Mauch among game's best strategists

Mauch among game's best strategists

When you talk about great love affairs, Gene Mauch and baseball have to enter the conversation.

The familiar expression about living, eating and drinking baseball could have originated with Mauch, the "Little General" who managed every inning as if his life depended on its outcome.

The definitive appraisal of Mauch as a manager might have come from an illustrious contemporary, Sparky Anderson.

"If you had the best club, you had a chance to beat him," Anderson once said. "If he had the best club, you had no chance. If the clubs were even, he had the advantage.

"I managed against him a long time. I always had the better teams."

Earning his first managerial assignment with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1960, Mauch skippered Major League clubs for 26 seasons -- fifth on the all-time list.

He moved from Philadelphia to Montreal in 1969, managing the Expos through 1975. Next came a five-year run in Minnesota and two separate tours with the Angels (1981-82 and 1985-87).

Leading the Angels to American League West Division titles in 1982 and 1986, he became identified with heartbreak. Both times, the Angels had playoff leads and let them get away, to Milwaukee in '82 and to Boston, fatefully, in '86.

These misfortunes reminded critics of the Phillies' infamous 1964 collapse, when they lost 10 games in a row down the stretch and surrendered the National League pennant to St. Louis. It didn't help ease the pain in the City of Brotherly Love when the Cardinals seized the World Series from the New York Yankees.

"Losing streaks are funny," Mauch said. "If you lose at the beginning [of the season], you got off to a bad start. If you lose in the middle of the season, you're in a slump. If you lose at the end, you're choking."

Cut in the mold of Leo Durocher and Billy Martin, Mauch was fiercely driven and admired for his creativity and total absorption in the game. Three times he was named NL Manager of the Year -- including that fateful 1964 campaign. The Little General also claimed the award in '62 with the Phillies and in '73 with the Expos.

Only five men managed more games than Mauch's 3,938, and only 11 captured more wins than his 1,901. He won three fewer games than the legendary Casey Stengel.

On the flip side, only three managers suffered more defeats than Mauch with his 2,037 losses.

Bob Boone, his catcher with the Angels, placed Mauch above all others.

"He was always prepared for any eventuality," Boone said. "He had a terrific memory. He used his players properly, so they could perform to the best of their ability.

"He was the best and smartest manager I ever played for."

A native of Salina, Kan., who was raised in Los Angeles, Mauch broke into the Majors as a middle infielder with the Brooklyn Dodgers -- the first of six teams he played for across nine seasons, batting .239 lifetime.

Mauch was 34 when he assumed the Phillies' reins in 1960.

"He taught a lot of people how to play baseball, how to think ahead in the game," said Bobby Wine, who played 12 seasons under Mauch. "He felt you could learn something every day. I don't know of a better strategist. He knew the rules better than umpires."

Mauch, a devotee of little ball, was at the forefront of double-switching, in part because of his personnel.

"On many of the [Phillies] teams," Wine recalled, "we really didn't have a lot of talent. But we always battled, which was a credit to Gene. Heck, in 1964, Richie Allen and Johnny Callison were the only true everyday players."

"He was so far ahead of everyone and knew the rules better than anyone and used that to his advantage," said Phillies pitcher and future manager Dallas Green. "He respected the game very much and taught all of us how to play good, sound, fundamental baseball."

"Listening to Gene talk baseball was like listening to the Philadelphia orchestra -- pure entertainment," said Larry Shenk, longtime Phillies PR maven. "He carries the burden of the '64 Phillies, but if it wasn't for Gene's managing, we would have never been in position to win the thing."

Mauch was three months from his 80th birthday when he died on Aug. 8, 2005, in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.