The San Francisco Giants were in Seattle this week, and it provided a moment to ponder upon the myths built by the Giants’ three World Series titles this decade. In a three-part series, it’s time to break down the myths and discuss some reality here.
Part I: The Myth of the Manager
Bruce Bochy received a lot of credit for guiding the Giants to postseason success in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Perhaps, too much. After all, he certainly had nothing to do with the outlier statistical performances that carried his team to three championships. Or did he? If Bochy did have something to do with that, then there are a lot of questions about what happened during the other seasons he’s been in San Francisco.
Let’s look at the facts, though. As of this writing, Bochy actually is under .500 for his career as a major-league skipper, and it’s hard to envision how a sub-.500 manager can lead a team to three WS titles if he’s so great. There are a lot of holes in Bochy’s mythology: He has never led the Giants to consecutive postseasons despite having one of the highest payrolls in baseball at his disposal regularly, and for all his alleged mastery of the managerial maneuvers, that’s a big problem with his reputation. While true Hall of Fame managers like Bobby Cox or Tony La Russa constantly went to consecutive postseasons, why hasn’t Bochy been able to manage that with the Giants? Heck, he did it with the San Diego Padres in 2005 and 2006. And with the huge payrolls? It’s almost unforgivable that Bochy has been missing the postseason.
Injuries happen, sure, but they happen to every team. That’s baseball. It’s not an excuse for being unable to even reach the playoffs a year after winning the Series (which also precludes the Giants from claiming “dynasty” status, but that’s another topic for another day). What it tells us is that S.F. may have won the World Series three times, but the Giants were not a great team or organization in doing so. They were fortunate, lucky, and perhaps simply caught enough lightning in a bottle to compensate for six decades of prior futility.
Bochy was not the magician the press made him out to be. In 2011, despite having the eighth-highest payroll in MLB, the Giants missed the playoffs. In 2013, the Giants had the seventh-highest payroll in the sport, but Bochy couldn’t even get them to a .500 finish. It just gets worse, too: In 2015, San Francisco spent the third-most money on payroll, and again, the Giants didn’t even make the postseason. Finally, in 2017, Bochy managed the fourth-highest payroll in MLB to a 64-win season.
Look at the current 2018 season, which is well past the halfway mark: The Giants are barely above .500 despite having the second-highest payroll in the sport. Again, where is the genius of Bochy? You cannot consistently fail as much as Bochy has with such resources and still claim to be a good manager. The WS victories have given him a lot of rope with which to hang himself in San Francisco, however, but the reality here is far from the myth that he’s a Hall of Fame skipper.
This is a consistent problem, and it defies the mythos: How does a genius manager fail to get high-payroll teams into the postseason? How does a genius manager fail to be way above .500 for his career in the dugout? The answer is that Bochy is not a genius, period. He is not a Hall of Fame manager, period.
Back in 1975, the Boston Red Sox reached the World Series, because—according to Bill Lee—Manager Darrell Johnson kept falling out of trees and landing on his feet all season. Well, that’s the best explanation for how a mediocre manager like Bochy managed to win three World Series in San Francisco, while failing to ever post a legitimate title defense or even finish above .500 in some seasons despite having a huge payroll at his disposal.
If anyone actually takes a gander at his managerial record in context, they will see Bochy is not a genius. He just got lucky more often than the average manager—which is what he is, based on his record—should have under the circumstances.