giants were fourth in both on-base percentage and stolen bases.
But the 2012 Giants, even more than the 2010 champions, were the team Sabean and Bochy envisioned in the post-Barry Bonds era. They had speed and athleticism to run down balls in that spacious home outfield, and they kept the pressure on by running the bases aggressively.
Baseball's best managers are the ones who can get their players to be both aggressive and relaxed. In ways large and small, the 2012 Giants took their cue from Bochy.
He put his players in position to succeed and got virtually every player to buy in. He has spent 37 years in professional baseball as a player and coach and has hundreds of friends scattered around the game.
Bochy has been around so long that he's easy to take for granted. Again, part of that is his reluctance to take credit for all the good that happens around his teams. But he quietly has constructed a Hall of Fame resume for himself.
This season added to that resume. If he cares about such things -- and he surely does -- he would never let his players know. He won't do anything to call attention to himself. That's just not acceptable around his Giants. They're not allowed to lose sight of what's really important.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.