#CardCorner: 1980 Topps Bruce Bochy

Part of the CARD CORNER series
Written by: Craig Muder

Hall of Fame staffers are also baseball fans and love to share their stories. Here is a fan's perspective from Cooperstown.

They are baseball’s dinosaurs – creatures that once appeared in vast numbers across the MLB landscape before they were suddenly, quite recently, extinguished.

Here we see a perfect example of this relic, preserved on Bruce Bochy’s 1980 Topps card. As I opened the card packs as a kid, I marveled at these players, seemingly the last man on every team well into the 1980s. Despite appearing in only a handful of games every year, they lived the big league life and were revered for their baseball smarts and guts.

They were the third-string catchers. And will shall never see their like again.

Bochy’s card is a typical offering of the 1980 Topps set that helped launch the baseball card boom of that decade. The strong head-and-shoulders photo is complemented by the “flag” designs indicating the player’s position and team, with the name in block lettering across the top.

The front of Topps' 1980 Bruce Bochy card. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

The reverse featured the traditional bio and stats, along with the cartoon info-graphics that had become a Topps staple. For Bochy, those numbers told the tale of a player who would one day become one of the most successful managers in big league history.

Born in Landes de Bussac, France, on April 16, 1955, Bochy was the son of an Army sergeant who took his family around the world on his assignments. Bochy would eventually enroll at Brevard Community College in Cocoa, Fla., and was selected by the Astros in the first round of the secondary phase of the June 1975 MLB Draft.

The reverse of Topps' 1980 Bruce Bochy card. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

After three-and-a-half seasons in the minors, Bochy made his debut with Houston on July 19, 1978, going 2-for-3 at the plate in a 2-1 loss to the Mets at Shea Stadium. It was the first of three doubleheaders in three days for the Astros, who employed Bochy and Luis Pujols behind the plate for much of the rest of the season following a trade that sent starting catcher Joe Ferguson to the Dodgers on July 1.

Bochy hit .266 in 54 games in 1978, earning the backup job in 1979 after the Astros acquired Alan Ashby that offseason. Bochy appeared in 56 games in 1979, then spent 1980 as the third-string catcher, appearing in just 22 games in relief of Ashby and Pujols.

On Feb. 11, 1981, the Astros traded Bochy to the Mets for two minor leaguers, and Bochy spent that entire season with the Triple-A Tidewater Tides of the International League. Bochy appeared in 17 games with the Mets in 1982, then was released on Jan 21, 1983.

A month later, Bochy signed on with the Padres – setting him on a path that would eventually thrust him into the national spotlight. He appeared in 209 games over five seasons with San Diego, helping the Padres win the 1984 National League pennant and recording a pinch-hit single in Game 5 of the World Series against the Tigers.

The next season, Bochy hit a walk-off home run against Nolan Ryan of the Astros on July 1, and on Sept. 11 was behind the plate when Pete Rose recorded his record-breaking 4,192nd hit.

Following two more seasons as a reserve with the Padres, Bochy did not play in the big leagues in 1988, but got a jump on his next career as a player/coach that season with the Las Vegas Stars of the Pacific Coast League – San Diego’s Triple-A team. By then, third-string catchers were being replaced on big league rosters – often by relief pitchers as bullpen use expanded drastically.

By the 1990s, few teams carried three catchers on their active roster.

Bochy, meanwhile, wasted no time in transitioning to his new role. At the age of 34, he debuted as a minor league manager with the Spokane Indians in 1989.

After steadily climbing the ranks of the Padres system, Bochy became the Padres third base coach in 1993 and then took over as San Diego’s manager in 1995.

The next season, Bochy led the Padres to the National League West title – their first playoff appearance since 1984 and just the second in franchise history. By 1998, the Padres were champions of the National League.

Bochy managed San Diego through the 2006 season, winning NL West titles in each of his final two seasons at the helm. Then in 2007, Bochy took over the San Francisco Giants, who were coming off two straight losing seasons. Bochy led a rebuilt Giants team to the World Series in 2010, where they won their first title since moving to San Francisco in 1958.

Bochy also led the Giants to World Series crowns in 2012 and 2014, becoming just the 10th manager to skipper at least three World Series winners.
Each of the other nine has a plaque in Cooperstown.

Bochy retired following the 2019 season with 2,003 victories, making him the 11th manager in history to reach the 2,000-win mark. His distinctions as a manager could fill up a biography.

And yet, Bochy’s playing career might even be more unique. For while we may again see managers reach the 2,000-win plateau or lead three World Series winners, only a fundamental change in the game will bring us back to an era where guys like Mike Sadek, Bob Montgomery and Johnny Oates were household names among diehard fans.

They may have been third-string, but their legacy is first-rate.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the CARD CORNER series