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Mudville: April 18, 2024 6:48 pm PDT

Boch Ball!

BY KEVIN KERNAN

All hail Bruce Bochy.

When the Texas Rangers hired Bochy last October I said at the time it was a big hire – and not because Bochy wears a size 8 1/8 hat. Bochy has a presence and a demeanor, he’s smart, but he is not a Nerd. He demands respect, and Rangers baseball boss Chris Young needed a winner to turn it all around in Texas.

Bochy has done just that.

The Rangers won only 68 games in 2022. Enter Bochy, and they win 90 games; just missing the AL West title, having to play the Wild Card series and sweeping the Rays at Tropicana Field. Bochy’s calming influence and the fact he demands respect made all the difference.

Nerd GMs refuse to admit that a veteran manager who is a leader can turn a team around and once again, much like last year with the Astros’ Dusty Baker, that lesson was hammered home on Wednesday as the Rangers knocked off the Rays in two games in the Wild Card series.

After he was hired, Bochy told me that Baker was an inspiration to him returning to the dugout, instead of just sitting at home in Tennessee in a rocking chair. I’ve known Bochy since he was a backup catcher with the Padres and then covered him, as well, when he became Padres manager in 1995.

When he decided to retire as Giants manager in 2019, Bochy gave me one of the great quotes of all time in the Giants dugout at Oracle Park, offering that dry sense of humor and saying: “Twenty-five years straight of managing, three stents, that’s enough.’’

A little rest did him good.

Bochy has the same baseball fire again as when he first started managing the Padres. The amount of real baseball knowledge packed into that large head is something the Nerds can only dream about.

I texted with Bochy Wednesday night and he was so proud of his team. That’s Bochy, team first.

Bochy, who won three World Series with the Giants, keeps it real. He keeps it calm. The Rangers could have easily panicked. Their end of the year itinerary was something to behold with a flight from Texas to LA for three games with the Angels, then onto Seattle for the season-ending four-game series. Not winning the AL West and then hopping on a plane to fly to Tampa for the Wild Card series. The Rangers have not been home since September 24th.

Starting pitching carried them as Jordan Montgomery, a key trade piece and someone the Yankees and Brian Cashman felt was not built for the playoffs, pitched seven shutout innings in the 4-0 win on Tuesday and then Nathan Eovaldi, who happens to be another ex-Yankee, followed that up with a magnificent performance in the 7-1 win over the Rays on Wednesday. The Rangers advance to the ALDS and onto Baltimore, where another challenge awaits.

Bochy is not afraid. If a player can help his team, he will give that player responsibility and trust.

The Rangers believe because Bochy knows how to set up a team for postseason success.

Listen to what the Rangers catcher Jonah Heim said during the celebration in the visiting clubhouse at the Trop about Bochy, a fellow catcher. This one sentence says so much and every analytics-driven GM should be made to listen to this to learn something about the game and about real leadership.

When asked what Bochy has meant to the team, Heim smiled and said, “No matter what is going on in the game or no matter the situation, you look down in the dugout and you got a stoic guy sitting there. He might be tall but he is a gentle giant and that’s awesome.’’

It sure is.

A gentle giant who is on your side, but don’t dare cross him. The Rangers kept their poise and the Orioles will be a challenge; but this is a team that lost 102 games two years ago so the Rangers already have come so far in a short time under Bochy – and with overcoming major pitching injuries along the way.

As I pointed out after Bochy was hired, leadership and accountability are huge; and is something most players desperately want.

Bochy is not afraid. If a player can help his team, he will give that player responsibility and trust. Such is the case with young outfielder Evan Carter, who was just called up in September. He reached base seven times in eight plate appearances against the Rays. Bochy batted him ninth to take some of the pressure off and Carter also delivered a two-run home run in the fourth inning to put the Rangers on top 4-0.

Carter has a sweet swing, a line drive swing that can hit home runs. The Rangers drafted him in the second round in 2020 and he’s only 21. Carter is not about lift and separation, he’s about driving the ball with an effortless swing. Again, good baseball organizations don’t try to make every hitter the same; they let each hitter be himself – and Bochy has been down this road before with postseason heroes from out of nowhere. Remember what Marco Scutaro did for the Giants.

A top talent evaluator put it all in perspective to me about veteran leadership, which has been cast aside by organizations going to the same cookie cutter analytical young, no-experience managerial hire. Same with veteran coaches and instructors.

“There’s no doubt there are so many guys out there who still want to work in the game that would do a good job,’’ he told BallNine. “You’re happy for Boch. Chris Young recognized that, being a former player, as a general manager. He realized how good Boch was and brought him in there. I’m glad for him.’’

Chris Young did not have to cast a wide net, as so many heads of baseball operations like to say in their word salad way, making the job seem much more complicated than it is. Find the best baseball man out there and if he has three World Series rings, more power to him.

Bochy is 68.

I remember asking the Giants relievers in 2010 what makes them so ready for the postseason (and, remember, the Giants won the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014 as Bochy and Brian Sabean created a postseason monster), and those relievers told me Bochy has their roles clearly defined beginning in August and they all just go with the flow. He’s done the same thing for these Rangers.

He puts his players in a position to succeed.

“This team has been doing it all year,’’ Bochy said during the Rangers celebration. “We lost a tough one in Seattle, but they came back here with the right attitude and refocused, got the day off, had a chance to reset, and we couldn’t have played two better games than what we did here. I couldn’t be prouder of these guys than I am right now. We pitched unbelievable. The bats came alive, played great defense, to come in here and beat this team like we did here, that says a lot about our guys.’’

That is what leadership sounds like, that is what most teams are missing at the managerial position. That is the value of experience and knowing the game and not following a pre-planned game plan. Bochy is calm in the dugout. Takes everything in and makes key decisions; and he has a veteran pitching coach in Mike Maddux beside him, another player I covered. Maddux has a tremendous sense of humor like his brother Greg – his practical jokes in the clubhouse are legendary as a player. But he is serious when it comes to pitching.

No pitcher would ever turn his back on Maddux on the mound and if they did, there would be immediate consequences from Bochy. Count on it.

Being a leader has little to do with reading data. It is about leadership.

Bochy has brought his team together at the most important time of the year, that is what it is all about, none of that overload of information teams force on players and most of the time the players are confused by the overload of data. Bochy keeps it simple. Pitch well, command the baseball, play good defense and get some big hits.

The Rays committed five errors in the two games. Kevin Cash is a good manager, but Bochy had his team ready to play despite having the much more difficult jourmey of being on the road for so long.

To show how much the Rangers have come together under Bochy, rookie third baseman Josh Jung in the postgame press conference was asked about young Evan Carter. “We joke around and say he’s our little savior. It’s pretty cool when he gets a hit, like, prayer hands. The impact he’s had has been incredible. He’s had a quality at-bat I feel like every at-bat. He knows the strike zone really well, and his at-bats alone are pushing the pitcher’s pitch count up. And when you have a good pitcher there on the mound, that’s what drives him out of the game eventually or end up making mistakes in late innings – and you saw that today.’’

That baseball comment reminded me of what Bochy’s Giants called Scutaro, who was not looked upon as a big acquisition when Brian Sabean landed him. Giants teammates nicknamed him, “Blockbuster.’’

Now Carter is “Our little savior.’’

Bochy is always quick to credit his players and said this after Eovaldi’s big game: “We had the right guy out there, and we had the right guy out there yesterday. What a job he did. He’s really worked hard to get back to this point, going on the IL, and goes out there and pitched just an enormous game for us, and he’s done that many times. It all starts with that starting pitcher and sets the tone, and that’s what he did for us today – off a very, very good-hitting ballclub.’’

See what I mean about keeping it simple?

Eovaldi said, “I think a lot of the credit goes to Bochy from the beginning of the season. We knew coming in we had a really good team. He’s been able to prepare us for these big moments, and we know what we are capable of doing.’’

When asked about young Carter, Bochy said, “Gosh, this young kid has come up — I don’t even know if he knows that he’s in the big leagues. This guy has such a calmness about him. So it’s good to have the depth in that order and the back end of the order to do what they did today.’’

There is nothing fancy about Bochy’s words. But they scream leadership. He said this about his team, this is what baseball is like at every level. It wasn’t too long ago that the Rangers lost eight in a row in ugly fashion and 20 of 30.

This is the key to the game, and Bochy lived it as a player as well.

“It’s all about bouncing back,’’ Bochy said. “Dealing with the tough times. You know you’re going to have them. What’s important is how you handle it, and these guys have handled it so well and put those tough losses behind us and come back and put together a good ballgame. I think we were counted out earlier in the season or late August there, when we were really having a hard time, and we were in first place for the most part. And the next thing you know we’re in third place. But what a job they did to bounce back and to be in this position.’’

I’ve always said you can’t fool the players. They know real. They know phony.

Listen to what Jung, who has only 148 major league games under his belt, had to say about his veteran manager. “He instills confidence in you as a player. He lets you go out and play your game, and that’s all you can ask for in a manager, somebody that’s not going to micromanage you and let you go play your game. I feel like even when we had our scuffles, even when things weren’t going our way, or even my way, per se, he just keeps throwing you back out there.

“That’s just a lot of confidence he has in you, and that gives you confidence as a player.’’

The game is about confidence. The game is about winning. It is not about trying to out-dazzle the opponent or coming up with an analytics department that spouts numbers but does not know how to translate any of that to the players in a way that brings confidence and winning.

Bruce Bochy never lets any of his success go to his big head. Every GM and every analyst and every manager can learn this from Bochy.

Boch Ball is all about winning.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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