As we get settled in for the 2012 World Series, do not tell Detroit Tiger and San Francisco Giant fans that Jim Leyland and Bruce Bochy are just there to fill out a lineup card.
The perceived importance of the modern-day manager has been reduced by some as just that; turn that card in, massage the egos and let the chips fall where they may.
The reality is of course different and both of these teams that are in the fall classic owe a great deal of their success to their skipper.
When you find yourself overcoming the odds that the Giants did in just making the series—having to win six straight elimination games to get past Cincinnati and St. Louis—you have to be able to trust the skipper to get you there, and the Giants did exactly that with Bochy.
At 57, Bochy is an old hand at baseball. He played nearly 10 seasons as a catcher before taking the reigns with the San Diego Padres in 1995. He took a franchise that had not been all that good historically to the 1998 World Series and four National League Western divisional titles before moving up the coast to San Francisco to replace Felipe Alou for the 2007 season.
All Bochy has done with the Giants was guide the team to their first World Series championship since they moved from New York in 1958 two years ago.
At 67, Jim Leyland is no stranger to the playoffs or being a successful National League manager either.
Leyland managed the Pittsburgh Pirates for 11 years starting in 1986. During his tenure, the Pirates won the National League East three straight years. Even with a fifth-place finish in 1986, Leyland finished fifth in the voting for NL Manager of the Year.
He won his first World Series with the Florida Marlins in his first year there in 1997 and has now taken the Tigers to two World Series in his seven seasons in Detroit.
Both Bochy and Leyland know what to expect. They have seen it all and know just how to get what is expected from their talents.
In Bochy’s case, the Giants did not panic. Winning three straight games in Cincinnati was no small feat, especially after losing the first two at home.
If one looked at how rattled the St. Louis Cardinals looked in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series or how flat the Yankees were their entire ALCS against the Tigers, one can tell just from that how important it is for their managers to keep the team protected from distractions, keep them in a position to win games, and actually manage the in-game strategy part to win.
For Leyland, all the preseason expectations of a 100-win season and a cakewalk to the playoffs went out the window early. The Tigers only won 88 games this year, yet they have peaked at the right time and are here.
While it may have seemed like an easy position to remove Jose Valverde as the closer after blowing a four-run lead in Game 1 at Yankee Stadium, the actual decision to make such a serious change to the bullpen was actually quite risky.
Leyland entrusted the free-spirit of Phil Coke to do that job and Coke delivered three times in the series. Leyland used his instincts and it paid off.
Both managers are going to have to adjust their styles during the series and both should be ready. Leyland will be quite familiar with playing under the no-DH rules that are in effect in San Francisco and—unlike Texas’ Ron Washington last year—will know how and when to make double switches and play the small-ball game.
Bochy will be able to use the extra hitter he has available in his lineup in Detroit and may feel he can get an extra inning or two out of a starting pitcher or a longer relief stint out of a Tim Lincecum if needed because he will not need to waste a pinch-hitter on the pitcher’s spot.
They say that all teams can win 50 games and lose 50 games just by luck, but it’s those 60 other games that the manager’s decisions play the most important factor.
It is fair to say that the two managers in this World Series have won more of those 60 games than they have lost by a good margin. In fact, the manager that holds the trophy at the end of this series will have done more than we will ever see to do it, and with these two men, the loser will have done almost just as good of a job.