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Murph: Bruce Bochy’s return, and what it means for Gabe Kapler 



© D. Ross Cameron | 2022 Aug 13

And now a word of sympathy for Gabe Kapler.

It’s tough to not be Bruce Bochy.

And that’s no knock on Kapler. He’s Gabe. He’s the hip-hop-listenin’, Instagram-influencin’, shoe-game-havin’ bachelor with Barry White pipes and Schwarzenegger muscles who is doing his own thing. His self-assured cool frequently amuses Paulie Mac and myself on-air, but he’s Kap doing Kap things, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

So I just wanted to extend a note to let him know that the outpouring of love, ovations and sentimental tears that will surely be featured this weekend at Oracle Park for his predecessor when the Texas Rangers play the Giants isn’t business — it’s strictly personal.

That is, the Bay Area’s personal feelings for Bruce Bochy.

Three World Series in five years is everything, and is a tall mountain to climb if you’re Kapler. Kapler knew when he took the gig that he was replacing a folksy, fishin’, winnin’ icon with iconoclastic pipes of his own, and a style all his own. No Instagram account. And if Bruce Bochy is going to quote any lyrics, they’re more Waylon Jennings than Li’l Wayne. 

How does one replace a legend?

Since Steve Kerr has yet to retire, the only experience we have in Bay Area professional sports replacing a multi-title winning coach is when George Seifert took over for Bill Walsh in 1989. A couple of important notes here. One, as revered as Walsh was, his aloof genius did not engender the kind of human connection that Bochy’s daily warmth brought (i.e., no Cheesesteak ads for Walsh). Two, Seifert made the smart decision to go 14-2 in his first year, and blitz the Bears, Rams and Broncos in the postseason, 126-26, culminating in a Super Bowl triumph in Seifert’s rookie campaign.

Bill who? 

Kapler tried to steal a page from Seifert’s book, winning a whopping 107 games in his first full season as Giants skipper. But losing to the Dodgers in the playoffs spoiled the magic, as I was just saying to my good pal, first base umpire Gabe Morales. (What, too soon?)

Replacing John Madden wasn’t easy for Tom Flores, but Flores did the Seifert Thing and made sure to win a Super Bowl in his second season as Oakland Raiders coach. Stress-reliever, to say the least.

Short of pulling a Seifert/Flores, Kapler’s chore of succeeding good ol’ Boch is tough.

With Bochy, there’s a lot of there there. His touch with the media was deft. He made very few enemies — if any at all — and treated reporters with respect. That went a long way towards how his image was shaped. In the pre-Statcast Era, his and Brian Sabean’s emphasis on pitching and defense may have led to torture, but it was baseball at its most pure. It helped that he had box office gold in Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Pablo Sandoval and that catcher — what was his name? — Buster Posey. 

Kapler hasn’t had the good fortune to field a roster with Posey/Lincecum-level stars that warm a fan base’s heart. Logan Webb and Camilo Doval are the only things close. There’s a chance the energy could swing in the fan base with the hoped-for developments of Patrick Bailey, Luis Matos, Casey Schmitt and Kyle Harrison, among others. But that hasn’t happened yet. So what the fans are left with is a revolving platoon door and “openers” three times a week. Much of this, of course, is out of Kapler’s control. It’s what Farhan Zaidi gives him to work with. Maybe this is why Bochy craftily exited, stage left, after 2019.

To be fair, Kapler has the Giants squarely in the playoff hunt. Were the season to end today (spoiler: it doesn’t), the Giants would be in October for the second time in Kapler’s three full seasons. That counts.

But one of the added problems of Bochy’s return is that the knock-kneed ol’ catcher has the Texas Rangers sizzling. The Swingin’ Rangers lead MLB in runs scored and are a whopping 68-47, atop the AL West and heavily in the mix for a World Series bid. Unlike the Giants, the Rangers were rather active at the trade deadline, and their adds of Max Scherzer, Jordan Montgomery and Aroldis Chapman sound like the kinds of things that would get Giants fans excited.

So yes, there will be energy and love and sentiment around Bochy’s return, but it isn’t a referendum on Kapler. The new skipper is his own dude. It’s just that the old skipper had some charisma, and some championships.

Free advice to Kapler: let the love flow for Boch, and don’t feel left out. With Boch and Giants fans, it’s not business, it’s personal.