"We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return; prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only, as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again; if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man; then you are ready for a walk." - Henry David Thoreau, Walking
"That's one of the great things about pushing yourself on a long walk: You always work up a great appetite, and food tastes even better. So does a bottle of beer." - Bruce Bochy, A Book of Walks
Other Hall of Fame managers have written books talking about how they handled Steinbrenner, how they helped build championship cultures, and how they ruled with an iron fist. Bruce Bochy wrote about the walks he enjoys. It's not the book you'd expect a baseball manager to write, but it's exactly the kind of book on walking that you'd expect Bruce Bochy to write.
It reads quicker than a pitching change and contains language that's so straightforward and plainspoken you'll swear it's merely a transcript of a long lunch. But it isn't! Bruce Bochy literally wrote the thing. The publisher, Steve Kettman, clearly wanted to leverage a Bay Area celebrity to bring attention to his indie publishing company (Wellstone Center in the Redwoods, which will also be using proceeds from book sales to fund a Bruce Bochy Writing Fellowship) and that's okay to me because it seems like Bochy provided them with something that's very "on brand": a non-fiction spiritual and pro-environmental travelogue of sorts.
Here are a sampling of chapter titles:
My Wife and I, Walking Up the Steps to Coit Tower
Walking from Ohio to Kentucky and Back, Over A Historic Suspension Bridge
My Everest: To The Golden Gate Bridge
You can't get more straightforward or plainspoken or non-fiction spiritual as those, I feel. But at their core are fond memories and reflections on managing baseball with just a hint at the deeper meanings of Bochy's life. It's clear to me that Bochy feels very fortunate to have the life that he does and it's apparent that he lives life directly. There's no angst or regret, but instead taking each day as it comes, living one day at a time. Kinda like how he preaches playing the game of baseball.
The only thing missing from the book are some classic Bochy nicknames. No proper noun gets a "y" slapped onto its end, sadly. But overall, there is a sincere appreciation for all these places where Bochy has walked around (he spends a lot of time discussing the various areas of road cities he likes to walk before or after games when the Giants are in town) and in the case of Cincinnati's Roebling Suspension Bridge, a desire to learn more about the engineer who designed it, John Roebling.
Bochy's fascination with engineering doesn't lead us into any thoughts on roster construction or bullpen management, but perhaps the best baseball managers and engineers are kindred spirits. Or maybe not and I'm stretching here to add some profundity to a book review...
The book itself is, physically, neat. Small, compact, refreshing, like a walk. Can even go with you. It'll fit in your pocket -- breast pocket, front hip pocket, even your back pocket. And your purse. A glovebox. Inside a larger book or even a magazine. Take it with you on the walk! It's very portable. Its size may be it's most endearing trait. Notice how it compares in size to standard walking machinery:
For scale: that's a size 10.5 foot (or Nike 11).
If Bochy is the star of this book, then his wife Kim is the co-star and Baseball's Ryan Klesko is the special guest star. He pops up a couple of times (like in the episode where Bruce Bochy crashes his motorcycle) and it's funny when he does come up because it's Ryan Klesko and picturing the two of them riding their motorcycles together will always be an amusing image.
If you didn't know any better, you'd think he was Bochy's best friend and not Tim Flannery, who receives only a passing mention here. But as mentioned in McCovey Chronicles's review of "MLB Network Presents: Bochy & Flannery: The Odd Couple", they're different people, to the extent that they don't enjoy the same leisure activities, so, it's not shocking that there's a lack of Flann in the book.
The walks began in earnest at the behest of his wife, Kim, who is Bochy's primary walking companion. But lo! A surprise! Now that he works and lives in San Francisco, an occasional walking companion is his boss, Brian Sabean! Oh, the walks they must share. I would've paid $100 for a book of Bochy & Sabean walks. I'm sure a lot of their talks are just about kids these days or all the places on them that hurts when they get out of bed, but that relationship seems like a goldmine of stories. Also, it reminds of the time following a murder outside AT&T Park when Sabean said in a press conference that he "walk[s] these streets 24-7". Now we know: he and Bochy Batman & Robin it up and down the city.
But there aren't any other cameos from current Giants in this, so, if you are expecting there to be a chapter on the walks he takes with Buster Posey where they talk about how awesome Hector Sanchez is then you are in for a letdown.
The book's first chapter really blows it out emotionally, though, as Bochy writes about his dog Jessie, his longest and dearest non-Kim walking companions. He appreciated her loyalty and personality and excitement for each and every walk. He also does what every dog owner has done and that is give his dog their own voice and dialogue. It's a charming piece to open with and if you didn't have any affinity for Bochy (say, if you're a Royals, Tigers, or Rangers fan) you might find him more relatable after reading it. Also, if you are pro-labrador retriever, then you will find this to be a softer, gentler, not emotionally catastrophic version of Marley & Me.
And after talking about his walks in San Diego, Milwaukee (after a Prince Fielder-induced walk-off loss in 2009), Cincinnati, Chicago, and New York, Bochy brings it back home to San Francisco where he lavishes praise not just on the city's many landmarks and natural beauty, but also upon the many fantastic restaurants and people who run them.
There's every chance that Bochy wrote this book to get complimentary service at many San Francisco area restaurants.
I don't know if giving positive reviews to restaurants in your book winds up getting you on a list where you don't need a reservation or access to a secret menu, but Bochy's focus on them stands out so much so that when I finally sit down to write my memoir (working title For What It's Murph) I will be sure to name-check literally every restaurant along the bay. And also Jar in Los Angeles. Just in case.
What is clear that is Bruce Bochy is a thoughtful man who genuinely appreciates the world and the people around him. The book very clearly lacks machismo and even ego in the traditional World Champion sense. Bochy doesn't impose his will on the reader. He's relating his experiences in the most casual way you could imagine someone talking about their walks. The entire premise smacks of humility, in fact. It would've been very funny if Bruce Bochy was offered the chance to write a book about anything he wanted and he chose walking as his subject.
And the read is incredibly positive. Sure, Bochy's dog dies and he talks about tough losses or the time he fractured his ankle or even (very briefly) the stent in his heart, but the chapter on the suspension bridge ends thusly:
Taking three in a row from the Reds was some feat, but afterward I needed nothing more than to compress, and that was what I did, walking here and there and everywhere, going back and forth from Ohio to Kentucky, taking in the day, being in the moment, and giving Kim my best, "Life sure can be sweet smile!" We didn't know what was coming next, but we knew we were excited about it.
That this comes from an independent publisher probably has something to do with that. I think most publishers would want a winning manager to simply write about winning, forcing the dude to construct a narrative in a way that highlighted how he did certain things differently or better to win. Just look at what World Series-winning managers have churned out over the years:
Tony La Russa (One Last Strike: Fifty Years in Baseball, Ten and a Half Games Back, and One Final Championship Season; Tony La Russa Talks Baseball Strategy with Joe Buck)
Sparky Anderson (Sparky!; They Call Me Sparky; Bless You Boys: Diary of the Detroit Tigers' 1984 Season; The Main Spark: Sparky Anderson and the Cincinnati Reds)
Joe Torre (The Yankee Years, Joe Torre's Ground Rules for Winners: 12 Keys to Managing Team Players, Tough Bosses, Setbacks, and Success, Chasing the Dream: My Lifelong Journey to the World Series)
Jack McKeon (I'm Just Getting Started: Baseball's Best Storyteller on Old School Baseball, Defying the Odds, and Good Cigars, Jack of All Trades)
Ozzie Guillen (The Wit and Wisdom of Ozzie Guillen)
Terry Francona (Francona: The Red Sox Years; Dice-K: The First Season of the Red Sox $100 Million Man)
Bobby Cox (Fourteen Flags: When the Braves Ruled the Diamond)
Earl Weaver (Weaver on Strategy, Winning!, It's What You Learn After You Know It All That Counts)
Whitey Herzog (You're Missin' A Great Game: From Casey to Ozzie, the Magic of Baseball and How to Get It Back; White Rat: A Life In Baseball
Tommy Lasorda (The Artful Dodger; To Serve Man)
Connie Mack (My 66 Years in the Big Leagues)
John McGraw (My Thirty Years In Baseball)
Dick Williams (No More Mr. Nice Guy: A Life of Hardball)
Leo Durocher (Nice Guys Finish Last)
Sure, I'm interested -- *you're* interested -- in reading about Bochy's philosophy for running a game and how he plans ahead and learning of his various baseball adventures over the years, but maybe that will come in retirement. In the meantime, while he's still actively managing, perhaps it's for the best that we just get this slightly different side of him. The best thing that A Book of Walks does is reinforce Bruce Bochy's humanity while also giving us an unfiltered glimpse into Bruce Bochy's mind on non-baseball things. The book's closing line is one that you would only read in a book written by Bruce Bochy, and for that, this book is the most Bruce Bochy book ever written.
3 1/2 Bochys
A Book of Walks by Bruce Bochy (Paperback. 128 pages. Publisher: Wellstone Books; Released: May 15, 2015; for more information about The Bruce Bochy Fellowship for sportswriting, click here.)