Dierker: Giants' strength is Bochy's character
San Francisco skipper leads with quiet, confident class
The first thing Astros equipment manager Dennis Liborio did when Bruce Bochy came up to the Majors in 1978 was call his hat rep. Bochy wore a size 8 3/4, easily the largest on the team and in the league. Bochy's son inherited the noggin and was nicknamed Headly before he was a year old. But to say Bruce Bochy is big-headed would be missing the point.
Back then, Bochy was known as a good catcher and a power hitter. He never made enough contact to take advantage of his power, but his strength was obvious. He hit long home runs in batting practice and was thought to be the strongest player on the team. But in his nine seasons as a player, he was never an everyday catcher.
The thing I remember most about him is a play in the top of the 10th inning in Game 4 of the 1980 National League Championship Series. The score was tied at 3 and Pete Rose came steaming around third on a hit by Greg Luzinski. As he had done the 1970 All-Star Game in Oakland earlier in his career, Rose barreled into the catcher to score the decisive run.
In the All-Star Game, he crashed into Ray Fosse, derailing the backstop's career. In the '80 playoffs, he plowed into Bochy. I was an Astros announcer at the time and could see it coming. A good throw might get him, and I knew Pete wouldn't slide. He hit Bochy just as he received the throw and upended him. It looked like Rose was the irresistible force, but if Bochy had caught the ball a half-second sooner, he would have become the immovable object. It would have been Rose who was knocked flat.
Yet now, after all these years, it appears that Bochy's true strength lies between the ear holes of his gargantuan helmet. I know it was tough managing against him. I could never coax him into changing pitchers. I could never be sure what he would do in a given situation. It's not that he is unconventional, just unpredictable. But there were, and are, some things that you could predict about his teams. They would play good fundamental baseball. They would not quit. And you would never pick up vibrations of bad blood in the clubhouse. In short, you had to beat his teams. They would not beat themselves.
Honestly, I don't think he gets enough credit. The 2010 Giants were underdogs, but here they are in the NLCS. It was the same way in 1996, '98, 2005 and '06 in San Diego. He won the Manager of the Year Award in '96, and should have won it in '98 when I did. His team won 98 games that year. We won 102 and the Braves won 104. But in the second half of the season, after we traded for Randy Johnson, we had the best record by far. The Padres dispatched us in four games that year. After it was over, Bochy came over to our clubhouse to congratulate me on a good season. He did it in a quiet, humble way. His way: with sincerity; without pride.
A lot of people think catchers make good managers because they have learned to understand and get along with pitchers, and they also know how to handle the offense. But just knowing the game really isn't enough. You have to get your players to play with energy and focus day after day for six months in order to qualify for the seventh month. That requires steadiness at the helm and a precarious mix of sensitivity and discipline.
No manager can win without talented players. But it is possible to lose with great players. You can't consistently outsmart the other managers, but you can alienate your own players. All you heard from Atlanta when the Giants eliminated the Braves last week was what a great manager Bobby Cox had been. I watched as Bochy came out on the field. I could tell he wanted to go over and speak to Bobby as he had spoken to me, but it was a mob scene. He didn't get to him on the field, but I bet he talked to him later.
Bochy embodies all of baseball's admirable qualities. He is strong, tough, smart and competitive. But he is also patient and quietly confident. He doesn't yell at his players or the umpires during the game, even when his team falls behind due to an error or a bad call. He will share his feelings with the arbiters, but he won't kick dirt and create a scene. And he will be firm with his players, but you won't see him do it. He expects to win anyway. He is the type of manager players like to play for. Whether his team beats the Phillies or not, he will have had another great season. And if the Giants do upset the Phillies, you'll find him standing in the shadows, giving his players all the credit.
Bochy was behind the plate when Rose broke Ty Cobb's hit record with a single to left-center off Eric Show. He also managed Major League All-Stars on two tours of Japan in 2004 and '06. His team lost to the Yankees in the 1998 World Series. One of these days, and it may not be long, his patience will be rewarded and he'll win it all. I wonder if the opposing manager will come over and congratulate him.
Larry Dierker played 14 seasons for the Houston Colt .45s/Astros and the St. Louis Cardinals. He guided the Astros to four National League Central titles in five seasons as manager from 1997-2001. The two-time All-Star pitcher writes a weekly column for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.