This Day In Baseball: 9 August 2005 (In Memory of Gene Mauch)

Tuesday, August 09 2005 @ 11:55 AM EDT

Contributed by: Magpie

My friend the manager told me that he felt terrible about Gene Mauch. "He's been in this place for so long, and he won't give in to it and he won't walk away from it. This one's going to be very tough for him. He gets within one pitch and one run of the Series, but those 'ones are still there for him. I know Gene, and I know all the cigarettes that have been smoked and the drinks that have been drunk and the miles that have been paced over this kind of thing, down the years. He'll pay that price to get there, but now I don't know if it will ever happen for him. How do you go on?"
-- Roger Angell, writing about the 1986 ALCS. I'm pretty sure he's quoting Bill Rigney.

Gene Mauch's teams won 1902 games - only 10 managers have won more games. His teams also lost 2037, and only Connie Mack and Bucky Harris managed their teams to more defeats.

Mauch, who died last night, will always be remembered as a brilliant strategist, a man who understood the game as well as anyone - but also as the man who never made it to the World Series, the man who presided over two of the most spectacular collapses in baseball history.

Mauch was 34 when he began his managerial career in 1960, with a truly awful Philadelphia team. After two sub-.400 seasons, he got them up to .500 in his third year. He had them in the first division in his fourth year, and 10 days away from the World Series in his fifth year... but that was as close he would get, and we'll look at the story of the 1964 Phillies in enormous detail later.

He was the first manager of the Montreal Expos, and after an initial 52-100 year, he had them at 73-89 in his second year and won at least 70 games in each of his seven years in Montreal. It's actually an impressive performance for an expansion team - it sure beats hell out of what was done by the Blue Jays, or Mariners, or Padres.

From there, he went to Minnesota. The Twins had been sputtering along at about .500 for several years, and Mauch basically was able to do no more than keep them there. While he doesn't seem at first glance to have had much of an impact, beyond moving Rod Carew to first base, it is certainly true that the team absolutely collpased as soon as he left.

He finished his career with two frustrating runs with the Angels. He replaced Jim Fregosi just before the strike in 1981 - the next year, his Angels won the AL West - the first time one of Mauch's teams had ever finished first - and then they won the first two games of the LCS. But they couldn't get the final win they needed to make it to the World Series. Mauch stepped down, and sat out the next two seasons.

He returned in 1985, and in 1986 his aging Angels squad won the AL West and were one game, then one inning, then one out, and finally one strike away from going to the World Series. They came up short again. Donnie Moore couldn't get Dave Henderson for the final out; Henderson hit a home run instead. Mauch managed one final year, 1987, before calling it a career.

As a game manager, he loved the one-run strategies - his teams regularly led the league in sac bunts - and he was very good at developing an effective bullpen. Bill James once said "he may have managed ball games better than he managed pennant races," which would kind of make him the anti-Cito Gaston.

Sadly, Mauch may always be best remembered for his three great failures, so let's look at the first of them.

On Sunday September 20, 1964, the Phillies beat the Dodgers 3-2 behind their ace Jim Bunning, who improved his record to 18-5. The Phils had lost an agonizing extra-inning affair the night before when Willie Davis stole home in the 16th inning. But now, with 12 games remaining, the 90-60 Phillies had a 6.5 game lead on Cincinnati and St.Louis, with the Giants 7 games back.

On Monday the 21st, the Phils 1-0 to the Reds when Chico Ruiz stole home in the sixth inning. Art Mahaffey (12-9) was the hard-luck loser. They lost to the Reds again the next day, as Chris Short got roughed up and fell to 17-8 on the year. The Reds completed the sweep the next day. Dennis Bennett (12-13) took a 3-2 lead into the seventh but gave up a couple of hits to open the inning. Several hitters later, Vada Pinson hit a three-run homer off reliever Ed Roebuck, and the Reds were suddenly just 3.5 games back, with nine still to play. The Cardinals and Giants were both five games back.

On Thursday, Milwaukee came to town and beat Jim Bunning (18-6). On Friday, Mauch brough Chris Short back on just two days rest. Short pitched well, but the Phillies were trailing 3-1 until John Callison, who seemed at this point to be a shoo-in for the NL MVP award, tied it up with a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth. The Braves scored two in the top of the tenth, but Richie Allen, having one of the greatest rookie seasons in history, tied things with a two-out two-run inside the park homer. But the Braves plated two in the 12th to hand the Phils their fifth straight loss. Cincinnati was just 1.5 games back.

The Braves made it 6 Philly losses in a row on Saturday the 26th. Art Mahaffey left after 7 with a 4-2 lead, but relief ace Jack Baldschun and the aging LH Bobby Shantz coughed it up, the big blow coming on a two run triple by Braves rookie Rico Carty.

And now the Reds were .5 game back, the Cardinals were 1.5 games back, and Mauch put the pedal to the floor. On Sunday, Jim Bunning started on two days rest for the first time all year. He was shelled for 7 runs in 3 IP, falling to 18-7; the Phils lost 14-8, despite Callison's three home runs. In New York, the Reds swept a double-header from the Mets and the Phils had suddenly fallen out of first place.

On Monday, the Phils went to St.Louis, and Mauch brought Chris Short back on two days rest for the second time in a row. Short wasn't bad, but Bob Gibson held the Phils to 5 hits. Johnny Callison drove in the Phils only run, but he went 0-4 and was beginning to come down with the flu. The Phillies were now in third place, 1.5 games out of the lead, trailing both Cincinnati and St.Louis.

On Tuesday, the Cards beat Dennis Bennett 4-2 to move into a tie for first with Cincinnati. Having lost nine in a row, the Phils were 1.5 back. John Callison was out of the lineup for the first time all year. But still, shaking with the flu on a cold fall day, Callison would single as a pinch-hitter later in the game. In clear violation of the rules, he was allowed to wear a pitcher's warm-up jacket as he ran the bases, although he was shaking so violently that St.Louis first baseman Bill White would have to fasten it for him. Imagine that...

On Wednesday, the Phils completed the collapse. Bunning started on two days rest again and got hammered as the Cardinals jumped to an 8-0 lead, and coasted to an 8-5 victory. Tim McCarver started the carnage with a two-run homer in the second. The best the Phillies could do now was tie, and they needed the Cardinals to lose all three of their remaining games.

But they stayed alive a little longer. There were no games on Thursday. On Friday, the Cardinals lost 1-0 as the Mets Al Jackson outduelled Bob Gibson. Meanwhile, the Phillies won for the first time in 11 days. Because of the off-day, Chris Short had three days rest. Trailing 3-0, the Phillies rallied for 4 runs in the eighth inning, keyed by Allen's two-run triple, and lived to fight another day.

They survived Saturday as well - the Phils were idle, but the Mets pummelled the Cardinals 15-5. St. Louis and Cincinnati were now in a dead heat atop the league, and the Phillies were one game back. There was one day remaining, and Mauch gave the ball to Jim Bunning on three days rest. Bunning came through with a six-hit shutout, but the Cardinals finally disposed of the Mets and the pennant was theirs. Callison finished second in the MVP voting, which went to Ken Boyer of the Cardinals.

The most surprised man in America was surely St.Louis owner Gussie Busch, who had fallen under the spell of the by-now-ancient Branch Rickey. Busch had fired his GM, Bing Devine, a few months earlier, not long after Devine had traded for Lou Brock. Busch was on the verge of firing manager Johnny Keane, when he suddenly found himself going to the World Series. Keane would manage the Cards to victory over the Yankees and then walk away from the job, going to New York just in time to preside over the Yankees collapse.

Gene Mauch was 38 years old in 1964, and would manage for another 23 years. The Phillies collapse would always be with him. Mauch never again had as good a team, despite his AL West winners in Anaheim.

Today's games:

Tampa Bay (Kazmir 6-7, 4.22) at Baltimore (Bedard 5-4, 2.96) 7:05
Texas (Benoit 3-1, 2.49) at Boston (Clement 11-3, 4.67) 7:05
Chicago (Contreras 6-6, 4.41) at New York (Chacon 1-7, 3.72) 7:05
Detroit (Douglass 4-1, 3.32) at Toronto (McGowan 0-0, 4.50) 7:07
Cleveland (Lee 12-4, 4.02) at Kansas City (Wood 3-4, 4.03) 8:10
Los Angeles (Lackey 9-4, 3.65) at Oakland (Harden 9-4, 2.54) 10:05
Minnesota (Lohse 7-10, 4.38) at Seattle (Hernandez 0-1, 1.80) 10:05

Cincinnati (Harang 7-10, 3.90) at Chicago (Prior 7-4, 3.64) 2:20
Arizona (Vazquez 9-10, 4.24) at Florida (Burnett 9-6, 3.31) 7:35
San Francisco (Hennessey 4-3, 4.66) at Atlanta (Ramirez 9-7, 4.73) 7:35
St.Louis (Suppan 10-8, 4.34) at Milwaukee (Davis 9-7, 4.27) 8:05
Washington (Patterson 5-3, 2.42) at Houston (Astacio 2-4, 6.33) 8:05
Pittsburgh (Williams 8-8, 4.32) at Colorado (Acevedo 2-1, 4.29) 9:05
New York (Martinez 12-3, 2.81) at San Diego (Park 8-5, 5.84) 10:05
Philadelphia (Tejeda 2-2, 2.80) at Los Angeles (Houlton 4-5, 5.49) 10:10