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09/28/12 12:30 PM ET
Bochy draws comparisons to legendary skipper Cox
Former players praise Giants manager for his respect, communication and conviction
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- Waylon Jennings, the late country music star, saved a particular refrain for Bruce Bochy. In the early years of his managerial career -- sometimes before the San Diego Padres played season openers, and a couple of times as postseason series approached -- Bochy heard from Jennings, one of the celebrities he was fortunate enough to meet. Jennings didn't serenade Bochy, but his reminders struck a chord of sincerity nonetheless. "Bruce, I sing my songs the way I want to sing them," Jennings said. "You manage your ballclub the way you want to manage it." Besides deriving a thrill from speaking to Jennings, Bochy also absorbed the message that was conveyed. "In this job, you know you're going to get critiqued, especially in today's game," Bochy said recently. "You don't want to change who you are." Bochy knows exactly who he is. The Giants' field leader doesn't feel compelled to emulate flashier managerial counterparts, such as the brash Bobby Valentine, the polysyllabic Joe Maddon or the mercurial Ozzie Guillen. Unless he's in the dugout, Bochy is content to conduct much of his business quietly, even privately. But don't be fooled by Bochy's avoidance of fanfare or the deliberate cadence of his bass voice, which might seem suggestive of a laid-back observer. The 57-year-old remains in control of his club, which he has steered to four consecutive winning seasons, including a 2010 World Series triumph and this year's National League West title. For Bochy, managing the way he wants doesn't mean he's an iconoclast or a maverick. An iconoclast doesn't store a quotation in his cell phone from legendary basketball coach John Wooden -- another singular figure with whom Bochy crossed paths -- and accentuate a point by reading it: "You can't let praise or criticism get to you. It's a weakness to get caught up in either one." Living by these words requires steadiness, consistency and confidence -- traits that observers cited to describe Bochy, who piloted San Diego from 1995-2006 before joining the Giants in '07. "'Boch' is the same guy every day," Giants first baseman Aubrey Huff said. "He doesn't get rattled. He doesn't come in here throwing things. He doesn't yell at you, doesn't embarrass you. He understands how hard this game is. He doesn't let fans or media dictate what he wants to do. He does what he thinks is the best for the team." That mindset encompasses understanding the game as well as understanding people. Bochy is renowned for his adroit handling of the bullpen. He'll use relievers frequently without tiring them. None of San Francisco's five busiest relievers -- Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt and Clay Hensley -- has averaged more than an inning per outing. As a result, all should be fresh for the NL Division Series, which begins next Saturday. Bochy's not omniscient, but sometimes it seems that way. "He sees everything," Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens said. If an opposing catcher struggles with a pitcher's warmup throws between innings, for example, Bochy notices that and capitalizes on it by putting baserunners in motion. The most celebrated instance of this occurred in July 2010, when then-interim Dodgers manager Don Mattingly visited Jonathan Broxton, began to leave the mound and returned for a last word -- which amounted to a second trip and forced the reliever's removal. The Giants rallied to win. Humor is an integral part of Bochy's repertoire. After Huff recently stroked a long pinch-hit but only reached first base, Bochy remarked afterward that the veteran "did a good job of turning that double into a single." Last week, Bochy seized upon the mini-controversy surrounding San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, whom the NFL threatened with a $15,000 fine for wearing a Giants cap during his postgame news conferences. Bochy conducted one of his pregame media briefings wearing a 49ers cap, which generated amusement but also expressed support for Smith. Though Bochy is his own man, others helped shape his understated, yet firm managerial style. One such influence was Bill Virdon, who managed the Houston Astros when Bochy broke into the Majors in 1978. Bochy outlined his demands upon players in this way: "Play the game hard and play it right. As long as they're giving you all of the effort they have, that's all you can ask." That mirrored Virdon's approach: "My philosophy basically was, 'When you play, you give it all you've got. Work hard and prepare yourself as much as you possibly can.'" Virdon, a former center fielder who still serves as a Spring Training instructor with Pittsburgh at age 81, remembered Bochy fondly. "I have always thought he was one of the best people I ever knew, just as a person," Virdon said of Bochy, his backup catcher for three seasons. "He didn't play a lot, but when he did play, he played well. He gave it all he had, and I could not say a negative thing about him." Another individual Bochy admired was Bobby Cox, the former Atlanta Braves skipper. Cox's 29-year managerial career ended when Bochy's Giants defeated the Braves in the 2010 NLDS. Early in Bochy's tenure in San Diego, Cox fortified him with wisdom that echoed something Waylon Jennings might say: Don't listen to radio talk shows. "Because they're going to second-guess, they're going to question things and it can maybe sway you on how you manage," Bochy said. "I thought it was great advice." As the leader among active big league skippers in consecutive years managed (18), Bochy's career has begun to parallel Cox's, which featured 21 seasons in a row with the Braves. This could be more than mere coincidence. Both Bochy and Cox have commanded respect without demanding it. The mere inference that he might evolve into a new version of Cox animated Bochy. "I would be honored. I revere Bobby Cox," Bochy said. "His career, his success, also his style of managing. When you play the Braves, they play hard, they're very professional, they do things right. That's all Bobby demanded from his players. "He believed in his players. He was always behind them. So I would be honored to be mentioned to have a style similar to Bobby's." Giants first-base coach Roberto Kelly, a five-year member of Bochy's staff who played for Cox in 1994, discerned the similarities between the men. "I have to say, if you can't play for them, you can't play for anybody else," Kelly said. "They're so easygoing and they let players be themselves. When I played for Bobby, he wasn't checking up on stuff you were doing. Bochy does the same thing. He lets the guys feel at ease." Ryan Klesko, the former first baseman and outfielder who played for both Bochy and Cox, said that both managers doled out criticism in constructive fashion. "There are a lot of managers I've seen over the years who may call a player out in the newspaper or to the media," Klesko said. "'Boch' and Bobby are going to call you in their office and talk to you like a man, person to person, let you know where you stand. I think that's why players respect them and play so hard for them." Washington infielder Mark DeRosa, another Bochy-Cox veteran, recalled that both favored open communication. "The thing I liked about Bruce was that his door was always open. That was huge," said DeRosa, a Giants player in 2010-11 who began his career with Atlanta. "Bobby was the exact same way. That doesn't necessarily mean you're going to like what he's saying, but you're never gonna walk out of there wondering where you stand. "And for me, that's number one with managers. Their job is to win ballgames and to take care of 25 guys -- over the year, it's more like 40. They just do a great job of putting guys in positions to succeed and telling it like it is." Bochy observed that the challenges inherent in baseball serve as the ultimate influence. Experience, he said, changes perspective. "I think time helps you become more patient," Bochy said. "Not complacent."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.