Monday, August 08, 2005

Gene Mauch, the man who basically defined to me what a manager was in my youth, passed away Monday at 79 years of age.

Mauch has a highly unfair reputation as a "choker," based on the legendary collapse of his 1964 Philadelphia team and the playoff appearances he managed with the Angels. The 1982 Angel club took a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five series before blowing it, and the 1986 team's collapse is legendary.

I wasn't around for that Philadelphia team, and I'm just a bit too young to have a clear memory of 1982. But looking back on that '82 club, there is no shame in losing to the 1982 Brewers. There's an odd story about that series, I don't know if I have a cite for it, I think it's a Peter Gammons story ... anyway, Mauch had apparently predicted that the final game was going to come down to Cecil Cooper vs. Luis Sanchez (a righty pitcher), and that Sanchez was going to line out to third. Cooper came up in the bottom of the seventh, with runners on second and third, two outs, and the Angels leading 3-2. Mauch had lefty Andy Hassler up in the bullpen, who he could have brought in, and had first base open with switch-hitter Ted Simmons on deck.

Mauch left Sanchez in to face Cooper; Cooper lined a base hit over third base to knock in what turned out to be the winning runs in the game and the series.

Mauch, who had taken over the Angel job halfway through the 1981 campaign (after the Angels had suffered disappointments in the wake of their 1979 divisonal championship), resigned after that series. Mauch had done well by the team; they had gone 65-95 in 1980 and 51-59 in 1981. The '82 team was 93-69, but the next year, with much of the same key personnel, the best new manager John McNamara could wring from the club was 70-92. 1984 was just a little better, with an 81-81 record being secured by Mike Witt's perfect game on the last day of the season.

Mauch was back in 1985, and the 90-72 Angels finished only one game behind the World Champion Kansas City Royals. The stage was set for the 1986 team, of which I'm sure you know plenty. Mauch oversaw the 1987 collapse, and then retired from managing.

"The Little General" was known to have a keen analytical mind, which may have been both his greatest strength and greatest weakness as a manager. He was known to overmanage at times, and was a very participatory manager. Mauch never saw a sacrifice bunt he didn't like, and was renown for his love of "little ball." Though in the age of sabermetrics, this seems passe, Mauch came of age as a manager in the run-starved 1960s, where the strategy made a great deal of sense.

Mauch was well-depicted in Mike Sowell's One Pitch Away about the 1986 postseason. He comes across as a man who gave his all, and took his losses very personally.

Of course, Mauch oversaw quite a bit of success in his managerial career, and according to me, he has nothing to apologize for. All you can ask of a man is to give his best, and Mauch did what he could, and brought a few teams to the brink of glory. We should all be lucky to choke in such a fashion.

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