Sunday, May 19, 2024

Bruce Bochy shows Bill Belichick ideal path for coaching follow-up act, but they don’t always go as planned

Bill Belichick is not the head coach of the New England Patriots. That hasn’t been a reality since before the 2000 season. In between, we witnessed his team in nine Super Bowls, with the Pats winning six of them. I could go on, but there’s no need since this is a baseball page. 

Within the next few weeks (days?), Belichick seems likely to take a new job instead of just retiring. The Patriots weren’t his first act as head coach, of course, as he was the Browns coach for five years before that. This next act, however, could add to his stature or could be an incredibly unforgettable venture. 

Major League Baseball has had examples of both. Belichick will hope to follow a similar path to Bruce Bochy, who just won another World Series ring in his first season managing the Texas Rangers. But here are also some MLB examples in the opposite direction. Let’s take a look. 

Bruce Bochy

Bochy, like Belichick, had a stint before the one that would make him into a legend. He was with the Padres for 12 seasons and did win their second pennant. His 13 years with the Giants, however, brought the San Francisco its first Giants World Series championship in 2010. Then Bochy’s Giants won it all again in 2012 and 2014. His retirement after the 2019 season felt similar to Belichick in that it appeared he didn’t really want to leave but understood the circumstances dictated a departure. 

Bochy, 68, returned to the dugout for the 2023 season with the Texas Rangers. They started the season hot and spend most of it in first place before a rough few weeks from the middle of August through the middle of September knocked them down. They got hot late in the season to win the AL West and then won the World Series. It was the first ever World Series title for the Rangers. 

Now Bochy has legend status with two teams and his follow-up act couldn’t have gone any better. This would be the goal for Belichick. 

Joe Torre

When the Yankees hired Torre in 1995, it was his fourth managerial job. In stops with the Mets, Braves and Cardinals, Torre had made the playoffs just once and was 0-3 in playoff games. In 12 years with the Yankees, they won the AL East 10 times and didn’t miss the playoffs. They won at least 100 games four times, won the AL pennant six times and the World Series four times, including a threepeat from 1998-2000 that is still the last time MLB saw a repeat champion. It’s incredibly difficult to compare baseball and football due to the nature of the seasons, but if there’s a comparison from a similar time period to Belichick’s run with the Patriots, Torre’s Yankees run would probably be the pick. 

Torre’s next act was a bit of a mixed bag, though mostly good. His Dodgers won the NL West in his first year but with just 84 wins. In 2009, they repeated as division champs. They lost in the NLCS both years and then after an 80-82 2010 season, he stepped down. 

Terry Francona

Francona’s second stop after an underwhelming run elsewhere made him into a Boston icon. Sound familiar? For Francona, it was four years with the Phillies without a winning record. Then it was a “curse”-breaking 2004 World Series title with the Idiots Red Sox that was followed up with another championship in 2007. He won at least 95 games in five of his first six seasons, never had a losing record and was 28-17 in the playoffs. 

While it wasn’t as long and, again, you can’t really compare the two sports, if there’s a Red Sox version of Belichick in New England, it’s Francona. If there were a Mount Rushmore for New England pro sports coaches, Belichick is obviously on it and it seems like Francona would be there as well. 

The next act for Francona was successful, too. He took over in Cleveland for a franchise that had been to the playoffs just once in the previous 11 years and had lost 94 games in 2012. In 2013, Francona’s first year, the team won 92 games and qualified for a wild-card spot. In 11 years with Cleveland, Francona would make the playoffs six times, winning the 2016 pennant and taking the AL Central four times. 

As noted earlier, all of the “next act” guys didn’t go quite as swimmingly … 

Joe Maddon

With a handful or more of other franchises, Maddon’s run with the Cubs might not have been so notable. But it was the Cubs. From 1946-2014, the Cubs won at least 92 games in a season four times (1969, 1984, 1989 and 2008), topping out at 97. In Maddon’s first four years with the Cubs, they won 97, 103, 92 and 95, respectively. Pre-Maddon, the Cubs went the NLCS three times. They went to the NLCS three times in Maddon’s first three seasons. And, of course, there was the World Series win, snapping 108 years of misery. That Maddon’s 84-78 season in 2019 was thought of as such a horrible failure was a testament to a raising of the bar in Wrigleyville. He departed and headed for the Angels after that. 

The Angels went 26-34 in the shortened 2020 season. Then fell apart after a hot start for a 77-85 record in 2021. And Maddon was fired after a 27-29 start in 2022. 

Beware, Mr. Belichick. 

Casey Stengel

The Yankees were Stengel’s third team as manager. He spent 12 years with them (1949-60). There were no “playoffs” in those days, other than the World Series. The team with the best record in each league won the pennant. Stengel’s Yankees won the AL 10 of his 12 seasons. He averaged 95.75 wins per season and that was a 154-game calendar. He won seven World Series rings. It was a different time with fewer teams and fewer playoff rounds, but that’s an absurd run. In a good way.

Absurd in a bad way is what followed. Stengel too over the expansion Mets in 1962 and went 40-120. He went 51-111 the next year and 53-109 the next. Then, the following season, Stengel was fired after a 31-64 start. 

At least there are no expansion teams for Belichick to take over, huh? 

We’ve gotta end on a high note, though. 

Sparky Anderson

George Lee “Sparky” Anderson took the helm of the Reds in 1970 and oversaw the vaunted Big Red Machine for nearly a decade. He won the NL West five times in nine seasons, taking the NL pennant four times and winning two World Series. Along with a ridiculous cast of talented characters (Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, etc.), Sparky became a Cincinnati legend. 

His next act came in Detroit and it was quite a run. He took over the Tigers in 1980 and they hadn’t made the playoffs since 1972. They won 92 games in 1983 and had one of the greatest starts in MLB history in 1984 (35-5 through May 24). They would go on to win 104 games and the World Series. They went 7-1 in the playoffs and never even came close to facing elimination. 

Sparky would end up managing 17 years with the Tigers and by the time he retired, a decent number of people associated him more with them than the Reds, even though his Reds tenure was much better. 

Though he couldn’t live up to the Cincy success, it was a successful next act. 

Obviously, Belichick doesn’t have 17 years left in him, but when takes his new job, he could do a lot worse than being able to say it was a moderate success. The Bochy route is a dream, but he can shoot for the Sparky or Francona route. Torre’s blueprint is probably adequate while he’d sure like to avoid the paths taken by Maddon and Stengel. 

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