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Now the story can be told. Two years ago, just after Bruce Bochy had managed his last game for the San Francisco Giants, Ron Fowler, then running the San Diego Padres, called Bochy to ask if he’d like to return to San Diego to manage his old club.
Bochy, now 66, had a bifurcated 25-year managing career, the first 12 years with the Padres and final 13 with the Giants. His tenure was more successful in San Francisco, where he led the Giants to three World Series championships from 2010 to 2014. He won the 1998 National League pennant in San Diego, the last such Padres victory.
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“We didn’t go far in that conversation,” Bochy told Sportico by phone this past weekend. “I’d known Ron for a while. He’s in a different role now. But it was just a brief conversation.”
He told Fowler, who was in search of a manager to replace the just-fired Andy Green, that he needed some time to unwind. The answer? “No.”
In fact, Bochy looked spent sitting behind his desk on Sept. 29, 2019, the day he had retired and celebrated his final game for the Giants at what is now called Oracle Park.
The Giants had lost 85 games and were a team in transition from their championship years. The Padres were just trying to get going. They’re still trying.
Fast forward to the current season. The Giants have outplayed even their own internal prognostications, said Bochy, who’s still a consultant to baseball operations president Farhan Zaidi. They lead the Los Angeles Dodgers by a game in the National League West with only 12 to go and at 97 wins are on their way to at least 100.
“It’s amazing,” Bochy said. “We thought we were a playoff-caliber team, but nobody expected that.”
The Padres, with a club-record payroll of $175.7 million, have collapsed in disarray since the All-Star break, the worst team that money could buy. The Giants are at $161.7 million.
There’s a possibility the Padres will replace Jayce Tingler, the unproven manager whom general manager A.J. Preller signed after Bochy turned down the position. The manager’s job is tenuous, particularly after Saturday night’s very public confrontation in the dugout between the team’s two highest-paid players: Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado.
The Padres gave Tatis a 14-year, $340 million contact; Machado, 10 years at $300 million. Tatis has been sulking, trying to play through a left shoulder separation that will likely need surgery after the season.
They are 20 1/2 games behind the Giants and four games behind the Cardinals for the NL’s second Wild Card spot after being swept in a three-game series at St. Louis, looking leaderless and rudderless.
It all comes back together this week when the Giants opened another three-game set Tuesday night at San Diego’s Petco Park. Bochy said he planned to be there in his capacity for the Giants.
To be sure, Bochy has not yet spoken to the Padres again and said he’s certainly not campaigning for Tingler’s managing job. Fowler, in fact, has since stepped down from his control position, and Preller, with a contract through 2026, decides who manages the team under terms of his deal with Padres owner Peter Seidler.
But that can all change.
Bochy, who stepped down largely because of health and heart problems, said he’s open to talk. He’s healthy now and also said he’s fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, which makes sense considering his comorbidities. He’s an eventual Hall of Fame manager and should be elected by the Today’s Game committee in 2022 if he doesn’t return to a managing position.
“I think I’ll just say what I’ve been saying: I don’t think you rule anything out,” said Bochy, who was also the Padres backup catcher on the 1984 NL championship team. “I’ve enjoyed doing what I’ve been doing, working with the Giants, going through the minor league affiliates. I went to spring training for a couple of weeks, but you never say never. That’s my mindset.”
As far as the Giants are concerned, he said the organization has done great work since his dugout departure.
Gabe Kapler, the man who replaced Bochy, should be Manager of the Year in the NL because of his success putting together the disparate parts Zaidi gave him. His closest competition is Greg Counsell of the NL Central-winning Milwaukee Brewers and Dave Roberts of the Dodgers.
“I don’t know how you don’t take Gabe, considering what the expectations were and where they’re at,” Bochy said. “It’s just been a great year, a magical year.”
He noted that the resurgence of the core three players who came out of the system under former GM Brian Sabean—Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt—have been at the heart of it.
Bochy helped nurture that trio’s development from the time they were rookies. And now, like the Core Four of the New York Yankees, they’re trying to win another championship seven years after the last one in 2014. Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte helped win the World Series in 2000 for the Yankees and were still around to take their last one in 2009.
The Giants have already extended Crawford’s contract for two years at $32 million, and he’ll avoid free agency. They have a $22 million club option on Posey. Belt can become a free agent.
The Giants should find a way to re-sign those guys, Bochy said.
“My gut feeling is they certainly want to keep them,” he said. “[Management] knows how well what they’ve done. There are other variables involved, whatever. I’m sure that’s something they’re talking about as we speak. Just like Crawford. It would’ve been hard not to have them in a Giants uniform.
“They provide incredible leadership in the locker room. I’ve seen it, and I’m sure Gabe would tell you that.”
These two weeks will determine who wins it all in the NL West. The Giants and Dodgers will finish with the best records in Major League Baseball, but one of them will have to host a single-elimination Wild Card Game to make it to an NL Division Series.
“There’s a lot at stake,” said Bochy, who won Wild Card games in 2014 and 2016 behind the complete-game, shutout pitching of Madison Bumgarner.
It isn’t necessarily fair.
“You have the teams with the two best records,” Bochy said. “You’d think baseball would find a way to figure this out. Anything can happen.”
On and off the field, it’s going to be an interesting final few weeks.