December 13, 2013
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Thursday, March 28, 2013
Twenty-five years ago today, one of the most well-regarded managers in baseball decided to call it a career: Gene Mauch, a man who had managed nearly nonstop in the big leagues for over 25 years.
Normally, managers don’t retire in early March, not if they are employed anyway, and Mauch was employed as the Angels' skipper. But the situation was beyond Mauch’s control. At 62 years old, his health was beginning to fail him. He’d taken a medical leave of absence on March 11, hoping he could recover, but by the end of the month it was clear he wouldn’t be able to continue working. He wasn’t dying or anything drastic. In fact, Mauch would live nearly 20 more years. But the job is a day-in, day-out grind for six months, and it was now beyond his capabilities.
Mauch is (in)famous for being the longest-tenured manager in baseball history never to claim a pennant. Despite not one, he was always a very highly regarded manager, a fact made clear by his continued ability to get hired somewhere. Mauche worked in the dugout for 23 straight seasons, from 1960-82, one of the longest managerial stretches in history. He missed just two years and then came back in 1985 to the team he’d last worked with in 1982, the Angels.
The Angels were the fourth team he’d worked for. The first was the Phillies. When Mauch took over in Philadelphia, they were in sorry shape. Traditionally an also-ran, the Phillies had won just two pennants in their nearly 80 years of play when he arrived in 1960.
Mauch soon gained a boy wonder status. In 1961, Philly lost 107 games—including a record 23-game losing streak—but the next year bounced all the way to an over-.500 record. (Barely over .500 at 81-80, but over .500 nevertheless). Mauch won plaudits as a master of in-game tactical maneuvers, and even his critics admitted he had a brilliant head for the game.
The first mark against Mauch came in 1964. Under his watch, the Phillies seemed to be cruising to a pennant. With two weeks left, they had such a comfortable lead that only a historic choke would cost them.
Well, they had their historic choke, dropping 10 straight contests. Mauch came in for his share of criticism, as people accused him of over-managing, acting as if he had to win every game and pressing too much, causing his team to choke. It’s maybe the most analyzed losing streak in baseball history.
(I have a friend from SABR named Mike McCullough who once made an interesting observation. The criticism of Mauch for 1964 always struck him as somehow bizarre, and he finally figured it out. People went into great detail on the minutia of his decisions in order to criticize Mauch for getting too lost in the details and looking at the minutia instead of the big picture.)
After 1964, the Phillies moment faded with the Dodgers and Cardinals improving and his core declining. The Phillies let him go after 1968, and he became manager of the Expos. Unfortunately for him, Montreal was an expansion team. He got them up to mediocrity, but after seven years the team fired him—and promptly got much worse the year after removing him.
Mauch immediately landed on his feet in Minnesota in 1976. The Twins were good but not great. Once again, Mauch lacked the horses to run to October. Minnesota fired him in mid-1980, and Mauch landed with the Angels in early 1981.
In 1982, it looked like Mauch finally would get his pennant. His Angels won the AL West and then took the first two games of the best-of-five ALCS over the Brewers. Unfortunately for him, the Brewers stormed back to win out and take the pennant. Distraught, Mauch resigned and missed the next two years.
Clearl,y the Angels didn’t blame Mauch for their 1982 postseason problems because they brought him back in 1985. In 1986, it looked like Mauch finally would have his big chance. He won the AL West again, and his team won three of the first four games of the ALCS. If this had been nearly any other ALCS in history, that would have given him the pennant. But in 1985, the LCS had expanded to a best-of-seven.
Mauch’s Angels needed to win one more, but they came up short. Most famously, Donnie Moore allowed a homer to Dave Henderson in Game Five, and Boston cruised in the next two games.
That proved to be Mauch’s last chance. In 1987, the Angels worsened, and in 1988 so did Mauch’s health. Still, he had 1,902 wins, eighth most all-time when he retired. (Okay, so he had over 2,000 losses, too, but it takes quite a manager to lose that many games and still get hired.) Mauch had an impressive career, one that officially ended 25 years ago.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that happened X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to skim.
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