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The S.F. Interview: Bruce Almighty

How can a team of Freaks and Pandas be led by such a self-effacing manager? The Giants’ Bruce Bochy finds answers in solitude.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy, photographed in Scottsdale, Arizona, on March 21.

Bochy looking his mustachioed finest as a minor-league catcher in 1983.

You mentioned earlier that some mentors informed your managing style. Which ones left the biggest mark?
My first manager in rookie ball, Billy Smith. He taught me the professional way to play the game. Then my first manager in the major leagues, Bill Virdon. I just liked his style and how he handled players. He was firm, but fair. If he had a problem with you, he didn’t embarrass you in front of everybody or in the media. He’d bring you into the office, and he’d tell you how it was. And Bobby Cox: I really admired how Bobby ran his team, how professional they were. He gave me some good advice one time. He said, “You know, Bruce, as you manage, you’re going to hear a lot of things, particularly on the talk shows or in the newspaper. You need to back off and stay away from that, because you’re going to want to hear all these things, but it can influence you in your decision making. Just trust yourself.” And that’s what I’ve done.

You have never really gotten caught up in the media crossfire, have you?
No. I’ve had people come up and say, “Hey, they were saying this and that on a talk show about what you shoulda done in that game.” But I don’t hear it. I don’t listen to it. You can’t believe all the great things that are said about you, and you can’t believe all the bad things that are said about you. You’ve just gotta keep doing what you’re supposed to do.

Can you pick one or two managers in baseball to whom you’re the most similar in terms of style?
That’s a hard one.

You probably don’t think that way.
No, I don’t.

How about other managers in the game whom you admire and enjoy watching?
Both of them have retired. Bobby Cox, I’ve already mentioned. Watching the Braves, they were just such a professional team. There was nothing fancy about them—they always played the game hard and played it right. Bobby had his rules: no hot dogging, things like that—he wouldn’t allow it. I’m probably a little different, in that I encourage my guys to be who they are. We’re all different. We’re a pretty diverse group, and I encourage these guys to be themselves—to a point, you know. At some point, you probably have to draw a line, but I think players perform better when you keep them loose and free and continue to let them have fun out there playing.

And another manager?
Tony La Russa. He was always on top of the game. He was so prepared. You knew that you had your hands full when you were playing his team, because he was ready for anything. Tony and I, we did a dinner together two years ago, and we were remembering back to ’96, when we were playing each other [Bochy as manager of the Padres, La Russa with the St. Louis Cardinals]. I remember it just like it was yesterday. It was a first-and-third play, a delayed steal. They threw to second, and we walked home. He said that he was so mad at himself when it happened that he’d never forget it. Here’s a guy, Tony La Russa, who’s going to the Hall of Fame, talking about a play that I had run on him 17 years ago that he said he would never forget. Guys like him—good, great managers—those are the things that stay in their heads. It’s not something you write down and have to go back and look at. You just remember them. Because we probably see the game in a different way than most people.

You see a lot more than most people.
Yeah, we do. It’s probably the same in every sport—football head coaches, basketball coaches. What’s vital to your job is that you do see everything and, hopefully, remember and draw from your experiences, whether good or bad.

 

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