Here is a link to my Tuesday column about Bruce Bochy. The full text appears below:
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It’s post workout, about 1 p.m.
A few Giants are taking batting practice and manager Bruce Bochy walks off the field and settles his huge body onto the dugout bench for his daily media briefing. He answers questions from the beat writers on various topics: how well some young pitchers I never heard of are throwing, how Angel Pagan’s back seized up on him — I think it’s Pagan, my mind is drifting — how Bochy doesn’t want to name his pitching rotation for spring games just yet. “I don’t want to screw that up,” he says.
After one long, painful silence, Bochy announces “OK,” which means “I’m outta here.” I touch his arm. I am sitting next to him on the bench.
“Could you stay for one minute?” I ask. “I’ve got a question.”
He looks surprised. It’s almost impossible to know what’s going on in Bochy’s head, his demeanor is always the same. He never uses my name, so I don’t know what he thinks of me. Well, he once said “Lowell” last season and I almost fell over. He’s an old-style manager and he reserves proper nouns for the beat writers who are there every day. A pecking order.
For whatever reason, he remains seated.
“When you were a catcher,” I say, “did you talk to batters when you were behind the plate?
“Sometimes.” He’s not looking at me, although our shoulders are almost touching. He’s staring at the outfield.
“What would you say?”
“It depends on if you had a relationship with the batter. If he’s a good friend, I may say something. Never much. If I didn’t know the hitter, rarely did I ever talk to him. But if it was somebody I knew, I’d say something about his family, how he’s been. ‘Cause he’s a friend. If I didn’t know the opposing player, I tried not to say anything. And I believe it’s overdone a little today (friendly talking). I mean, you’re on opposing teams. Why not keep an edge? You’re here to play each other and try to win that game. It’s not about you trying to make a conversation with that hitter.”
“Did you ever try to get in a hitter’s head like, ‘You’re 0-for-9. I think you’re in trouble here.’ Ever do anything like that?”
“Yeah, on occasion. ‘We’re going to throw you down the middle. We can’t get you out any other way.’ Something like that just to see if we could break it up. Not very often.”
“How often did you talk to an umpire when you caught?”
“Almost every game I caught we had some kind of conversation because you get some down period between pitches or timeouts. It’s normal for the catchers to have some kind of conversation with the umpire.”
“What would you talk about?”
“Really, it could be the pitcher’s struggling, the strike zone. You may try to say, ‘I think that was a pretty good pitch. Where was it?’ Start talking to him about it or just let him know what the pitcher has. ‘This guy gets a lot of sink on the ball. He likes to bite with his breaking ball.’ So, he (the ump) can be ready for it and maybe we get that call.”
“Would you ever say, ‘Gee, you called this a ball for us but you called it a strike for the other team?’”
“Yeah. But I was usually in the clubhouse then.” For the first time Bochy looks at me. He’s smiling.
“Ever get hit with a foul ball and see stars?”
“No. No. Never. Only time I got hit on the back of the head was with a back swing. As far as foul tip, I caught some hard throwers like J.R. Richard, Nolan Ryan and I never felt like I had my bell rung. Now, you may differ talking to me.”
I assure him he has all his marbles.
“Do you sometimes raise your voice as a manager with an umpire,” I say, “or do you always try to modulate your tone?”
“No. No. No. No. You’re definitely raising your voice. (Bochy raises his voice.) Oh, yeah. When you’re arguing, it usually goes in steps. Maybe something he said that you didn’t like. You get madder and madder. So, sure, your emotions are coming out. You start yelling, yeah. I think it’s the case with most managers. If you go out there to argue, it’s usually a yelling conversation.”
“Do you usually realize the point where you’re going to get tossed?”
“Yeah. And there’s times when you’re surprised you haven’t been tossed.”
I look at Bochy in total incomprehension. He stares at me.
“There have been times I have been told I’m not getting tossed,” he says. “Bruce Froemming told me, ‘Hey, I know you’re out here to get tossed, but I’m not going to toss you.’ I said, ‘Well, we’re going to be here all day because I’m not leaving.’ So, eventually, I won that one. He (Froemming) tells the story on the (lecture) circuit.”
“He tossed you?”
“He had to. I wasn’t going anywhere. I said, ‘This game won’t continue because I’m not leaving.’ And then he gave me that tired one down here. ‘You’re gone.’”
Bochy makes a slight motion near his kneecap almost impossible to see without an electron microscope. He continues.
“I said, ‘No, I want the good heave-ho.’ It took him a while to give me that. I said, ‘I’m not going till I get the good one.’ He didn’t want people to know that he threw me out.”
In my right ear I hear Marty Lurie whisper, “Campy threw dirt on Mays’ shoes.” He’s talking about Roy Campanella and Willie Mays. Marty and I are locked in Brooklyn in the 1950s and we happen to share one personality. I have no idea what he’s talking about.
He talks across me to Bochy. “Did you ever throw dirt on batters’ shoes?”
“Oh, yeah.” Bochy grins. He’s proud.
“You threw dirt on their shoes during pitches?” I ask.
“Nah,” Bochy says. “Between pitches.”
He’s a man who respects etiquette. Then he gets up and walks to his office to figure out his rotation and learn about Pagan’s back and study the young pitchers.
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