ARLINGTON, Texas – Turns out that after all these years, genius was lurking somewhere inside Bruce Bochy's head. It could not have picked a better place to hide.
To call Bochy's head planetary would be unfair, even though, from some angles, its diameter could well exceed Mercury's. And labeling it big is an insult to its sheer size, for other such items – the Big Mac and Big Gulp – are not nearly as voluminous commensurate to their counterparts as Bochy's head is to his. No, that genius was stowed away in the crevices of a melon best branded as elephantine – not just in size but brainpower.
Because heavens, is Bochy managing over his – oh, that was too easy. Let's try again: Bochy, skipper of a San Francisco Giants team with a 2-0 World Series lead over the Texas Rangers, is coaxing every last bit of button-pushing mastery out of his noodle, and the plaudits that accompany a could-be champion are rolling in.
This is how it works in sports: Coaches and managers who win are geniuses – unless they sound like Charlie Manuel – and coaches and managers who lose are know-nothings. Before this year, Bochy knew nothing. In his first two seasons with the Giants, they went 143-181. Last year's 88-74 record, though an improvement, yielded only a third-place finish. In a poll on the McCovey Chronicles fan site last August, 74 percent of voters advocated firing Bochy. The rhetoric was obdurate: "He does not know how to manage and develop young players," and "I just want Bochy gone," and "Bochy is a (expletive) moron."
How quickly a World Series appearance changes things. The McCovey Chronicles denizens love Bochy these days, lauding his lineups, his pitching maneuvers , late-game defensive switches – his everything, really. And San Francisco, a city that appreciates an active basal ganglia, is going batty for its latest gift to the world. Who needs Joe Girardi's binder when you've got Bruce Bochy's head?
"I do laugh a little bit, to be honest," Bochy said. "It's always up to the players to go out there and execute, especially when you put them in a position. And they're doing that. And I'm grateful for it."
Still, it's uncanny just how well Bochy's choreography has worked. Every time he writes out a lineup card, it's as if he's done so using Shakespeare's inkwell. And when he taps his wrist to call on a reliever, Bochy might as well be anointing the incoming pitcher. Defensive replacements, shifts, running plays – name it and Bochy nails it.
It's good fortune, of course. Bochy tries to make the logical tactical move. When his players succeed – when Javier Lopez(notes) turns into a left-handed Mariano Rivera(notes), and when Edgar Renteria(notes) resuscitates his career for one game, and when five relievers cobble together seven shutout innings in a pennant-clinching victory – it reflects well. When it doesn't – and it's bound one of these times not to – the deification will end.
"What makes a good manager? Good players," Bochy said. "There's no getting around that. That's the adage, and I believe it, too. But hopefully you're doing something to help them, being prepared or being in the right frame of mind to got out there and have some success."
On the day before Game 3, Bochy attributed his success to the managers he played for during a forgettable career. Over nine seasons, he bounced around three organizations, appeared in only 358 games and did what so many backup catchers do: bide his time until a minor league managing job beckons. He bounced from Spokane to Riverside to High Desert to Wichita, took over the San Diego Padres in 1995, went to a World Series during a decade-plus-long stay and landed in San Francisco in the dawn of the post-Barry Bonds era.
From Bill Virdon, Bochy's first manager, he learned the fair-but-firm principle, and from Dick Williams, he said, he learned the importance of fundamentals. And Bochy imparts his own bit of wisdom into his everyday dealings. In September, as San Diego collapsed and allowed the Giants to steal the National League West, Bochy showed a clip from "Braveheart" to fire up the Giants. Ever since, they've chanted: "Freedom!"
Perhaps he could've gone with a better cinematic choice. Bochy, after all, is the heir apparent to the old cowboy Sam Elliott, his voice – and mustache – as deep and luxurious as Elliott's. If ever there is a remake of "The Big Lebowski," Bochy ought utter the words: "The Dude abides."
And as Bochy continues to abide by what his head tells him, its legend only grows. Probably never equal to the actual size of Bochy's head, which is more than 25 inches in circumference and calls for a custom-made size 8 1/8 hat. The average adult male head is about 22½ inches around and wears a 7 1/8 or 7 1/4. Bochy can claim he's three inches smarter than the average man, that he's got a whole hat size worth of brains on most of his counterparts, but Bochy knows better.
In baseball, genius is fleeting. He's just glad it decided to come out of hibernation now.