How Gabe Kapler can win over Giants fans — besides winning games (2024)

Following the last Giants game of the 2019 season — a forgettable loss mostly memorable for an impressive speech he made surrounded by former players who streamed onto the field to wish him farewell — manager Bruce Bochy was asked what he would tell his eventual successor.

“He’s got the best job in baseball,” Bochy said. “And I mean that. I talked about the owners and our front office and this city, the surrounding areas, the ballpark and the fans. He’s getting the best job in baseball.”


Gabe Kapler could be optimistic about that being true … eventually. For now, with the word “polarizing” firmly affixed to him — something Kapler seemed to know all too well when interviewed by The Athletic’s Dan Brown — he might be wondering if the “best” is yet to come, or if Giants fans will ever allow that to occur.

Kapler has been described as a lot of things besides polarizing: intellectually curious, passionate, energetic, chiseled. But the main characteristic he’s displayed throughout his post-playing career, and most certainly since the Giants hired him, might be “self-aware.” He’s shown an extreme willingness to both explore and explain everything about himself, from his upbringing, to how he’s perceived, to the mistakes he’s made and how he’s learned from them. It’s probably what led him to interview so well — strongly enough to convince not just Farhan Zaidi but untold others in the Giants organization who knew they would be putting themselves through an inevitable PR backlash if they brought him aboard.

During his introductory news conference and the meeting with season-ticket holders documented by Brown, Kapler expressed a desire to interact with wary fans, as if engaging in 1-on-1 conversations with Bay Area residents will eventually convince the fan base that his character is worthy of the position he now holds. This strategy could win over a handful of skeptics, but if he wants to become truly popular with a significant number of fans, he can only achieve that goal by doing two things.

First, obviously, is to win games — preferably more than anyone expects from the Giants in 2020 and beyond.

Second, is to keep his self-awareness to, well, himself. It’s not a personality trait he’ll be able to toss aside easily, nor does he probably want to. After all, Kapler’s put together an impressive baseball career being Gabe Kapler. But being so outwardly self-aware won’t persuade anyone now and might actually have the opposite effect. It’s time to let go of his ego, at least publicly.


Kapler can tour as many local coffee shops, watering holes, yoga studios and art museums as he likes, but no fan is looking for the manager to be the biggest personality in the Giants dugout. When Bochy described why his was the best job in baseball, it wasn’t just about payroll flexibility or the autonomy to make lineups and pitching changes.

Bochy was an excellent game strategist who delegated responsibilities to his coaches in a way that engendered supreme loyalty; but the love affair between Bochy and the fans had nothing to do with anything he said about himself. It was Bochy’s ability to provide a strong foundation that prioritized fundamentals and focus, paired with a willingness to allow the uniqueness of his players to come forward and form the collective personality of his teams.

This was something Sergio Romo said often while he was pitching for the Giants. Romo and Bochy didn’t always see eye to eye, but Bochy never suppressed the fire that made Romo such an unlikely success and memorable figure. Bochy allowed his players to be themselves, which in turn allowed Giants fans to connect with them so deeply, and was arguably part of the reason those so-called “Bands of Misfits” surpassed expectations.

Tim Lincecum was allowed to be Tim Lincecum, the only ace who at his peak could be seen both walking on his hands next to the bullpen mound before games and sitting atop the dugout bench cheering his team like a foul-mouthed Little Leaguer during them. Madison Bumgarner was allowed to be himself, policing the game as if he wore a badge on his uniform — behavior that drew criticism from many but never from Bochy. Personalities ranging from stoic (Buster Posey) to curmudgeonly (Matt Cain) to evangelical (Hunter Pence) to loud (Pablo Sandoval) to mischievous (Ryan Theriot), all in full bloom.

Bochy allowed his players to take center stage, but while he was known as the quintessential “players’ manager,” he didn’t allow his guys to run roughshod without consequences. Sandoval got just three at-bats in the 2010 World Series. Barry Zito wasn’t even on the 2010 postseason roster. Lincecum got one start in the 2012 postseason and in the 2014 postseason was only used once, in relief. At times we found out exactly how Bochy felt about Brandon Belt, a player known for being stubborn in his plate approach.

So while the time has passed for Kapler to convince us that we should trust him as a person, he shouldn’t shy away from being forthright in how he’ll manage the team. Even if that means making established players feel uncomfortable.

More Kapler, speaking in general: “Even superstar players like to be challenged.”

— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) December 10, 2019

This market has watched the championship core’s value depreciate with age, and if Kapler can help resurrect the careers of guys like Crawford, Belt and Posey — or move on from those players when necessary — that will curry favor far more effectively than flashing a winning smile or providing more insight into what makes him tick. He may have been placed in a hole from the moment Zaidi chose him, but attempting to dig himself out with more words will only bury him deeper.


Fans aren’t just afraid that Kapler will serve as a spreadsheet-eyeing puppet for Zaidi or that he’ll turn the Giants into a lesser copy of the Dodgers — and most of them aren’t only worried about the judgment displayed by Zaidi and Kapler when they worked together in Los Angeles.

It’s a collection of all of those concerns, along with a fear that the Giants, who came across as real humans under Bochy’s watch, will become corporatized. That the connection between fans and players will be forever lost and Kapler will accelerate that divide while letting us know he’s one of the smartest guys in the ballpark.

Zaidi has come under fire as well, but that’s nothing new around here. Brian Sabean also faced criticism throughout his tenure, mostly for leaning toward veteran players whenever there was any uncertainty within the roster. But Sabean was comfortable stepping aside and tasking Bochy with getting the best of the players he acquired. One gets the same feeling about Zaidi, who doesn’t seem incredibly eager to be the face of the franchise and seemingly has only taken on an increased public role lately to try to smooth things over after the Kapler hire.

It’s never going to be the same as it was when Bochy led this team to three unexpected titles, nor should it be. As Zaidi noted when he heard the backlash after non-tendering Kevin Pillar after not even a full season with the club, Giants fans fall in love with players quickly.

Kapler already said he can’t fill Bochy’s shoes. But he can aim to enjoy a run in San Francisco that mirrors Bochy’s time because of all the advantages Bochy cited in the interview room after soaking up the love. The only way Kapler will be able to do that is to step back and realize it’s not about him. That might be difficult for a person so focused on improving himself in every possible way he can explore, and who has spent the last several weeks defending himself. But if he can direct his confidence into putting the players’ personalities ahead of his own, the fans may warm up to him quicker than expected.

It’s easy to speak in elitist terms when describing a group of fans, especially one that roots for a team with as much history as the Giants. Giants fans aren’t better than any other team’s fans, but they can detect, and appreciate, honesty. Their disdain for all things Los Angeles isn’t because they don’t enjoy visiting the area, it’s because of the perceived phoniness and focus on image over substance. Is that a fair assessment of LA? Perhaps not, and there’s plenty of posing that occurs in the Bay Area as well. But that “LA-feel” is the current perception of Kapler.

Like someone stuck in quicksand, Kapler’s best course of action would be to stop fighting that perception, to ignore his instincts to persuade Giants fans to believe in him and forgive him for past mistakes and to lead from the background. To be himself, without always explaining what exactly that entails. If he’s able to let go of his self-awareness and allow the idiosyncrasies and quirks of his players to organically form a team that’s stronger than the collective numbers cited by outsiders, then he’ll go from being an outsider to being valued, perhaps even admired, and he’ll experience the benefits that Bochy described.

(Photo: Eric Risberg / AP)

How Gabe Kapler can win over Giants fans — besides winning games (1)How Gabe Kapler can win over Giants fans — besides winning games (2)

Steve Berman is a staff editor and writer for The Athletic. He edits MLB content and focuses his writing on Bay Area sports, with an emphasis on local media. Before joining The Athletic he founded Bay Area Sports Guy, which became the top independent site in the region, and covered local sports for Bay Area News Group and NBC Sports Bay Area. Follow Steve on Twitter @BASportsGuy

How Gabe Kapler can win over Giants fans — besides winning games (2024)


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