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More Info on Gene Mauch
Insightful manager known most for failure
By Nick Acocella
Special to ESPN.com
"If they were to hold a managerial clinic, and just have the managers there, I would say Gene Mauch should run the clinic, that's how good a manager he was," said Dick Williams, manager of the world champion Oakland A's of 1972 and 1973.
Gene Mauch is either the smartest baseball man never to win a pennant or the most expert at pulling defeat out of victory's jaws.
If the latter, then his handling of the Philadelphia Phillies down the stretch in 1964 is the paradigm of his career. In his 26 years as a manager, he won only two division crowns. But even the titles - with the California Angels in 1982 and 1986 - have enhanced his reputation for failure. For all that, many of his players regard him as their most insightful manager.
Mauch is fifth all-time in games managed at 3,942 and ninth in wins with 1,902. But he also lost more games than he won; his 2,037 defeats are third all-time. However, he was often saddled with mediocre teams in the process of rebuilding or, as in Montreal, with an expansion team.
As a player, Mauch was the poster boy for journeyman infielders. In all or part of nine seasons, he played for six major league teams - Dodgers, Pirates, Cubs, Braves, Cardinals and Red Sox. He never appeared in more than 72 games any season and finished with a .239 batting average. He also played for seven minor league teams in his 13-year professional career.
Mauch was born on Nov. 18, 1925 in Salina, Kans. The family moved to Los Angeles when he was 12. After being an all-city infielder at Fremont High School, he was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943. At 18, he was their opening day shortstop in 1944, but only played five games for them. He bounced back and forth from the majors to the minors for a decade, with time out for wartime military service.
In 1953, Mauch, only 27, got his first managerial job, with the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association. Contributing a .268 average as the team's second baseman, he piloted the Crackers to a third-place finish as he continually fought with umpires. When the season ended, he quit as manager. Years later, Mauch said that he had been too young to assume managerial responsibility.
Returning to the minors as a player only, he was a regular for the Los Angeles Angels for almost three full seasons, leading the Pacific Coast League with 37 doubles in 1955 and posting a career-high .348 average in 1956. After the Red Sox bought his contract in September 1956, he got into seven games at season's end and then hit .270 in a major league career-high 222 at-bats in 1957. But that was Mauch's final time in the majors as a player.
In 1958, he managed the Red Sox's Minneapolis Millers to a third-place regular-season finish before winning the American Association playoffs and Junior World Series. The Millers repeated as AA champs the following year and, although they lost the Junior World Series to Havana, Mauch earned praise for his deft juggling of lineups after Boston recalled several regulars in the second half of the season.
When Eddie Sawyer resigned as Philadelphia manager one game into the 1960 season, Mauch got the nod. The Phillies finished last his first two years, as they had in 1958 and 1959, and set the modern major league record by losing 23 consecutive games in 1961.
The next season, Mauch was named National League Manager of the Year after leading Philadelphia to an 81-80 record. In 1963, the Phillies finished fourth at 87-75.
The following season, with future Hall of Fame righthander Jim Bunning and slugger Dick Allen added to the roster, Mauch looked like a genius as he guided the Phillies to a 6½-game lead with only 12 contests left. Then came the collapse - 10 straight losses that put the Phillies on the short list of memorable stretch-drive flops.
Though widely criticized for over-relying on his top two starters, Bunning and Chris Short, over the final weeks, Mauch remained unrepentant. Victories in the last two games proved too little too late as St. Louis won the pennant, one game ahead of the Phillies and Reds. Somehow, Mauch was again voted the league's Manager of the Year.
In the aftermath, the Phillies returned to also-ran status until Mauch was fired 54 games into the 1968 season. He wasn't unemployed for long, though. The Montreal Expos, who would begin play in 1969, hired him more for his encyclopedic knowledge of the game's rules and subtleties than for his famous one-run-at-a-time approach to the game. It seemed a curious choice given a roster made up of mid-career wild swingers and pitchers who called for more patience than Mauch had shown in Philadelphia.
After digesting the Expos' 52-110 inaugural season, Mauch - and his rabbit-out-of-a-hat tactics - received much of the credit for a 21-game improvement in 1970. But the Expos remained at that level for the rest of Mauch's seven-year Montreal tenure, never winning fewer than 70 games but never winning as many as 80 either.
Fired after the 1975 season, he landed almost immediately with the Twins. He brought Minnesota in third in 1976 with an 85-77 record, only five games out of first. His "little ball" tactics kept the Twins in first for 51 days the next year before a late-season swoon dropped them to fourth, 17½ games out, despite an 84-77 record.
After another fourth-place finish in 1977, Mauch had to be talked out of quitting when owner Calvin Griffith let outfielders Lyman Bostock and Larry Hisle depart via free agency.
After a third straight fourth-place finish in 1978, Mauch requested permission to talk to California about a job. Griffith initially tried to acquire some players from the Angels in exchange for Mauch, but thought better of the idea when he realized the players wouldn't be worth the bad publicity that would come from letting the popular manager go.
Mauch's breaking point came when Griffith released reliever Mike Marshall in 1980 because of his union activities. Mauch, otherwise no fan of the players association, resigned on Aug. 24, 1980, saying he would never again manage a non-contender.
Hired by Gene Autry as the Angels' director of player personnel, he became, in effect, manager-in-waiting to replace Jim Fregosi. The inevitable took place in May 1981. The first dividend came the following year, when the Angels won the American League West with a 93-69 record, Mauch's best mark as a manager. But so did the first disappointment with California.
The match between Autry, the cowboy owner, and Mauch paired the two baseball men with the biggest reputations for failing at the finish. Those reputations were solidified when the Angels beat the Brewers in the first two games of the playoffs only to lose three straight and the pennant.
Following the devastating defeat, Mauch and the Angels parted company. In 1983, his wife Nina Lee was diagnosed with cancer, and she died that summer. Autrey gave him a job in the front office and Mauch returned to the bench in 1985, just in time for a team of aging veterans to fall one game short of another division title.
The Last Hurrah Gang, as the 1986 team was called, topped the division by five games. As in 1982, the Angels came out of the gate fast in the ALCS, taking a 3-1 lead against Boston. But more heartbreak was waiting for Mauch.
With California leading 5-2 in the ninth inning of Game 5, disaster struck as former Angels Don Baylor and Dave Henderson belted two-run homers. California tied it in the bottom of the ninth but ended up losing 7-6 in 11 innings and then was routed in Games 6 and 7.
Mauch lasted only one more season, which ended in a dismal tie for last at 75-87, 17 games off the Angels' previous season's record. He resigned in spring training of 1988.
Mauch's departure also marked the end of the hit-and-run, the bunt and the sacrifice as major weapons in the managerial arsenal. Since his retirement, Mauch has remarried and lives in Southern California.
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