SAN FRANCISCO – After letting Cubs manager Joe Maddon know about a change with his scheduled pitcher before a spring training game this year, Giants manager Bruce Bochy wasn’t sure what to make of the one-word text he got back from Maddon.
“Oh, yeah,” Bochy said. “ `Groovy.’ “
A bemused Bochy showed it around to staff as if he’d just discovered tofu on his steak sandwich.
What big-league manager says “groovy”?
“I grew up in that era, but you’re talking about two different guys,” the famously old school, sometimes gruff Bochy said. “I’m the son of a sergeant major. I certainly couldn’t be a hippie in my house.”
That’s the perception, right? That the Cubs’ laid-back manager with the T-shirt slogans and the bitchin’ ’76 Dodge van is a Woodstock refugee who somehow found a way to spread his “if BP feels good do it” gospel to baseball?
After all, his Opening Day starter built a Cy Young Award out of Pilates and kale, one of his best pals on the team is the psychologist, and his players do yoga every morning before spring training work.
“I’ll concede or admit to the fact that I do feel like I’m a product of the ‘60s and the ‘70s,” Maddon said.
But as they take their first head-to-head, grimace-to-grin, postseason confrontation of their careers into the land of Haight-Ashbury and the birthplace of hippie counterculture, are Joe Maddon and Bruce Bochy as different as so many in baseball seem to believe?
And for that matter, is Maddon even the hippie that Bochy or anybody else would suggest?
“I did grow my hair long. I did not like authority telling me what to do necessarily; I could concede to that,” Maddon said after chuckling at the question. “But, then again, I was by no means rebellious. I didn’t march for any particular cause.”
“I remember what we thought [growing up] about superficiality and things that really didn’t matter compared to stuff that did,” Maddon said. “I don’t think I’ve forgotten that, and I think that’s reflected in the work that I do right now.”
Work that includes expecting players to play hard, run the bases hard. And to think.
And just because he doesn’t pay a lot of attention to when players show up to the clubhouse, finds personality differences (including an occasional, well-timed bat flip) to be “groovy” and doesn’t always “vibrate on that frequency” doesn’t mean he’s any less serious about this championship thing than any Cubs manager who came before him. Or Bochy for that matter.
“Behind the scenes he’s a very intense, competitive dude, trust me,” pitcher Kyle Hendricks said. “He wants to win every game as bad as anybody else out there. As laid back as he seems, it’s a very focused mind.”
Zoo animals, magicians, onesies and all.
“We have stuff here, too,” Bochy admitted. “Sometimes [media] doesn’t know. I’ve had speakers. I had a magician in there, three years ago.”
Of course, Maddon is in a class of his own when it comes to snow leopards, flamingos, sloths and other zoo animals.
“Well, we’ve got ‘em there,” Bochy countered. “We’ve had a Giraffe and a Panda, so they’ve always been around.”
Even if the Giraffe is Bandon Belt and the Panda was Pablo Sandoval.
“We try things here,” Bochy insisted.
The bottom line is that Bochy, the son of the sergeant major, and Maddon, the son of a World War II combat veteran, might be more similar than different in their approaches and outlooks on the game, and even in their methods.
Never mind their shared appreciation for good wine.
“Maybe more than probably some people think,” Bochy said, “because I’m – I don’t know what the word is – more stoic, I guess. I don’t know.”
Both have used pitchers in the outfield to keep in the game for a later matchup. Both have few rules beyond requiring effort. Both understand players and people. Both lean hard on pitching and fielding. Both understand new metrics – but don’t hesitate to eschew them and trust their eyes over numbers.
Whether any of that has anything to do with the six consecutive one-run games their teams played before Saturday, pay attention to how they manage Monday night. And good luck finding a dramatic difference.
“The personalities may be a little bit different outwardly,” said veteran catcher David Ross, who calls both old school – and who compares Maddon to crusty old Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox.
“I don’t know that [Maddon’s] a hippie. It’s more he doesn’t sweat the small stuff,” Ross added. “I wouldn’t say he’s a true hippie. He’s not too concerned with what we wear. If somebody boots a ball, he’s quick to just say, `Hey, you know what, next one.’ He’s just not going to dwell on the past.
“Which is so great for baseball. So great. He cares about winning. He’s competitive, really competitive – very, very competitive. He’s just not sweating the small stuff.”