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Still Waters

They Run Deep in San Diego, Where Manager Bruce Bochy Is at the Center but Far From the Front of Veteran Padres

June 16, 1998|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — To Kevin Towers, the San Diego Padres' general manager, he is "Nanoo, the world's greatest athlete."

It is Towers' way of needling friend and frequent sporting rival Bruce Bochy, the Padre manager, about a fierce competitiveness often belied by his impassive demeanor.

To Tony Attanasio, Bochy's agent, he is "the Gary Cooper of big league managers." Strong, stable, seldom wasting words. A tall, swaggering walk with the touch of "High Noon."

To many who may know that the Padres consist of Tony Gwynn and Ken Caminiti, Steve Finley and Wally Joyner, Greg Vaughn and Andy Ashby, Kevin Brown and Trevor Hoffman, he is the answer to the frequently asked question, "Who did you say the manager was?"

Or as longtime Padre broadcaster and former New York Yankee infielder Jerry Coleman said, "He's probably the best unknown manager in baseball."

But the guys he beats know him. Bochy's peers recognized him as the Sporting News' manager of the year in 1996, the year he led the Padres to a National League West title.

Now he has his veteran team winging toward another division championship, but cares little about credit and attention.

Bochy believes his job is to give the Padres a goal and the preparation to attain it.

"Bruce would never be comfortable going on the Leno show," said Joe Bochy, his older brother and a Padre scout.

"His ego doesn't require notoriety. His confidence and fortitude are such that he doesn't need the spotlight."

He didn't have it during his nine seasons as a backup catcher in the big leagues. Didn't have it and didn't think about it while winning three titles in four years as a minor league manager. Now, in his fourth year as the Padre manager, the spotlight, he believes, is where it should be--on the players, who recognize stability when they see it.

"You've had to have been here a while to really know that makes a difference," said Gwynn, who has been here for 16 of the Padres' 29 years. "I mean, for years we had the manager thinking one thing and the GM thinking something else. We had GMs getting fired, managers getting fired. There's hardly ever been that harmony between what goes on in the clubhouse and what goes on upstairs. There was never a GM or manager here long enough to develop it."

The manager and general manager finished their playing careers together at San Diego's triple-A Las Vegas affiliate in 1988. A year later they were manager and pitching coach at Class A Spokane. Towers became a scout and ultimately succeeded Randy Smith as general manager in November of 1995 after Smith moved to the Detroit Tigers.

Bochy advanced through the organization's managerial ranks, served two seasons as a Padre coach under Jim Riggleman and was selected by Smith to replace Riggleman for the 1995 season after Riggleman went to the Chicago Cubs.

Now Towers, 36, and Bochy, 43, are signed through 2000, and Towers says he wouldn't trade the manager for any other in the game.

Of course, there's a little gamesmanship going on here. Towers wouldn't want to lose Nanoo, his keen rival in. . . .

Well, there was the night on the Padre charter that Towers and Bochy got so hot playing cards that Becky Moores, the wife of owner John Moores, thought they would come to blows, not realizing that's just the way they are.

Or the night in Arizona when they kept a bowling alley open past closing hours because neither would give in playing double-or-nothing until the stakes climbed to almost $200,000, which neither could afford.

Or all those times on the golf course when it comes down to who has the fastest cart to get to the other's ball and apply a foot wedge, kicking it out of bounds.

"Name it--golf, bowling, basketball, cards--Bruce thinks he can beat you in anything," third base coach Tim Flannery said. "He's Nanoo."

Said brother Joe: "I don't think I've ever met anyone less intimidated or more competitive. We had some pretty good battles growing up. He hates to lose more than anything, but he's just one of those guys who doesn't show it. He keeps that intensity inside."

The TV portraits of 6-foot-4, 215-pound Bochy on the bench seldom catch any emotion, but in his office he said:

"I don't want anyone to confuse personal discipline with complacency. Sure, I may look calm sitting in the dugout, but the wheels are turning, the fire is burning. I get as upset as anybody, but I've got to stay focused."

Said Gwynn: "He's not the type to rant and rave or kick over a [food] spread after a game, but the fire comes out. This is a veteran team that generally doesn't have to be reminded about what's at stake or what we should be thinking about, but Boch has a very good sense of timing as to when to call a meeting and when not, when to snap and when not."

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