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.
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.
2,000 days since the Rockies finish their sweep of the Phillies in the NLDS with a 2-1 win. They get the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth.
6,000 days since former pitcher Bob Grim dies.
6,000 days since the Jim Leyritz game. Down two games to one, the Yankees overcome a 6-0 deficit in Game Four of the World Series to the Braves to win, 8-6 in 10 innings.
7,000 days since the Royals sign free agents Steve Balboni and Dave Henderson.
9,000 days since Jim Gott of the Pirates balks three times in one inning.
9,000 days since Gary Gaetti gets his 1,000th hit.
9,000 days since the Tigers all-time franchise record peaks at 573 games over .500 (7,052-6,479). They’ll tie it three times in upcoming weeks but never go higher.
15,000 days since the Texas Rangers trade Denny McLain to the A’s.
1884 During an exhibition game between Philadelphia’s National League and American Association squads, umpire William McLean is so angry at fans taunting him that he tosses a bat into the stands, injuring a patron.
1899 August Anheuser Busch Jr., Cardinals owner and booze kingpin, is born.
1907 Player/manager Chick Stahl commits suicide at age 34 in a shocking incident. He was about to begin his second season helming the Red Sox.
1909 Lon Warneke, one of the best NL pitchers of the 1930s, is born.
1913 The Browns find a novel way to pay their rent. They trade Clyde “Buzzy” Wares to a team in Montgomery, Ala., in lieu of paying their rent for usage of the stadium down there for spring training.
1931 Ban Johnson, AL founder and longtime head honcho of the league, dies at age 67.
1934 Hall of Fame shortstop Rabbit Maranville breaks his leg sliding into home on a double steal.
1939 Former star Cubs pitcher Fred Goldsmith dies at age 82.
1940 White Sox second baseman Jackie Hayes suffers a seemingly minor problem that will have big repercussions. Just before a preseason game against the Cubs, he gets a cinder in his eye, which will cause an infection. Hayes manages to finish the season, but that winter he goes blind in that eye. By 1943, he’ll be blind in both eyes.
1947 Hall of Fame second baseman Johnny Evers dies at age 65.
1953 Jim Thorpe, the greatest athlete in U.S. history, dies at age 64.
1958 Hall of Fame outfielder Chuck Klein dies at age 53.
1965 The Braves sells pitcher Frank Lary to the Mets.
1969 Infielder Craig Paquette is born.
1972 Donie Bush, former infielder and manager, dies at age 84.
1976 Media stories surface about a possible blockbuster Mets-Dodgers trade involving Tom Seaver and Don Sutton. However, the move is nixed before it ever happens due to the overwhelmingly negative reaction by Mets fans to the idea.
1977 It’s one of the more shocking and infamous fights of the 1970s, as young player Lenny Randle beats up his own manager, Frank Lucchesi. What set Randle off was Lucchesi calling Randle a punk. Lucchesi only meant that he didn’t think much of Randle, but apparently in Randle’s neighborhood that word meant a direct attack on his manhood. Not that it justifies what Randle did at all, but there was some miscommunication going on.
1978 The A’s release former star hitter Dick Allen.
1986 The Red Sox trade strong hitter Mike Easler to the Yankees for former AL MVP Don Baylor. The 1986 Red Sox will be the first of three straight AL pennant winners Baylor will play for, the others being the 1987 Twins and 1988 A’s.
1988 The A’s release Mickey Tettleton.
1989 AL umpire Nick Bremigan dies of a heart attack at age 43.
1989 The Cubs release aging closer Rich Gossage, who was a disaster for them.
1991 Methodist College destroys Maryville 43-0, setting an NCAA record for most runs by one team.
1992 Cleveland trades two players to Minnesota for Paul Sorrento.
1996 Kirby Puckett awakens to find his vision is screwed up, so he goes to the hospital. He has a black dot in front of his left eye along with 20/200 vision. He’ll have surgery in three weeks and never play baseball again.
1999 The Baltimore Orioles become the first MLB team in 40 years to make a trip to Cuba. They beat the Cuban team, 3-2, in 11 innings. Jose Contreras starts for the Cuban national squad.
2001 Anaheim releases slugger Jose Canseco.
2006 Former big league pitcher Paul Minner dies at age 82. He led the 1951 NL in losses with 17.