Jim Leyland, Bruce Bochy: Two managers willing to take a back seat
David LennonDavid Lennon
David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since
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Jim Leyland has managed four different teams over 21 seasons for a total of 3,337 games. He's very familiar with what the job entails.
But even with all of that data floating around in his 67-year-old brain, Leyland didn't hesitate when asked Wednesday what the most difficult part of managing is.
Figuring out the lineup? No.
Running the bullpen? Nope.
Balancing egos, handling the front office, being required to wear a uniform? Not mentioned.
"I think the hardest part is probably dealing with the media," Leyland said before Game 1 of the World Series at AT & T Park. "I don't mean to be disrespectful. It takes a lot of time. You're answering a lot of questions. You're second-guessed a lot. The fun part is normally the game."
Leyland's right. Look at baseball's two latest casualties, Bobby Valentine and Ozzie Guillen. Both the Red Sox and Marlins finished well below expectations with identical 69-93 records under their first-year managers. But as terrible as those results were, either one probably would have survived if not for the PR catastrophes caused by their mouths.
Valentine's combustible personality was a gamble from the start in Boston and he proved the skeptics correct by quickly alienating the clubhouse through media gaffes. Ripping Kevin Youkilis in April was unwise -- Valentine put that at the top of his regret list in late September -- and everything sort of snowballed form there.
As for Guillen, he dug himself a Cuba-sized hole by praising Fidel Castro during a magazine interview in April. After barely surviving that, Guillen steered clear of politics, but couldn't keep the Marlins out of the NL East basement. He also loudly criticized players and thumbed his nose at ownership before getting swept out the door Monday.
Organizations have different views of a manager's importance. With the Yankees, Joe Girardi basically needs to keep a steady hand on the team's $200-million roster without saying anything stupid. Across town, Terry Collins was hired to mentor the Mets through the growing pains of a rebuilding process.
Leyland and Bruce Bochy are the only two managers left standing in late October. Both are quick to credit the players for their different paths to the World Series, but there is a value to be placed on calm stewardship of the roster.
"He allows these guys to be individuals and stay loose," Giants GM Brian Sabean said of Bochy. "But he also makes sure they're ready to compete."
Sabean admired Bochy from afar during the manager's 12-year stay in San Diego. Despite a .494 winning percentage (951-975), Bochy's Padres won four NL West titles during that span, including two straight before he was let go after the 2006 season and immediately signed on in San Francisco.
"I was kind of surprised he was available," Sabean said. "They won a lot with less talent."
It's no coincidence Bochy and Leyland rarely wind up as the story. They take a backseat to the players -- something that Valentine and Guillen never did during their tumultuous, and brief, tenures this season.
As soon as a season goes in the tank, GMs tend to lose their appetite for such behavior. But more and more, in this 24-hour news cycle, teams are reluctant to put such volatile types in the manager's chair to begin with.
Bochy, now a comfortable fit in San Francisco, credits a lifetime of experience for helping him get back to the World Series for the second time in three years. Learning from mistakes is part of that. Also knowing when to keep your mouth shut.
"You keep trying to get better and work on things," Bochy said. "Whether it's in-game strategy or managing your players or even dealing with the media or front office."
Between them, Bochy and Leyland have managed in the majors for nearly four decades. One will earn a second World Series ring this year. There's something to be said for that, but you probably won't hear it from them.