Walking, Preparing, and Letting Players Be Themselves: Inside the Mind of the Giants' Bruce Bochy

There were jokes about it being an even year, the same as in 2010, 2012 and 2014 when the Giants won the World Series; the size of Giants' manager Bruce Bochy’s head; and about his recent frequent trips out to the mound to talk with struggling pitchers. In the conversation between Bochy and former Oakland A’s president Roy Eisenhardt at the Commonwealth Club on Tuesday, the subjects ranged from walking as a way to deal with stress to the Major League strike in 1994 to thinking through a game ahead of time.

We all have stress, Eisenhardt noted. But perhaps Bochy, with a team to manage, and the cameras, fans, players and coaches watching what he does, has a little more than his share. So how does the two-time National League Manager of the Year deal with it? Not surprisingly, Bochy, who wrote The Book of Walks with sports writer Steve Kettmann, takes to his feet.

Bochy says this started when he got a black lab named Jessie. The dog needed to be walked, as dogs do. And Bochy noticed he felt a lot better when he got home again.

“The walks cleared my head, and I continued it when I was out on the road – I would walk around the city,” Bochy said. “Usually you check in a hotel, and go to the ball park, and back to the hotel, and you don’t get out and appreciate what the city has to offer. So I’m getting exercise, but I’m learning about different cities as well.”

Bochy credited his wife, Kim, often his walking companion, for getting him out. She likes long walks, sometimes going from the ballpark all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge. Bochy’s favorite walks involve water in some way. He lives across from the ballpark and likes to walk down to the Embarcadero, often ending up at Pier 23 or sometimes Fisherman’s Wharf. If his wife is along, they’ll head up to Coit Tower. Sometimes he has other pedestrian companions.

“I run into people who know me,” Bochy says. “If I’m alone, sometimes they walk with me. And a lot of times, they’ll ask me why I took out so-and-so.”

Eisenhardt asked Bochy about his reputation for spending a lot of time thinking about the game beforehand. Bochy responded he wants his players to be prepared and keep the surprises to a minimum. He doesn’t like to write during the game, but he will write things down and review before and after the game.

“You seem to have done pretty well with whatever you’re doing,” Eisenhardt said to a big round of applause.

Eisenhardt asked Bochy what it was like when, in his first year as manager in 1994, there was a baseball strike – the longest ever in baseball history at 232 days with more than 900 games cancelled – and replacement players were brought in, which they both agreed was a terrible idea.

“It was a nightmare for a first-year manager,” Bochy said. “Here in my first year I had to manage replacement players– I had plumbers and fire fighters. It was like the Bad News Bears. I was worried about losing credibility with my team.”

The two also talked about the rule intended to avoid home base collisions (such as the one that shattered Giants' catcher Buster Posey’s leg in 2011) which says that a runner “may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher.”

Bochy thinks the rule protects players.

“I was a catcher, and some of you have seen me walk– that’s from home plate collisions,” he said. “When Buster makes fun of me, I say, no, no, you don’t want to go there. In 20, 30 years, you’re going to be walking the same.”

Bochy says he always wants to improve, and he looks forward to talking with Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr about his team’s championship year.

“I’d like to trade notes on how they do things,” he said. “What an incredible job he’s done.”

They both agreed the Warriors and the Giants are similar in the way they play together, how they care and staying focused on the game till the end.

“It’s a credit to the characters on the team – or their character,” Bochy said. “They’re all different – Buster Posey is a different personality than Hunter Pence. We’re going to miss Pence [out with a hamstring injury]- he’s our spiritual leader. I’m hoping he can come back in six weeks instead of eight.”

What does he feel is critical to his success, Eisenhardt asked Bochy, who in answer, talked about the players.

“We get the most out of them if we allow them to be themselves,” Bochy said. “I can’t change my personality. I’m not going to be yelling and screaming down the dugout. I played for those guys. We need to just let it happen, and we’ll be better because of it. You have to be who you are.”

Bochy’s commitment and care for the players on the team shines through, Eisenhardt noted.

“That steadiness and evenness you’ve brought to bench is partly why every even year we get to celebrate,” Eisenhardt said as the audience in the packed room stood up and clapped loudly  for Bochy – almost as though  he'd just hit one out of the park.  

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