by Drew Sarver
San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy can easily identify with Travis Ishikawa, his sparingly used first baseman. Bochy appeared in just 358 games during a nine-season Major League career. Ishikawa has played in 444 games in his seven-year Major League career. Bochy hit 26 career home runs, while Ishikawa has hit 22 career home runs during the regular season.
But last Thursday night Ishikawa sealed Bochy’s entrance into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a manager. Ishikawa, who played one game with the Yankees last year, struck out twice and was booed off the field, smashed a walkoff three-run home run to give the Giants a 5-2 NL pennant winner over the St. Louis Cardinals. The blast off of St. Louis Cardinals reliever Michael Wacha sent the Giants to their third World Series in the last five years.
The Bochy-led Giants won the championship in 2010 (vs. Texas) and 2012 (vs. Detroit) and will now face the Kansas City Royals, who have become America’s darlings. This is the first time a Bochy squad has made it to the finals as a wild card entrant. Madison Bumgarner pitched a complete game in the Giants 8-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the one game NL wild card showdown.
As a player, Bochy was best known for the size of his head. Whenever the Houston Astros, New York Mets, or Padres were on television and Bochy was in the lineup at catcher, the conversation would invariably lead to the larger than normal sized pate atop Bochy’s neck and the custom made batting and catching helmets and cap he needed. Apparently the, reportedly, 8 1/8-size baseball cap holds a lot of brains beneath it. You don’t get to the World Series three times in five seasons merely on talent alone. There’s been plenty of teams with talent that never get to the World Series.
The career .239 hitter was hired to skipper the Padres in 1995, eight years after he had retired as a player. Bochy took over a team that had finished a combined 63 games under .500 with manager Jim Riggleman in 1993-1994 and led them to a 70-74 in his first season, which was shortened by the strike that overlapped from the prior year. A year later, the Padres won 91 and the NL West, and advanced to the playoffs for the first time since the team won the NL pennant in 1984.
They were swept in three games by the Cardinals, losing a one-run game and a pair of two-run games. After a subpar 1997 season, the Pads won 98 games, beat the Astros in the NLDS (4-1), and the Braves in the NLCS (4-2) to capture the second NL pennant in club history. The Padres had the unfortunate task of then going up against the New York Yankees, who had won 114 regular season games. After blowing a 5-2 lead in Game 1, the Padres were swept by the Yankees in four games.
San Diego didn’t make it back to the playoffs until 2005, where they were swept in the NLDS and lost three of four in the following year’s NLDS as well. After the 2006 season and 12 years at the helm in San Diego, and with one year remaining on his contract, the then-51-year old Bochy decided it was time to move on. The Padres granted permission to the Giants to talk to Bochy about their managerial opening and he agreed to a three-year deal to move to northern California.
The Giants had lost the 2002 World Series to the Angels in seven games, but made the playoffs just once more in the next four seasons under manager Felipe Alou. Bochy kept Alou’s pitching coach Dave Righetti, bullpen coach Mark Gardner, hitting coach Joe Lefebvre, and bench coach Ron Wotus. All four remain in their position today (Lefebvre moved to the front office as a senior advisor and serves as an assistant hitting coach to Hensley Muelens) as does Tim Flannery, who joined Bochy as third base coach in 2007 after having served in the same position for part of Bochy’s time with the Padres.
After 71- and 72-win campaigns, the Giants won 88 games in 2009 and were World Series Champions a year later. Two years later they captured 94 victories and their second title under Bochy. Though he has won only one Manger of the Year Award, he certainly has been deserving of more (perhaps this year he’ll add a second).
Bochy has compiled a 1618-1604 regular season record (18th all time in wins) in 20 Major League seasons, 2 World Series titles so far and four pennants. 12 of the 17 managers that have won more games than Bochy have been elected to the Hall of Fame. Of the five not in the Hall, only Ralph Houk matches Bochy’s two World Series titles. None of the five can match the four pennants that Bochy-led teams have won.
Other than the ’98 Padres, which featured Greg Vaughn, Kevin Brown, Tony Gwynn, and Trevor Hoffman, Bochy’s teams in San Diego were not talent laden. Ownership was more into keeping a low payroll than obtaining/keeping talent. The 2000 San Diego roster was drastically different than the 1998 squad despite just two years between.
Bochy has had more to work with in San Francisco, especially when it comes to the Giants’ pitching staff. He also has an ownership that will spend a little extra money here and there, and a front office, led by GM Brian Sabean, that has done a good job of development of home grown talent.
Whether Bochy wins or loses this year’s “Fall Classic”, he should have already earned his place in Cooperstown.
Perhaps on a larger plaque.
Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at email@example.com.