LOS ANGELES — From an antagonist, the most one can ask for is a real game, an honest effort, the sort of spirited opposition that draws an ounce or two of blood from one’s own ambitions. It’s just more fun, more interesting, that way. It lasts.
And so Bruce Bochy on Friday night trudged from the dugout on the first-base side at Dodger Stadium to an easel behind home plate. His friend, Dave Roberts, who’d played some outfield for him more than a decade ago, greeted him and slid a blue cloth from the easel, revealing a framed and autographed Sandy Koufax jersey. Bochy, as a kid, had loved Koufax and reveres him still.
The crowd cheered politely and even offered a mild “Bruuuuuce,” though that’s an assumption. Bochy whispered into Roberts’ ear.
“Bruce just told me,” Roberts said into a microphone, “if Tommy Lasorda was presenting the gift, he wouldn’t be getting a gift.”
No visiting manager has won more games at Dodger Stadium than Bochy. And, of Bochy’s 1,993 career wins coming into the night, 218 had been against the Dodgers over most of 25 seasons, more than against any other team. He’d won more than he’d lost against them, meaningful considering he took over a 47-70 San Diego Padres team (a strike year) in 1995 and 12 years later a 76-85 San Francisco Giants team.
He put his hands on his hips. Then folded them over his chest. Then let them hang to his sides. Finally, he waved and returned to his dugout, a game to play, then two more here, then 19 more after that.
Then, well, it’s hard to say. A baseball season is forever until it’s not, until there’s three weeks left and this baseball season is maybe, probably, the last of them. A baseball career is the better part of a lifetime, from the hour drive down Florida Highway A1A to Vero Beach for a glimpse of Koufax to a jersey signed, “To Bruce, with the greatest respect for your past. I wish you health and happiness in the future.”
Then you’re standing out in front of a lot of people who’ve cursed at your back for a quarter of a century, them now being nice because your team is not very good and therefore not a threat and also nobody curses at a 64-year-old career .239 hitter who’s in his last month on the job, no matter how many parades he’s led down Market Street and straight into your soul. Three, for the record. There’s been three.
Bochy’s contract will run out soon. He announced months ago he’d leave without a fuss, let the franchise get on with whatever it has to get on with. Everyone wished him a happy retirement, because that’s what it looked like, and also because the game has come to prefer younger (and, perhaps, more pliable) minds and cheaper contracts. That he drew this Giants team to within a sniff of relevance midsummer says he’s good at the job, still, and of course he is. Sometimes that’s only part of the job. The rest depends on the day, it seems, and who’s doing the hiring.
“I thought about it a little coming in today,” Bochy said, which would have to pass for sentimentality.
“Briefly,” he added, which put an end to that. “I’ll keep saying what I’ve been saying, trying to finish strong here.”
He’d be asked again if this were really the end of him managing or simply the end of him managing the Giants.
He said, “I’ve been asked that a few times. I’m good with it right now. I mean, you never know … I don’t know. Right now, I’m good with it. Not questioning anything I’ve done, as far as stepping down.”
Ron Wotus, an organization man for nearly three decades and a big-league coach for every day of Bochy’s tenure, put a lasting retirement at 99 percent, “That he will retire and enjoy himself and stay in the game in some capacity. But,” and he smiled, “I’ll leave that one percent open.”
Tim Flannery, Bochy’s career-long pal and former third-base coach, watched as Bochy was honored in ballparks across the league. He found it charming. He also noted the gifts — among them a bottle of wine, a jug of whisky, a bucket of tequila — and concluded where Bochy would hole up next season.
“Rehab!” Flannery shouted.
Bochy conceded, “It’s gonna take a while to drink all that.”
Flannery retired five years ago. On Friday, he picked up the phone from Oregon, where he was fishing with his son, Danny. Next summer, maybe they’ll have room for one more.
“I think this is it,” Flannery said. “I think he’s gotta at least take some time off so he can think clearly enough to make a proper decision. He hasn’t had a day off in so many years. He doesn’t even know what summer’s like. Summer’s pretty cool.”
Years ago, when the two were together in San Diego, Roberts recalled Bochy making a pitching change against the Giants. When he’d returned from the mound, Bochy’d tapped Roberts on the shoulder and nodded at the on-deck hitter, Barry Bonds.
Bochy’d said to Roberts, “Barry looks real nervous over there, doesn’t he?”
Roberts laughed and Bochy smirked like he always has, what for him is a belly laugh.
On Friday evening, Bochy looked out across Dodger Stadium, maybe to the baseball landscape beyond that. He’s grayed some. He moves slower. The rail feels the same under his elbows, though. The world still stops for a few hours when he’s up there. The game plays the same.
“Had a lot of battles here,” he said. “Some good ones.”
He’ll leave some blood here, all those losses. He’ll take a little more, all those wins. At the end of all those honest efforts, it seems it’s time to go.
More from Yahoo Sports: