Bochy's quest to quit dipping is a tough haul
Bruce Bochy made it almost a month this time in his quest to finally quit dipping.
He thought he had kicked the habit at last, then the San Francisco Giants began to struggle and the manager quickly reverted back to his old ways. Bochy reached for his longtime go-to stress reliever: that tiny round tin that's been a staple in his life going on 40 years.
Even those like Bochy who agree with Congress pushing baseball to stop major leaguers from using chew, dip or similar tobacco products during games, they know it's going to be a chore to actually succeed in making that happen. Bochy has been dipping since he was 18.
``It's tough, man,'' he said. ``You don't know 'til you've tried it.''
Bochy's not proud of the fact he can't seem to kick it. He has urged his two baseball-playing adult sons never to start.
The skipper typically stops dipping each winter, when he's away from the day-to-day pressures of a 162-game season. The dip, he has repeatedly said, gives him an edge and makes him feel sharper to make all the tough in-game decisions.
Bochy has provided regular updates to The Associated Press during his efforts to give up his daily dip.
The manager pushed a piece of gum to the front of his teeth, making it visible, and started to chomp.
``It's Nicorette,'' he said with a grin.
There was no chewing tobacco in sight, a big deal for Bochy. It was April 23 before the opener of a weekend series with the St. Louis Cardinals, going on the 16th game of the season. Bochy decided in recent days he was ready to quit dipping once and for all. He had committed to the idea.
``I'm going to try it,'' he said, emphatically pounding his right hand into his glove. ``The coaches said they're going to the other end of the dugout tonight. (Third base coach Tim Flannery) has been around me when I've tried to quit in the middle of the season. ...
``I looked at myself spitting and said, 'Come on, Bruce,''' he said. ``I told my boys I don't want them doing it and I'm doing it.''
``I've taken the fake stuff and put a little bit of tobacco with it to wean myself off. The trainers did it for me.''
Giants athletic trainer Dave Groeschner ordered Bochy some of the non-tobacco dip - two logs of 10 cans of the herbal stuff, two different kinds, to see what Bochy liked best.
``I hope he does it, but I'll be surprised,'' Groeschner said. ``I've heard this before. It's a real addiction.''
After a 4-1 win by two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, Bochy beamed. Three pieces of Nicorette did the trick, two before the game and another during.
``I made it,'' he said afterward. ``I got through it. How 'bout that?''
The 55-year-old Bochy tried his first dip at 18. He was playing in a summer league in Virginia, and his roommate from North Carolina chewed every day.
``I said, 'Let me try it,''' he recalled. ``Like everybody, the first time I got sick. The second time, I tolerated it. And by the third and fourth time, I was fine.''
For years as a manager, he dipped in the first, fifth and eighth innings.
``Superstitious as much as anything,'' he said. ``Habit.''
Occasionally, he'll do it when fishing or on the golf course.
While Major League Baseball doesn't keep statistics of the number of players and managers using smokeless tobacco, baseball officials say it has noticeably dropped over the past two decades. Back then, it seemed as if most every player had a tin in his back pocket.
Anecdotal evidence also points to that - especially with a ban on it in the minors and Congress pushing baseball to stop major leaguers from using chew, dip or similar products during games.
``The percentages are down,'' Padres manager Bud Black said. ``A lot of it has to do with guys who come up to the major leagues, it's prohibited (in the minors), and there's tobacco awareness and guys are taking it to heart. I don't see dip cups or cans around as much as I did.''
Giants third-base coach Tim Flannery is used to Bochy's mood swings when he tries to quit.
``He gets grouchy,'' Flannery said. ``I joke, 'That's what the offseason's for.' I want him to smoke cigars. I liked him on morphine the day after his arm surgery (last year). He was a little puppy dog. Now he's a great big bear.''
Bochy and Flannery go back decades together, to their playing days with the Padres as teammates from 1983-87. Flannery worked on Bochy's staff in San Diego before coming with him to the Giants in 2007.
Most years at spring training, these two discuss their plans to stay healthy for the next seven-plus months. Only white wine, organic food, regular exercise. It lasts for a short while.
``This game beats on you so bad that by August you're doing tequila shots, not sleeping and eating late-night cheeseburgers,'' Flannery said. ``With the schedule, you say, 'How in the world did I get through one year, let alone 31?'''
Bochy's wife, Kim, isn't getting involved in the latest effort. She's tired of nagging him.
Another day early in the process, Bochy was a little uneasy with a night game still several hours away.
Broadcaster Duane Kuiper, a former major leaguer himself, walked into the dugout and gave the skipper an earful. The usual, good-natured pregame banter that's part of the game.
``You got a dip in? Or you got that big wad of gum in, Nicorette?'' Kuiper asked.
``I wonder what would happen if I put four Nicorettes in,'' Bochy quipped.
The family on the side of Bochy's late mother, Melrose, lives on a tobacco farm in tiny Wade, N.C. He used to work on the farm in the summers and his grandmother, Mamie, ``always had a dip in.''
So, he comes by this fairly naturally.
And being in baseball, it's been hard to avoid over the years. If he didn't have his own can, somebody nearby always had enough to share.
``I don't go home and dip,'' he said. ``The triggers for me are at the ballpark. The last five years I quit during the winter. I made it deep into spring training this year.''
By April 27, Bochy had gone six days without tobacco. He pulled a can of non-tobacco, herb-blend snuff from the front pocket of his Giants warmup jacket and nervously fiddled with the cap.
``It's got spices, grape leaf, glycerin. Is glycerin good for you?'' he asked. ``They actually say when you're quitting, the best way is the mix (with some tobacco). I kind of cold-turkeyed it.''
Bochy realized in late April while back in his old San Diego stomping grounds he was ready to do this.
``That's when I said 'enough,''' he recalled.
Colorado came into town in late April and Bochy had company: Rockies manager Jim Tracy quit dipping earlier this year - ``cold turkey.'' He wasn't planning on it, per se.
Tracy stopped after the final play of the Super Bowl because it ``was snowing the size of half-dollars'' in Pittsburgh, he was in his pajamas and unwilling to brave the weather - or take his truck down the hill in the snow - for a trip to the Sunoco Station to get himself a new can.
So, that was it.
``The next morning, I said, 'This is going to be hard, but I'm going to do it,''' Tracy said. ``Now, I only think about it when (Todd) Helton comes by with a can under my nose.''
Like Bochy, Tracy had dipped since he was 18. He took his first dip of Beech-Nut as a college freshman.
``My lips are getting chapped from all the sunflower seeds,'' Tracy said, smiling.
By the time Bochy was back from a tough road trip to Florida and New York, he was dipping again.
In the Giants' third game with the Mets on May 9, San Francisco went ahead 4-0, blew the lead only to win after Aaron Rowand's two-run homer in the eighth. Bochy asked shortstop Edgar Renteria for some dip.
``I cheated,'' Bochy said. ``The last game, in the eighth inning, I lost it. I put one in. I was beside myself the way the game was going - up 4-0, then we're losing. I put one in and it brought us luck. One, that's pretty good, wasn't it? That was it. I had to calm down.''
Bochy is still trying to kick the habit, and has cut back once again.
``I'm doing gum,'' he said. ``Instead of the regular stuff, I'm doing the fake and half and half.''
He hopes it works, but is realistic at the same time.
``It's a hard game. It wears on you,'' Flannery said. ``At the end of the season, we all have our little detox programs, Chinese herbs. We have to get healthy again.''