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DETROIT -- Now the transformation begins for Bruce Bochy from the baseball lifer, the workmanlike cog, the dependable company man, the guy baseball people know and respect but usually overlook to talk about the bigger names to Hall of Fame manager.
So much of it all is by a hair: from losing 9-0 in Game 2 of the National League Division Series to the Cincinnati Reds at home to advancing with a three-game winning streak on the road; from being down three games to one to the St. Louis Cardinals -- the defending champions who seemed to be the baseball team too tough to kill -- to winning seven straight games for a second championship in three years.
It is a cold, bottom-line business, evolving into one that has undermined and ebbed away at the authority and stature of the manager while the general manager has risen. So much of what is measured -- who manages a game better, who motivates his team to reach its potential -- can be as subjective as preferring Coke to Pepsi. Over the decades, as life piles up, nobody really knows.
Championships balance the score. Winning is the only way in which managers are measured because you had to be there, during your time, to be able to see the difference between Charlie Grimm and Casey Stengel, Dick Williams and Billy Martin, Dusty Baker and Bruce Bochy. Bochy has raised the trophy twice. Winning is immutable and owned, the conversation stopper, and now Bochy is part of a different conversation.
He has two World Series titles, the same as Tommy Lasorda, one more than Jim Leyland, Leo Durocher and Bobby Cox, all considered the gold standard of managers. Before Sunday's Game 4 of the World Series, there were two managers in the history of the New York/San Francisco Giants franchise who won two championships. One was Jim Mutrie in 1888 and 1889. The other was John McGraw. Both are in the Hall of Fame.
|Bruce Bochy has pushed all the right buttons in World Series play, winning eight of nine games.|
Now there are three. As the Giants' manager, Bochy has managed nine World Series games and won eight. He is just 57 years old, managing in an organization that is becoming a financial powerhouse. He is nearing 1,500 wins, numbers that force people to listen to the real elements of Bochy's style and game that actually matter. His chapter is not written.
"I count my blessings. I'm blessed to be in a situation where we can win. I'm thankful for [Giants GM] Brian Sabean bringing players in that put us where we are right now," Bochy said. "Ownership, fans, players, it's all them. For me to be the manager, I know how lucky I am. To even be mentioned with those guys, I revere all those managers and the careers they had. I'm numb, really, to the fact that we've won two World Series the last three years."
Forget the strategy and the X's and O's. For managers, the Hall of Fame is for the winners. Since the World Series era began in 1903, only Wilbert Robinson and Al Lopez have been inducted into the Hall of Fame as managers without winning a title. Both won two pennants, and in Robinson's time winning the pennant was equally as important, if not more, than winning the World Series. The managers with two or more World Series titles who aren't in the Hall are Bill Carrigan, Danny Murtaugh, Ralph Houk, Cito Gaston, Tom Kelly, Terry Francona, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa. La Russa and Torre will surely be inducted.
When Larry Baer, the Giants' president and CEO, hired Bochy to replace Felipe Alou in 2006, he was convinced of Bochy's competence but wasn't overwhelmed in the interview.
"It wasn't until up close that I saw how good he was, how good he was with people, how people responded to him, how he did it all without drawing attention to himself," Baer said. "He's the calming influence. He fits the combination of a strong hand while staying under the radar. He's the definition of low-key."
Call it cold and unfair, or call it justice, that Francona is now in a Hall of Fame conversation as Bochy is. Like Francona in 2007, when the Boston Red Sox were down three games to one to the Cleveland Indians in the American League Championship Series and didn't lose again, Bochy has been elevated the same way Francona has. No one in Boston could win -- not Hall of Famer Joe McCarthy, not Hall of Famer Dick Williams, and not Hall of Famer Bucky Harris. Francona did. The old ways handed the credit to the manager, while the new ways of stats and "Moneyball" did so less, but in the mist of champagne spray and euphoria and relief, Bochy's role in it all came through.
Maybe in a different organization, Bochy wouldn't have received his share of the credit for the Giants' strategy of throwing two left-handers -- Barry Zito and Madison Bumgarner -- against a team that hit 22 points worse against lefties than right-handers.
Maybe anyone could have told a two-time Cy Young Award winner like Tim Lincecum that he wouldn't be starting in the postseason and Lincecum would've responded the same way, by being indispensable to a title instead of being a cancer.
Maybe anyone could've told Zito, he of the massive $126 million contract, that he wouldn't be on the roster during the 2010 championship run and that Pablo Sandoval, overweight and undisciplined at the plate, would lose his job, and not lose those players to selfishness. Maybe. But it is more likely that Bochy is a huge part of the reason that each contributed to an unlikely championship. He is now on the track to Cooperstown.