Photo reminds World Series champion Bruce Bochy how Panama Canal Zone prepared him

Besides assembling a Hall of Fame resume, Bruce Bochy is primarily known for two things: his humility and his extremely large noggin. The manager of the World Series champion Texas Rangers wears a size 8 1/8 baseball cap but no one can accuse him of having a big head.

So the first clue that the boy smiling on the left side of the black-and-white photo might be Bochy is his oversized dome.

The second clue is that the shot was taken at the Panama Canal Zone in 1966 when Bochy was there. His father, U.S. Army Sgt. Major Gus Bochy, was stationed at Ft. Kobbe in Panama for three years in the mid-1960s and coached Bochy's Little League team.

The boy in the middle of the photo is Bob McGregor, 10 months younger than Bochy, and the boy on the right is McGregor's younger brother Michael. Their mother took the photo, stashed it in an album and didn't retrieve it until 2011 after Bob heard Bochy during a town hall assembly for San Francisco Giants season ticket holders say he played Little League in the Panama Canal Zone.

Read more: Shaikin: Corey Seager leads Texas Rangers to first World Series title over Arizona Diamondbacks

"I almost spit out my drink," said McGregor, who attended San Rafael High and San Diego State rooting for the Giants and Padres, the two teams Bochy, 68, managed for 25 years before he took the reins in Texas this season and led the Rangers to their first World Series title, his fourth as a manager.

McGregor's father, Gene, was a Merchant Marine engineer who lived in the Panama Canal Zone with his wife and five sons in the mid-’60s making a living operating a tugboat that pulled ships through the canal.

So, indeed, Bochy and McGregor played Little League in the tiny community at the same time. Are they in the same photo?

McGregor, 67, admits he doesn't remember all the names of other kids in the league, especially the ones whose fathers were in the military. But he sought to find out about Bochy.

He mailed a copy of the photo to the Giants asking for verification. They didn't respond. He sent a copy to Tim Flannery, who coached on Bochy's staff in San Diego and San Francisco and remains his close friend.

"He replied, saying, 'That’s a great photo. I’ll give it to Bochy,'" McGregor said.

Read more: Manager Bob Melvin ditches Padres for Giants. He's a facsimile of Bruce Bochy

But he never heard back.

Bochy, of course, led the Giants to World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014. After retiring after the 2019 season, he caught the managerial bug again, was hired by the Rangers and led them to a World Series title over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

That created the opportunity for The Times' Bill Shaikin to catch Bochy at Chase Field in Phoenix, show him the photo and ask him about playing Little League in the Panama Canal Zone.

"That's where I developed my passion for baseball," Bochy said. "You could play all year. It was warm. On the [Army] base, we had our team, and we'd go to another base [for games]. It was like being in the minor leagues. We'd play each other. It probably prepared me for what I do now."

How about the photo? Is that him? Bochy wasn't wearing his reading glasses but said the boy looked like him. Still, he couldn't be sure.

Read more: A timeline of the Panama Canal

Mystery not entirely solved. Suffice to say Bochy used the springboard of a certain Central American U.S. Army deployment to a rarefied place in baseball.

As for McGregor, he's got a photo to remind us. He's also adjacent to one of the great pop culture mysteries: the origin of "420" as a shorthand for marijuana. Two groups of lifelong friends who attended San Rafael High in the early 1970s — the Waldos and the Beebs — both lay claim to inventing the term, and McGregor was their classmate.

“I've known all those guys forever," he said, admitting that he doesn't know which group to believe. "It's like the Bochy photo. It keeps the air of mystery around it. It’s cool.”

Times staff writer Bill Shaikin contributed to this report.

Sign up for the L.A. Times SoCal high school sports newsletter to get scores, stories and a behind-the-scenes look at what makes prep sports so popular.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.