What makes a Hall of Fame manager?
Some men have been elected to the Hall of Fame on the sole strength of their managing careers, either not playing in the major leagues at all (Joe McCarthy) or with virtually no major-league experience (Walter Alston, one MLB at-bat). Tony La Russa, who hit .199 in the major leagues, will join this group in a few years. So will Bobby Cox.
Some have become Hall of Famers with careers that were good as a player, but better as a manager, or had combined bodies of work that merited induction. Hall of Fame managers in this category include Casey Stengel, Miller Huggins and Wilbert Robinson. Joe Torre should join this list soon; Lou Piniella and Dusty Baker might, also.
There's a third group of Hall of Fame managers -- men who were less than world-beaters as players, but who had more than cups of major league coffee, and then went on to become excellent managers. Whitey Herzog, Dick Williams and Leo Durocher are examples of Hall of Fame managers who had careers like this.
All of that brings me to Bruce Bochy, winner of his second World Series title in his third appearance in the Fall Classic as a manager.
That alone might rate Bochy consideration; just 22 managers in major-league history have won more than three pennants. All of them are in the Hall of Fame, except Cox, La Russa and Torre, and all three of those men are likely headed there. Just 16 have won more than two World Series, and all of them have plaques in Cooperstown except Torre and Ralph Houk.
Bochy hit .239/.298/.388 in a nine-year playing career for the Mets, Astros and Padres that comprised 881 plate appearances; he was a backup catcher on two playoff teams (1980 Astros, 1984 Padres). The numbers aren't as bad as they appear; that was a lower-offense era and Bochy's career OPS+ of 92 was pretty good for a reserve backstop.
It took Bochy just seven seasons of minor-league managing and major-league coaching before he was named manager of the Padres in 1995; he's now managed 18 straight seasons. It took him until this year to get over .500 as a manager -- now 10 games over for his career at 1454-1444. Does that matter for Hall induction? Maybe not. Stengel, who managed awful Braves, Dodgers and Mets teams before and after his successful Yankees tenure, finished his managing career with a winning percentage of just .508.
Bochy is 57 years old. Recent managers like Cox, Torre and La Russa have managed more than a decade past that age. Bochy received high praise from Giants president Larry Baer:
"Bochy has been un-be-lievable," Baer said, stretching out the word for emphasis. "To overcome the adversity and the guys we had taken off the field, you have to have a steady hand. And he has the steadiest hand you can possibly imagine I have ever seen in sports. He doesn't get flustered. He's calm. He thinks things through. He has the respect of the young and the old, the people upstairs and downstairs. If there's one blessing in all this besides the obvious, it's that this guy is finally getting his recognition."
The 1,454 wins put Bochy 23rd on the all-time manager wins list. Bochy is under contract to the Giants for 2013 with a 2014 team option which will almost certainly be picked up; given Baer's comments, it's easy to imagine Bochy managing the Giants for another decade. A 2013 season like 2012 -- 94 wins -- would move Bochy up three spots on the list. The only active managers with more wins are Baker and Bochy's 2012 World Series opponent, Jim Leyland.
Praised by team management, universally respected by his players, mostly beloved by the Giants' fanbase, Bochy has led his teams to unexpected triumphs. If the Giants remain a top contender for the next few years, maybe winning another World Series or two under Bochy, he'd break into the top 10 on the manager wins list and perhaps equal or surpass Torre in World Series titles (Torre won four).
All of that could lead to a speech made in Cooperstown on a warm July afternoon 15 years from now.