Bruce Bochy knows the feel of the baseball blade
Published: Friday, March 8, 2013 at 5:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 8, 2013 at 5:50 p.m.
Bruce Bochy drew a knife on me early Friday morning. We were alone in his office when he whipped out the shiv, he and I staring at the naked blade.
So much led up to that fateful moment of danger that could have changed both our lives.
I had made an appointment to meet Bochy at 8:30 a.m. But when I entered Scottsdale Stadium at street level and jogged down the stairs to the clubhouse and peeked in Bochy's office, I saw him in there with assistant general manager Bobby Evans and bench coach Ron Wotus, and it was clear this wasn't my time. So I sat on the steps to wait.
I couldn't help noticing players, young players, players I didn't know, walking past me into the office, walking in one at a time. A coach would escort the player to the door, pat him on the shoulder. The player would enter the office. The door would close. A few minutes later, the player emerged with a grim look on his face, and walked away.
It dawned on me I was witnessing the before and after of players getting sent down to the minors. Everyone considers spring training a time of rebirth — the green grass, the chirping birds and all that lyricism. Ask the eight guys who walked past me, eight guys with thumping hearts and dashed hopes.
They were, I found out later, pitchers Fabio Castillo, Edward Concepcion, Justin Fitzgerald, Jose Valdez and Josh Osich, infielder Joe Panik, and catcher Andrew Susac, all sent to the minor-league camp, and infielder Angel Villalona to San Jose.
After the business was over, Bochy called out to me. I entered and saw him in his chair in his tiny office, apparently relaxed.
“Did all that upset you?” I asked.
“No!” he said, his voice loud like a declaration. “Nah, not these cuts. These are inevitable. The guys know they're going back down to the minor leagues. It's the right thing to do. They need to get ready for their season. The last ones, some of them bother you quite a bit. It can come down to the 25th, 26th guy and it determines who's on the club or not.”
He paused. “I've been there,” he said. “So, I know what these players go through.”
“You have been cut?” I asked.
“I was sent down. I was the 25th guy a couple of years. I remember in '83, '84, both years Dick Williams sent me down. In '84, I actually got a place in San Diego, my wife and I. I thought I was on the club. I had a great spring. They made a trade the day before opening day, acquired Graig Nettles. He wasn't a catcher but we had three catchers, so they sent me down to make room for him. I was a little perturbed. I told Dick that.”
“You told him?”
“Oh yeah.” Bochy's voice was forceful now, reliving the moment. “I was back up in six weeks, but still it's hard to take when you think you're on the club opening day. I mean, you understand trades and things, but I couldn't understand why I was the catcher to go.”
“Was it hard to face your wife?”
“No, it wasn't hard facing her. She's been through the ups and downs of my career. She was more upset for me. The good thing about being sent down then I went to Las Vegas. That wasn't the worst place to be.”
“Because it was a brand-new ballpark. The fans were into it. We enjoyed our time there. If you weren't in the big leagues, that was a pretty good place to be at that time.”
It occurred to me how positive Bochy is, finding the best in any situation.
“When you got sent down, did you look in the mirror and ask, 'Do I have it? Am I good enough?'”
“I didn't then,” he said. “Toward the end of my career I think, as a player, you do. That's why some of these are so difficult for me because, in essence, you're telling that player he's not good enough, that he's done. Especially an older player coming in here trying to make your club. I've been through quite a few of those and it's not easy to tell them they're not good enough to be on this club, some with 10 years in the big leagues.”
“Any of them ever get mad at you?”
“They vent a little. Ninety-five percent of them are thankful for the opportunity, appreciative. Now and then, you get some that break down because they didn't make the club and have a tough time dealing with it. There's only three ways they deal with it. They deal with it emotionally or they're thankful for the opportunity or they vent a little bit.”
“That's part of being a manager, you have to absorb a little bit,” I said, thinking Bochy and I were speaking the same lingo, thinking he knew I was a sympathetic listener.
Just then, I saw him reach into the top drawer of his desk. Nothing unusual in that. I've seen people reach into desk drawers any number of times. He could have been reaching for a Bic pen or paper clips or Tums.
When his hand emerged from the desk drawer, I glimpsed something metallic catch the light and I saw a black handle. Oh my God. The man was a maniac. He was clutching a knife.
I looked for a place to escape, like a window. The room was windowless.
“Was it something I wrote?” I thought.
He held the knife at chest-level. He stared at me. This was a side of the gentle manager I'd never seen.
“Yeah, but when it comes down to it,” he said, “you've got to protect yourself.” He was referring, I guess, to some rogue player just sent down who might pull out a .44 magnum and get ready to blow a hole into the heart of the Skip.
Bochy laughed out loud, a guffaw. When he put the knife away, I laughed, too. Nothing beats sharing a joke with Bruce Bochy as long as you live through it.
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