PHOENIX — What is left for Bruce Bochy to prove?
He was headed to Cooperstown even before coming out of retirement. On Wednesday night, he became the sixth manager to win at least four World Series, and the first to do it with two different clubs. His teams have won 15 of their last 16 playoff rounds, a particularly meaningful accomplishment, considering most in baseball regard the postseason as a crapshoot.
Yes, Bochy is 68. He has undergone a heart procedure, back surgery, two hip replacements and a knee replacement. He dealt with sciatica throughout the postseason. He could retire again, this time on top, go play golf and hang with his grandchildren. Why not just stop?
“I haven’t thought about it,” Bochy said after the Texas Rangers’ 5-0 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks enabled them to win the Series, four games to one. “I’m going to regroup here. I don’t know how you top this year. It’s such a great group. But I’m in a good place, I’ll say that.”
Actually, he is in the best place.
He missed the dugout, missed the action. He came to realize, after three years of retirement, that he wanted to manage again while in Regensburg, Germany, trying to help Team France for the World Baseball Classic last September. Bochy has told the story repeatedly, how Rangers general manager Chris Young came to his home in Nashville to persuade him to take over a team coming off six straight losing seasons, including 102 and 94 defeats the previous two years. How blessed he was to get the opportunity. How his team was so talented, so together, he was merely “along for the ride.”
Sure, Boch. As if the Rangers losing the AL West title on the last day of the regular season, then beating the Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles, Houston Astros and Diamondbacks in the playoffs was some sort of happy accident. As if their 11-0 record on the road in the postseason was some cosmic stroke of good fortune. As if any other manager could have transformed the organization so quickly, so emphatically.
The Texas Rangers’ path to their first World Series title:
✅ Make playoffs with 90 wins
✅ Beat 99-win Rays in Wild Card
✅ Beat 101-win AL East Champ Orioles
✅ Beat 90-win AL West Champ Astros
✅ Beat 84-win NL Champ D-Backs
🏆 2023 Champions pic.twitter.com/YVET23tAAk
— The Athletic MLB (@TheAthleticMLB) November 2, 2023
When Bochy decided to manage again, his wife, Kim, asked him, “What is it about your life you don’t like?” Bochy smiled before Game 5 recalling the story to the Fox broadcasters. And as the Rangers celebrated afterward at Chase Field, senior advisor Dayton Moore, the Kansas City Royals’ former head of baseball operations, answered Kim’s question.
“I just think he loves the whole rhythm of his life with baseball,” Moore said.
Bochy’s staff with the Rangers includes a manager in waiting, associate manager Will Venable, who recently backed out of the Cleveland Guardians’ managerial search after one interview and declined interviews with the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants. Some in the industry interpreted Venable’s reluctance to pursue such opportunities as an indication Bochy might step down. But Venable, Young’s fellow Princeton alum and former teammate with the Padres, simply preferred to stay with the Rangers, even though Bochy has two years left on his contract.
Bochy ended a 52-year championship drought with the Giants. He ended another 52-year championship drought with the Rangers. And now, once again, to the victor belongs the spoils. Moore, the architect of the 2015 World Series champion Royals, said, “spring training after you’ve won, there’s nothing like it.” Bochy also will manage the American League All-Star team in his home park, Globe Life Field.
He’s returning. Of course, he’s returning.
“One hundred percent,” Young said in the Rangers’ champagne-soaked clubhouse. “He’s made for this.”
The common perception among fans and even with the industry is that bullpen management is Bochy’s greatest strength. The Rangers’ championship will do nothing to dispel that notion. And yet, when Rangers people and opponents talk about Bochy, they focus more on his steady demeanor and strong leadership than his in-game strategy.
“It’s this combination of passion and people,” Rangers offensive coordinator and bench coach Donnie Ecker said. “The fire is lit so high, but then his ability to maneuver and have conversations with people and do it in a way that is supportive, transparent and challenging is a really unique blend.
“In a day and age where people maybe shy away from perceived difficult conversations, it’s like waking up and having breakfast to him. He does not miss a conversation. There are things that can be left unsaid and he makes sure they are said.”
The first time Bochy addressed the Rangers in spring training, he talked about how they all were in it together, not just the players and coaches, but also the athletic trainers, the clubhouse attendants and other support staff. He wasn’t just spouting platitudes. Several of Bochy’s coaches are relatively inexperienced. But he is so composed and consistent, he gives them strength.
After a loss in late August, catching coach Bobby Wilson told Bochy he was feeling stressed out. Bochy told Wilson to relax, saying he came out of retirement because he wanted to enjoy the game again. Wilson said hearing that perspective gave him goosebumps. A former major-league catcher, he has a file on his computer labeled, “Bochy Ball.” Each day, he chronicles the lessons Bochy has taught him.
“Even coming into the playoffs, he was like, ‘Hey, I’m right there with you,’ which gives me the confidence that he trusts me,” Wilson said. “You ask any coach on our coaching staff and they would do anything for him. They love him to death.”
Players, too, appreciate Bochy’s honesty, going back to that first address in spring training, when he said he didn’t come out of retirement to lose.
“It’s coming from a guy where it’s not bulls—,” pitcher Andrew Heaney said earlier this season. “He’s literally done it. Of all people, he can sit there and say to you, ‘This is how we’re going to do it. This is why this group can do it. And here’s how I know how to do it.’ You’re like, ‘Hell, yeah, who knows better than Boch?’”
Diamondbacks bench coach Jeff Banister, who managed the Rangers from 2015 to 2018, said Bochy demonstrates qualities similar to two managers he played for, Felipe Alou in the Dominican Winter League and Jim Leyland with the Pirates. Charisma. Presence. An ability to connect.
“The other thing is once you win, all of the intangibles, the credibility of everything you say becomes so much more dynamic,” Banister said. “You watch him during the game, there’s not a lot of emotion unless it’s something against his club. Then he’s willing to show the passion for his players. That’s what makes him great.”
Moore put it rather simply.
“He loves people,” the executive said.
During the regular season, the bullpen was the Rangers’ weakest link, ranking 18th in the majors with a 4.28 ERA. The ‘pen’s 4.08 ERA in the postseason wasn’t much better, but most of the runs were allowed by the team’s “B” relievers.
The three high-leverage types Bochy trusted most, Josh Sborz, Aroldis Chapman and Jose Leclerc, pitched 33 2/3 of the 70 2/3 relief innings, and combined for a 2.14 ERA. Jon Gray, a starter who returned from injury for the final two rounds, pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings of relief in the World Series.
Bochy’s touch in the dugout, his feel for game situations, sets him apart, particularly in an era when some teams script certain strategies before games in a collaborative process between the manager and front office.
“I feel like he’s got a computer in his head,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “He’s got numbers that are floating around in there, a gut feel that is unmatched and just an overall instinct for what’s happening around him every single pitch.
“He’s two moves ahead of everybody in the entire baseball world. I guarantee you, if it’s the third inning, he’s thinking about the sixth or seventh.”
Bochy is not anti-analytics, but he will tell you, “Some things just aren’t in the spreadsheet.” As an example, he cites the slavish devotion of many teams to left-on-left matchups, the kind analysts generally favor for relievers.
In Game 6 of the ALCS, Sborz induced a double play to escape the seventh inning. Bochy stayed with him to protect a 4-2 lead in the eighth, knowing the right-hander would need to face the Astros’ left-handed slugger, Yordan Alvarez, to satisfy the three-batter minimum. Sborz actually was more effective against than lefties than righties this season, so Bochy’s decision made sense analytically. But many managers still would have opted to go left-on-left.
“I don’t ever think you stop looking at the person. That’s the best way you can balance it,” Bochy said. “Who’s the man out there (pitching)? Who’s the man at the plate?”
And so it was in Game 5 that Sborz pitched the final 2 1/3 innings for his first save of the postseason, a decision made easier when the Rangers scored four times in the ninth to expand their lead to five runs. Sborz struck out four and allowed only one hit. Bochy simply had no reason to turn to closer Leclerc, who had pitched the night before while Sborz had not.
It surely is not lost on Giants fans that Bochy just won a World Series while Gabe Kapler, the manager who replaced him, was fired in part because he came off as too analytically driven. It likely is not lost on Bochy, either, though he would never say as much. He consults regularly with Bobby Bandelow, the Rangers’ advance scouting coordinator, who travels with the team and acts as a liaison between the team’s analysts and major-league staff. But in the end, Bochy’s decisions are his own.
What is left for him to prove? Nothing. Still, the better question might be, why stop? The shorter games produced by the pitch clock put less strain on managers and coaches, as well as players. Bochy said he never really minded traveling. He walks slowly and sort of wobbly, as if he might fall at any moment. But his beautiful baseball mind, it’s as sharp as ever.
The Rangers had outstanding players, sure. Corey Seager, the Series MVP. Adolis García, who established a single postseason record with 22 RBIs. Marcus Semien, who set an all-time, single-season mark with 835 plate appearances, and saved his best for last with a two-run homer. Nathan Eovaldi, who pitched six of the liveliest scoreless innings you will ever see in Game 5, holding the Rangers 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
Yet, for all the individual talent, there was always something more to this team, a certain resilience that surfaced one last time after the Rangers lost García and Max Scherzer for the rest of the Series entering Game 4. Bochy’s group responded by outscoring the overmatched Diamondbacks, 16-7, the next two nights.
The impact of a manager on a single game is difficult to quantify. Bochy’s career record is not. His four World Series titles tie him for fourth with Walter Alston and Joe Torre. One more championship would tie him with Connie Mack for third, and put him two behind Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel for the all-time mark.
“To mention those names,” Bochy said. “I never thought in my wildest dreams when I started managing that I’d be in this position.”
He’s in that position. He earned that position. He’s not going away yet.
(Top photo: Christian Petersen / Getty Images)