With the Cubs in San Francisco to face the team just behind them in the wild-card race, it makes sense to compare the two managers. After all, they both ended up within the top five in a recent ESPN.com survey, and their teams have both found success in recent years. Though they were born just a year apart, their styles are different enough that they seem to be a study in contrasts.
Who better to ask about what makes them great than their own players and coaches and beat writers? Well, maybe unbiased observers can be more critical than our sample, but the task at hand is to delineate the managers’ strengths.
So, what makes Bruce Bochy great? What makes Joe Maddon great?
Tim Lincecum: He gives us the freedom to play. He’ll let us police ourselves for the most part. He’ll make things known to the team if we run into some skids and whatnot, and he does a good job knowing what’s going and keeping the faith up. Other than that, he’s basically a bench coach that knows a lot more. He’s very meticulous in how he handles his bullpen, he knows really well how to handle the guys on the bench. Never tries to put anyone in a position they aren’t comfortable in. An easy-going guy, for the most part, even if he has his moments like any of us. You never really feel like he’s there as a coach, he’s more there as support. I remember in my first no-hitter in San Diego, I remember coming down into the tunnel and he said “you’re the best I got, you gotta keep this going,” to encourage me and keep me going. And I’ve also had some run-ins with him on the mound when I wanted to stay in the game — not so much lately. Just a real personable coach that allows himself to be available, without overstepping boundaries and making it seem like you’re being watched too closely.
Tim Hudson: His ability to think ahead in the game, those moves late in the game, that’s what he’s really good at. Managing his team, managing his players, trying to put them in a position to be successful. He’s pretty even keel in the dugout. You can tell when he gets emotionally involved sometimes. Not a lot of panic.
Gregor Blanco: What really makes him a great manager is that he gives everybody opportunity to be a part of this team, everybody opportunity to be a hero on this team. I think he really believes that it’s 25 guys that win a game, not only two or three guys. That’s huge. He gives guys a chance — like Joe Panik, Matt Duffy — and he never loses faith in his players. I’m not a guy that’s an everyday player here, but all of a sudden I find myself playing in the World Series. That’s a manager that really believes in us.
Hunter Strickland: He leads by example, he’s a quiet leader until he needs to say something. Lets us do our thing until we need him to get on us. He’ll come up to me and encourage me, he did throughout the playoffs, he said “we got you, we’re going to take care of you, keep competing and have fun with it.” I was a rookie coming up and he was giving me the opportunity. He won’t give up on us.
Brandon Crawford: He’s a good manager of the game. It seems like he knows what’s going to happen a couple innings before they happen. And he’ll have something planned already. He doesn’t get all mad or frustrated or worked up very often, which is nice. For the most part pretty calm. If he does get worked up, it’s something big. I don’t think I’v ever seen a manager as good at seeing something before it happens. He’s gotten better with the rest thing, too.
Chris Haft: He rarely puts people in a position to fail. He puts people in a position to succeed. That sounds basic, but sometimes a manager will send a guy up to bunt who’s got no business bunting. Bruce won’t do that. He knows his players’ limitations, and he never criticizes them in print. That’s another thing that sounds like something that most normal people wouldn’t do, but he just doesn’t do it. He may rip guys off the record, but it stays off the record. I don’t think it affects the way he uses them, either, he may come back with them the next day.
People say he’s a master of the bullpen. Master is kind of a strong term, but relievers don’t like getting up to warm up and then not go into the game. That rarely happens here. He’s not perfect with that. As a postseason manager, he understands a sense of urgency. Where other managers might stick with a starter for a little bit longer because that’s just what they do, well no, look at Game Seven last year, Hudson’s gone after four outs, five outs. He didn’t mess around.
He likes to gamble, in low doses. He has an uncanny knack for knowing when to gamble with a player, even when — and this might sound corny — it’s up to them to make it work. When he started out, after a tough loss, he would sit in his office and yell obscenities, you could hear it ringing throughout the clubhouse. Guys got a sense of how intense he was. Now — and of course winning three World Series will do this for you — it seems like he’s in a good mood every day.
Dexter Fowler: He keeps us loose. That’s basically it. He has fun. He’s the man.
Kris Bryant: He’s so personable. He’s really laid back, and he’s the type of manager that’s not hard on you. He’s not a drill sergeant. That brings out the best of you as a player. You’re not scared to make a mistake or scared to do something wrong, you’re not walking on eggshells. If you’ve got a problem, you can talk to him. He’s taught me so much already, I’m looking forward to the relationship that we have to come. In spring training, when I got sent down, he was great, and that springboarded us into talking a lot when I’m struggling and when I’m doing great. He’s really easy-going.
Henry Blanco: The way he goes about his business. He gives players responsibilities. The way he is, he keeps them loose and does his thing, you know him. That helps the momentum keep going. He puts them where they need to be to play the game the right way. He’s probably one of the best managers in the National League. He’s a quiet guy, but he likes to do some crazy stuff to get the guys going, and I’m pretty sure that makes a difference here.
Dan Haren: The non-game stuff that he does, the fun stuff, it helps keep the team looser than the places I’ve been. Not as much attention to things like batting practice and drills, he tries to cut a lot of that stuff out. He gives players a lot of leeway, but he expects a lot back. Managing a game, he’s a little bit of an older guy, but he’s really embraced some new school stuff, the analytics. I’ve taken a look at his lineup card, and I know my stuff a little, but I don’t understand what he has written on there, some crazy stuff, it’s not as easy as left/right splits any more. He’s really embraced that, and he tries new things, like the pitcher hitting eighth, and I try to understand it, and he explains it to me, and I still don’t understand it. But when a guy like him, who has had so much success, you question less the stuff he does in game. And there’s a respect for the players, too.
Patrick Mooney: He’s been the right guy at the right time. They couldn’t have found a better guy to appeal to the young players, fuse the organization together, and deal with a lot of the Wrigleyville nonsense that comes around. He’s a great communicator, and he definitely deflects pressure and attention away from these kids, who have been really talked about from the moment they were drafted as the next big things. For all these players, it’s huge just to have that stability, too — I think it’s five managers in six seasons now. The team has been methodical in signing pieces and Maddon is about as good as it gets when it comes a manager in this day and age.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.