August 17, 2005
Remembering the real Gene Mauch
By TOM WILLIAMS
Very few people could manage a baseball team better than Gene Mauch.
Some Phillies fans, who lived through the frustration of 1964, may dispute that fact and they are certainly
entitled to their opinion. But those who really paid attention know that the Phillies wouldn’t have had
anything close to a 6½-game lead with 12 games to play that year without Mauch. The writers who cover
baseball knew it. They voted him Manager of the Year in 1964.
He was also named top manager with the Phils in 1962. Every team he managed became better than
when he took over. The Phillies won 59 the year before he took over and he guided them to six straight
winning seasons. He was the first manager of the Expos, winning another Manager of the Year award there
in 1973. The Twins won 76 the year before he took over and he had three winning seasons in four years.
And, in California, the Angels won 51 the year before Mauch and he produced three seasons with 90 or
more wins and two division championships.
Back in 1990, Mauch was featured at a card show on the Music Pier and I had a chance to talk with him
again. I’d had many opportunities to interview him while he was managing but this was a different Mauch.
He was relaxed and more open.
“I cannot remember a time when baseball wasn’t important to me,” he said. “Since I was a little kid I was
preparing to be a major league ballplayer. I just knew I was going to be a big league ballplayer. Only thing,
I thought I was going to be a lot better than I was.”
Still in love with the sport, he would tape four or five baseball games a night, then watch them later in fast
forward search. “That way I can watch a game in 55-60 minutes.”
This is the man that the Cardinals’ Tony LaRussa called “the best. If there was going to be a clinic for
major league managers, he would be the guy to conduct it. He virtually created the double-switch
substitution and used platooning to help his hitters as effectively as anybody. He knew baseball better
than anyone I’ve ever met and he knew how to create things through his knowledge. I sometimes wonder
what he could come up with having today’s technology at his disposal.”
Mauch was far ahead of his contemporaries in using “head to head” stats - how a certain batter fared
against a certain pitcher, for instance. These comparisons are used routinely today with the help of
computer software. Mauch kept most of it in his head.
Sparky Anderson had a theory. “If you had better players than Gene did, you could beat him, but not as
often as you should. If your talent was about the same, he would have the advantage. And if he had the
best players, forget it. He did more with what he had than anybody.”
But Mauch, who died last week at age 79, is remembered by some around here as the guy in charge when
the Phils lost 10 straight and finished a game behind the Cardinals in the 1964 final standings.
“You know,” he said once, “winning 100 games in a season is a very good year. But, even then, you die 62
times.” That was how competitive this guy was.
He had other frustrations after 1964. His 1985 Angels let a five-run lead get away on the final weekend that
cost them a division championship. And his 1986 Angels needed one more out to eliminate the Red Sox
and get to the World Series but gave up the tying run and lost in extra innings.
When asked about them that night on the Music Pier, he got silent for a moment. “You know, sometimes
when I can’t sleep at night,” he said with a faraway look, “I’ll lie there in bed and relive some of those
games. There were a few things I would do differently today, but many more things I would do exactly the
same. Those were terrific teams to be around and they deserved to be in the World Series.”
So did Mauch, but fate would not cooperate.
There might have been a bit too much intensity in Mauch’s personality in his early years with the Phillies.
He was the definition of fiery. He mellowed a bit as his career continued. But he got the best out of his
players wherever he went.
You can blame Gene Mauch for a frustrating collapse 41 years ago if you want. But I’ll remember him as
the guy who demonstrated the importance of knowing the rules, knowing your players, knowing the other
team and using all that information to be prepared. Whether you were a player, a manager, a broadcaster
or a writer - preparation was the key.
I’m glad I got to spend some time around Gene Mauch.
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