Twenty-four years, 1,926 wins and three World Series titles later, the end is in sight for Bochy, now 63. Last month, he announced his 25th season as a manager, and his 13th with the San Francisco Giants, will be his last. On some future Saturday afternoon in July, he will almost certainly be on a stage in Cooperstown, N.Y. — which every other manager with at least three World Series rings has graced — delivering his Hall of Fame induction speech in that familiar, deep growl of a voice.
And so, 6½ months from now — or 7½ if all breaks well for the Giants — baseball will lose another of its titans of the dugout, the wise, weathered and grizzled type of manager who is suddenly becoming extinct. Ten of the 25 winningest managers in history have worked in this decade, and when Bochy is gone, only one name on that list, Cleveland’s Terry Francona, will remain.
If recent history is any guide, Bochy’s replacement will be significantly younger, cheaper and most likely lacking in big league managerial experience. The bold move the Padres made in making Bochy a first-time manager has become the norm in an industry transformed by the rise of analytics-focused front offices.
The past two offseasons have seen 12 managerial changes, and in only one case — the Detroit Tigers at the end of 2017, going from 48-year-old Brad Ausmus to 60-year-old Ron Gardenhire — did the team choose an older man. In the other 11 cases, including all six this winter, the new managers were an average of 16 years younger than their predecessor; in 10 of those 11 cases, the new manager had no big league managing experience.
“I don’t know what the future holds for the profession,” Bochy said Saturday morning at Scottsdale Stadium before the Giants’ spring training game. “Managers are getting younger, and maybe more analytical. … I started when I was 39 — so I was one of those young guys. I don’t forget that. I was fortunate I had a young general manager, Randy Smith, who took a chance on a young Bruce Bochy as manager. I was the youngest manager in the game at the time, and now I’m going out the oldest.”
Farhan Zaidi, the Giants’ new president of baseball operations, has revealed little about his process or preferences for a new manager, saying in the wake of Bochy’s announcement: “I’m sure there will be conversations and inquiries along the way, but it’s not the focus [right now] for us. … When we get to that point, it’s going to be a collective process. There are a lot of people who will draw on their experiences to bring names [of candidates] to the table.”
But the Giants’ upcoming managerial search — led by Zaidi, who was hired just four months ago — is one more sign of a franchise in transition. The front-office turnover came in the wake of 187 losses over the past two seasons, years in which the Giants fielded payrolls in the top five in the game.
Then, earlier this month, Giants CEO Larry Baer — who hired Zaidi — took a leave of absence from the team after video surfaced of a physical altercation between Baer and his wife in a San Francisco plaza.
“Does it feel like we’re in a transition? Sure,” veteran catcher Buster Posey said. “Obviously, with [Bochy] being here as long as he has — that’s a transition. Farhan at the helm — that’s a transition. But ultimately, as players, our only goal has to be what it’s always been — to win enough games to get back to playing in October. All the rest will play itself out.”
Bochy had informed the team’s ownership at the end of last season that he was considering retiring, and that was conveyed to Zaidi during his interview process. On Saturday, Bochy acknowledged that the change in the front office “played a very small part” in his decision to step down.
“To be honest,” Bochy said of Zaidi, “I think he should get the manager he wants.”
Zaidi is a product of two of the most progressive front offices in baseball, in terms of integrating analytics into decision-making: the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Dodgers. When the Dodgers parted ways with manager Don Mattingly in 2015, Zaidi, their general manager, and Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations, hired Dave Roberts — 43 at the time, and with no managing experience — to replace him. Roberts led the Dodgers to back-to-back World Series appearances in 2017 and 2018.
The Roberts move in L.A. was near the start of the current wave of younger managerial hires, most of them made by analytics-focused front offices, which has inevitably led to criticism that what these front offices are looking for are clubhouse caretakers to do their bidding and transmit a data-based approach to the players.
“He’s a dying breed,” Giants pitcher Jeff Samardzija told reporters in the wake of Bochy’s retirement announcement. “Unfortunately, after this you’re going to have 30 puppets out there.”
Asked about those comments Saturday, Samardzija said: “When a young guy gets that opportunity to be a first-time manager, you don’t have leverage to get to run things the way you want them. So it’s understandable [why front offices hire them]. To me, it’s just a shame. You just hope things go in waves, like fads. You remember what made [Bochy] so special. It makes me appreciate what we have today. He is one of the last of his breed.”
“If you want to push out managers like Bruce Bochy,” first baseman Brandon Belt said, “you’re definitely going to be losing something from the game.”
Giants third base coach Ron Wotus, 58, is one of two members of Bochy’s staff — the other being 51-year-old hitting coach Hensley Meulens — who at one time would have been considered prime managerial candidates, whether to succeed Bochy or land a job elsewhere. (Both have interviewed for outside managerial jobs in the past.) But suddenly, they are confronting an industry that no longer seems to value the experience they offer.
“It’s understandable why it’s happening, but at same time, all my experiences in life and in the clubhouse and on the field have a lot of value,” said Wotus, who spent seven years managing in the Giants’ minor league system. “I don’t believe every manager has to have [previous] managing experience, but I do know, even if you’ve been coaching a long time in the major leagues, you’re going to learn a lot when you manage. … No disrespect to the people getting their opportunities, but experience goes a long, long way.”
As for Bochy, he has been working more or less nonstop for half a century now. Born in France, where his father, a sergeant major in the U.S. Army, was stationed, he moved at age 10 to Falls Church, Va., when his father was transferred to the Pentagon. His first job, at 11, was delivering The Washington Post in his neighborhood.
“But that was an early-morning paper, every day of the week,” Bochy said. “So I switched to the Evening Star. That was more my speed — afternoon paper. The only early day was Sunday.”
He hasn’t ruled out working again, or even managing again — “Never is a big word,” he said — but in a strange way, the baseball industry may have already decided that for him. Strange as it is to say, the 63-year-old version of Bruce Bochy, with nearly 2,000 wins to his name, may not be as marketable as the 39-year-old version of him, with none.