1. Bruce Bochy Moving Up Charts with a Bullet
Late last Wednesday night, manager Bruce Bochy and his coaches gathered in private in the San Francisco clubhouse for a quiet champagne toast.
It was a short respite in the middle of the swirling grind that is a 162-game season: Bochy had just earned his 1,600th career victory, and for a few minutes, he and his Giants coaches stopped worrying about yesterday's problems and tomorrow’s challenges so they could savor the moment.
That this milestone arrived roughly one month after three managers were inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame—Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa—was wholly fitting because in Bochy, what we're watching is a Hall of Fame manager at the top of his game.
Click Ahead to Other Topics
• Astros' troubles don't stop with the manager
• A's might like a do-over on trade-deadline deals
• Buster Posey rule just a plain bust
• Time to get a handle on September call-ups
• Mike Trout hasn't conquered every part of this game
• Don Baylor resumes his fairy-tale story
• Looking for gems in baseball's bargain bin
• And now some news from Bill Murray...
"I believe so," Tim Flannery, Bochy's third-base coach in both San Francisco and San Diego, says. "I thought that when he won his second World Series."
That 1,600th victory moved him past Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda into 19th place on the all-time managerial list. By Monday, he had moved into 18th place at 1,604, past Fred Clarke.
Bochy, like Lasorda, has pulled the levers for two World Series winners: The 2010 and '12 Giants. Lasorda guided the 1981 and '88 Dodgers to the title.
Bochy also steered the '98 Padres to the World Series, where they were swept by the Yankees. Lasorda knows a few things about lost dreams to pinstriped Octobers, too: He managed the Dodgers in four total World Series, losing to the Yankees in '77 and '78.
"It was special to be here for that," said starter Jake Peavy, who was reunited with Bochy at the trade deadline last month after pitching for him in San Diego from 2002-06, of the 1,600th win. "The man's a Hall of Famer, that's all there is to it. He’s got a couple of World Series championships that have solidified that. Obviously, I'm going to be partial..."
Judging impartially, Bochy might not be a lock, but he owns a resume that should get him there. At 59, he should still have several good years in front of him. He says he still enjoys the challenges and has no immediate plans to do anything else.
Not to make an incredibly difficult job seem easy, but say Bochy manages five more years. Even if he averages only 81 wins a season (.500, in other words, 81-81), he would move past Leo Durocher and into the all-time top 10 on the manager wins list. With the inductions this year of La Russa (third all time with 2,728 wins), Cox (fourth, 2,504) and Torre (fifth, 2,326), the top 11 managers on the all-time wins list all are in the Hall of Fame.
"I've been fortunate enough to play for a lot of great managers," says Peavy, who counts Bochy, Bud Black, Ozzie Guillen, Robin Ventura and John Farrell among them. "All due respect to everybody I've played for, Boch takes the cake for me.
"The connection he has with players, he's a special man in this game. And I think a lot because he does it here and in San Diego and not with the Dodgers, it gets overlooked. Anytime he's had a roster to work with, he's won."
Peavy hears all about Cox from new teammate Tim Hudson, and he is intrigued by the stories and appreciates them. But he sits in various team meetings in San Francisco, "and it takes me back to meetings we had in San Diego. The man communicates as much as anyone."
Or, as Flannery puts it, "you try to stay in the moment and win that night's game. You try to keep the beast at bay every day."
Far more often than not over the years, Bochy has tamed that beast.
"He's like, for me, The Rolling Stones or Willie Nelson," Flannery says. "The guys who have played music through the generations and adapted.
"He's adapted to the players, and the players have changed drastically since 1995 [Bochy's first year]. You see great managers leave because they won't change, or they won't adjust. And some are happy to go. And you understand.
"I saw it with Dick Williams and Whitey Herzog. They just said, 'I'm not doing this.' And you have to have the ability with today's players and in today's game [to change], and to work with sabermetric stuff you might not fully believe in.
"He's got the ability to adjust to all of that, and God bless him."
For his part, Bochy deflects the credit and does what the great managers do: He keeps his focus on tonight's game.
2. Astros Tell Bo Porter to Quit Laboring on Labor Day
Few clubs have embarrassed themselves this season like the Astros, and manager Bo Porter's Labor Day sacking spoke far more to the dysfunction under management than it did to any X's and O's.
Granted, Porter may not be Connie Mack. But neither is general manager Jeff Luhnow Branch Rickey.
First thing Luhnow needs to do in his managerial search is reread the first sentence of his statement on firing Porter: "What we will seek going forward is a consistent and united message throughout the entire organization..."
Why there isn't at the moment is colossally damning to Luhnow and his leadership skills—or, more aptly, lack thereof.
Yes, the Astros have a probable AL batting champ in Jose Altuve (.336), Dallas Keuchel has been a revelation as a starter, and they've introduced promising talents George Springer and Collin McHugh.
But the draft shenanigans with Brady Aiken and Jacob Nix were reprehensible, the Springer contract situation reeked, and the internal trade memos that were leaked and appeared very publicly online earlier this summer were a colossal embarrassment for the organization.
MLB currently is looking into the Aiken/Nix situation. Nix had agreed to sign with the Astros for $1.5 million, but when they failed to land No. 1 overall pick Aiken (after dropping their initial offer), they lost slot money. The trickle-down effect froze out Nix through no fault of the kid's own.
The Astros' reported offer to Springer last September of $23 million over seven years (which would have taken him out of his arbitration years and a year of free agency) was rejected, leading to heavy speculation that that's why they shipped him to the minors late this spring instead of allowing him onto their Opening Day roster.
And in recent days, they not only promoted Mark Appel, the first overall pick in the 2013 draft, to Double-A after his Class A numbers harshly suggested he warranted no such promotion...they also brought him to Houston to throw a bullpen without even bothering to tell Porter.
"That whole thing is ready to blow up," one American League executive told me Sunday.
On Monday, it did.
Heavy industry buzz has Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan waiting in the wings and eager to take over Astros' baseball operations. His son, Reid, already holds the title President, Business Operations. Stay tuned.
3. Athletics Slip, Sliding Away After Trade Deadline
Talk about a brutal weekend. Oakland was trampled by the Los Angeles Angels of Na Na Na You Don't Have Yoenis Cespedes Anymore, and the team that was the best in baseball for four months is reeling.
"It was embarrassing. Pathetic," angry manager Bob Melvin told reporters after the debacle was complete and the Angels finished off a four-game weekend sweep to dump Oakland to five games back in the AL West [4.5 games back Tuesday morning]. "We don't play like that.
"The last three games here are the worst I've seen this team play in I don't know how long. I feel bad for our fans to have to watch that."
While Cespedes collected 22 RBI for the Red Sox in August—most of any month in his career—this is an A's team that misses him immensely.
"I don't know if I have an answer for [how much]," third baseman Josh Donaldson told me the other day. "We'll have to see how it plays out."
How it is playing out right now is the same answer Donaldson gave reporters following Saturday night's loss when he was asked about the club's morale: "I think it's pretty obvious."
Between injuries to closer Sean Doolittle, shortstop Jed Lowrie, center fielder Coco Crisp and Nick Punto—and the absence of Cespedes in the middle of the order—Oakland is a different team. The vibe in the clubhouse is not good: You don't need to be from Hawaii Five-0 to decipher that a significant portion of this team was not, and is not, on board with trading Cespedes.
In fact, ace Jon Lester must be wondering what all the fuss was about with these A's, who had the best record in the AL at 66-41 at the time of the trade. With Lester aboard, they're 13-17.
Does Lester sense that his new teammates miss Cespedes?
"With a guy like that, a franchise player who is well-liked by all the fans, especially when you make a deal and then you're not playing well, there are always going to be second-guessers," Lester says. "I'm just worried about how I can do my job the best I can. That's all I'm concerned with.
"There are always going to be people who don't like a deal."
As the A's burn, one Dodgers person drew an interesting corollary to then-Los Angeles general manager Paul DePodesta pulling a shocker at the July trade deadline in 2004 by dealing Paul Lo Duca, Guillermo Mota and Juan Encarnacion to the Marlins for Bill Murphy, Brad Penny and Hee Seop Choi.
The Dodgers were scorching hot, having gone 21-7 in July. After the deal, the chemistry was never the same in a shell-shocked clubhouse, and though Jim Tracy's Dodgers won the NL West that summer, they were beaten soundly in an NL Division Series by the Cardinals.
4. Sliding Home, Striking Out
What began as a well-intentioned rule to prevent baserunners from using catchers as target practice has become an unmitigated disaster. Rule 7.13, known by many as the Buster Posey Rule, was implemented this season to prevent home-plate collisions and concussions.
But while it has done its intended job of keeping catchers from getting trampled, it has caused far more problems and confusion than ever intended. The question now is when the new rule protecting catchers is going to be changed, not if it is going to be changed.
The basic premise as the rule stands now is that catchers cannot block the plate, and baserunners are disallowed from running into catchers. The problem is, in the split-second a play at the plate takes, there is far too much gray area and confusion.
Consequently, there is near-100 percent unanimity among those in uniform that the rule stinks. And there is near-100 percent certainty that the rule will be changed.
"It's just how much and what portion," Athletics manager Bob Melvin tells Bleacher Report. "I like some sort of balance. I like keeping the catcher safe.
"If you say no to targeting the catcher if he's not standing in front of the plate, I think that would do it."
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, a former MLB catcher, favors a rule that would make every runner slide home no matter what. Melvin's proposal makes sense, too: It would be easier for an umpire to make a judgment call as to whether a baserunner veers out of his way to hit a catcher than the present quagmire of interpretation.
"I hope they get rid of that, like, tomorrow," Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter told Bob Nightengale of USA Today (h/t the Detroit Free Press). "This thing is terrible, man. I think, honestly, they should scrap it."
The level of confusion at the moment is such that whenever a call at the plate goes against a team, that team's manager should challenge the call 100 percent of the time because you never know how replay officials in New York are going to rule.
"You're seeing guys go out every time," Melvin says. "And that's not the spirit of the rule."
5. Another Rule That Needs to Go
As long as we're ranting, and as long as September has arrived to quickly end another summer, it is long overdue that MLB tweak this entire September call-up situation.
Late-season call-ups serve a purpose and are an important aspect each season for an organization to get a look at players who may be able to help next season. But in no other sport do the rules change so drastically at the most important time of the season regarding rosters. When teams suddenly are allowed to move to 12-man bullpens, things get ridiculous (not to mention, games can become even more tedious).
Here's what should happen: Clubs can summon as many minor-leaguers as they want in September. But each night, they should have to designate which 30 players are active (or 27, or 29, pick a number).
Within that, the base 25-man roster from Aug. 31 should remain frozen for the month of September. The point of that would be to prevent clubs from deactivating the four pitchers from their rotations who are not starting that night.
6. Tony Gwynn vs. Mike Trout
Talk about how the game has changed...
Tony Gwynn: 434 career strikeouts in 10,232 plate appearances over 20 years.
Mike Trout: 456 career strikeouts in 2,092 plate appearances over parts of four years (and just two full seasons).
Granted, Gwynn was extraordinary. In 1995, en route to winning his fifth batting title (.368), he fanned an incredible 15 times in 535 at-bats (577 plate appearances).
And this in no way is a condemnation of Trout, who currently has a career-high 31 homers and would go No. 1 for most people today (including me) if you were starting your own team.
7. Angels Get Their Groove Back
Know what's one of the quietest yet nicest stories of the season?
Don Baylor, 65, back in the Angels' dugout as hitting coach.
Baylor going down on Opening Day with a fractured femur in his right leg while catching the ceremonial first pitch remains one of the most indelible—and unbelievable—moments from this year.
As if that wasn't bad enough on its own, it happened during Baylor's homecoming. The man known as "Groove" starred for the Angels as an outfielder/DH from 1977-1982, and his return to the organization as hitting coach was a heartfelt story.
It isn't over.
"It's good he's smiling again," says Dr. Craig Milhouse, the Angels' orthopedist who has been overseeing Baylor's recovery following a surgery that took five-and-a-half hours back in April.
"Finally, full mobility," Baylor says.
Though he received clearance to return to work June 24, he only received clearance to do everything—walking up and down stairs, carrying his own bag through airports—10 or so days ago.
Shortly after the surgery, he was pushing 90 pounds of weight with his leg during rehab. Now, he's up to 195 pounds.
"It's what players have to go through," Baylor says.
As a player, Baylor mostly avoided serious injury. He missed time with a broken hamate bone once and with a broken toe on another occasion. But this?
"Catch a ceremonial first pitch, and you're out two months," Baylor says. "I tried to stand up, and my leg was like a Slinky."
8. Waiver-Wire Fishing
Regarding the last-minute shopping over the weekend...
Adam Dunn to the A's: Clearly, things in Oakland have deteriorated to the point of near-desperation. Maybe Dunn will help (and did with a homer in his first at-bat with the team Monday), but nobody is going to replace the presence of Yoenis Cespedes. One thing about Dunn: His August .349 slugging percentage and .570 OPS were his worst for any month this season.
John Mayberry Jr. to the Blue Jays: Mostly a cosmetic move for the Jays, who were supposed to contend but now have fallen back far enough that manager John Gibbons' future is a hot-button topic on local talk radio. Mayberry, on the disabled list since July 21 with a sore left wrist, was finishing an injury-rehab assignment and mostly will be used against left-handed pitching. As for Gustavo Pierre, the minor league third baseman going back to the Phillies: At two Class A stops in 2013, he had 128 strikeouts and four walks.
Alejandro De Aza to the Orioles: Nice late-season pickup by Birds GM Dan Duquette. De Aza can play all three outfield positions and gives Baltimore another lefty bat as the O's move closer to October by running away with the AL East
9. Groundhog Day in St. Paul
I always go to the wrong games...
9a. Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day
Here's to long Labor Day weekends, stretch runs, good school years and autumn leaves...
"Well, my mama so sad
"Daddy's just mad
"'Cause I ain't gonna have the chance he had
"My success is anybody's guess
"But like a fool, I'm bettin' on happiness"
—Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, "American Dream Plan B"
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has over two decades of experience covering MLB, including 14 years as a national baseball columnist at CBSSports.com.
Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball @ScottMillerBbl.
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