Gene Mauch always wanted to be a big league manager.
Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher was Mauch’s inspiration. As a rookie shortstop in 1944, Mauch only played in 5 games. The rest of the time Mauch rode the bench and intently observed Durocher’s every decision. He admired the manager’s ‘play to win’ style.
He would achieve recognition in the minor leagues as a fiery utility infielder but never made the grade in the major leagues. In all or part of nine seasons with six different teams, he never played more than 72 games in a season.
Mauch would hang it up as a player in 1957 and go on to become one of the most clever and arrogant managers in baseball history. Mauch is fifth all-time in games managed at 3,942 and ninth in wins with 1,902. But he also lost more games than he won. His 2,037 defeats are third all-time. However, he was often saddled with mediocre teams in the process of rebuilding or, as in Montreal, with an expansion team.
Nick Acocella of ESPN once said that Gene Mauch was either the smartest baseball man never to win a pennant or the most expert at pulling defeat out of victory’s jaws.
Despite only winning two pennants in 26 years of managing, many of Mauch’s players regard him as their most insightful manager.
One of Mauch’s most insightful moments would come during a game between the Tigers and the Angels on May 12, 1987.
After a 3rd inning pitch in the dirt by Tiger’s pitcher Dan Petry, catcher Mike Heath reached out with his catcher’s mask and scooped the ball up.
It would have appeared that no one gave the seemingly harmless move a second thought.
Well, no one BUT Gene Mauch.
After all, 35 years earlier he had memorized virtually every word of the baseball rule book.
As Heath returned the ball to Petry, Mauch came lumbering up the dugout steps and out onto the field.
“Well, are you going to make that call?” Mauch asked home plate umpire Durwood Merrill.
“What call?” Merrill asked.
“Rule 7.05. Paragraph D. Make the call Merrill!” Mauch responded.
Merrill clearly was either unaware of the rule or had forgotten it. “Oh THAT rule, Gene. Well go ahead and remind me of what in that hell that rule even is.” he said.
“Well, rule 7.05, paragraph D calls for an automatic two-base error whenever a player stops a ball with a piece of equipment other than his glove, be it a cap, a resin bag or in Heath’s case, his catcher’s mask!” Mauch explained in perfect detail.
Merill looked at Mauch in defeat. He knew he was right. “It must have slipped my mind,” he said as he motioned for Angel baserunners Mark McLemore and Brian Downing to advance 180 feet. Downing moved from first base to third, McLemore scored from second, and Mauch pulled into the RBI lead for major league managers in 1987.
Many would say it was a great moment in baseball managing.
Not if you’re interested in results.
Final score of that game: Tigers 15, Angels 2.
Mauch would come to be known for his many futile strokes of genius. Mauch was an exemplary manager and possessed a cunning baseball mind, despite what the statistics say. One has to wonder what achievement he would have seen had he not been saddled with mediocre teams.
This probably explains why Mauch is known just as much for his legendary temper tantrums as he is for his managerial skills.
One of Mauch’s most celebrated outbursts happened on September 22, 1963 and involved, well, a lot of food.
After a 2-1 loss in Hoston on Joe Morgan’s first big league single, Mauch was the first to return to the clubhouse and he was mad as hell.
Local caterer Norm Gerdeman and his wife Evelyn were admiring a beautiful post-game buffet that they had just finished setting out for the visiting Phillies. The table was stocked with fresh fruit, cold cuts, crisp salads and Evelyn’s specialty – barbecue chicken and spareribs.
Still burned from the game, Mauch began pacing up and down the buffet with his hands on his hips. Every time he passed the buffet, he would reach over, grab a handful of food and sling it across the clubhouse as if he was gunning down a runner headed for home.
Every corner of the room soon found itself covered in watermelon, potato salad, coleslaw, roast beef, and ham.
Norm held his wife back as Mauch approached the barbecue chicken. All she could do was watch as Mauch began chucking her award-winning chicken all over the place.
With nothing else to throw, Mauch picked up a bowl of Evelyn’s special homemade barbecue sauce and sent it splashing into the open lockers of players Tony Gonzalez and Wes Covington.
With their street clothes now ruined, Mauch called the players to his office, apologized and gave them both $200 to buy new suits.
The 1970 season gave Mauch another gut-wrenching loss and the Houston Astros clubhouse another Mauch temper tantrum involving food. Montreal coach Don Zimmer recalls, “When we came back into the clubhouse, there was a spread of eight big barrels of fried chicken. Now, when you lose a tough ballgame, you need to go to your locker and quietly stew over the loss to let everyone know you’re serious. Then you get up and go to the spread. That’s what I did that night and I was starving.”
Rusty Staub and another teammate did NOT follow that unwritten rule and upon entering the clubhouse, began filling their plates as if they hadn’t eaten in days.
Still steaming over the loss, Mauch quietly approached the players and said sarcastically, “Never mind the team losing the game. You boys take care of your stomachs.”
Then Mauch leaped up onto the table and started dumping the chicken all over the floor. He even jumped down and began stomping up and down on it.
The players were in utter disbelief. Zimmer, slowly walked out Mauch’s line of sight, reached up and grabbed the last two pieces of chicken from the table. “That’s how hungry I was!”, he said.
On May 7, 1969, in a game between Atlanta and the Expos, Mauch was enraged at a balk that was called against his rookie pitcher Mike Wegener allowing the tying run to score.
After losing his debate with the umpires, Mauch stormed over to the mound, kicked the rosin bag ten feet into the air, ran after it, and booted it another twenty feet. He then grabbed the ball from Wegener’s hand and drop kicked it high into the air.
The umpires having seen quite enough of this, ejected Mauch before that ball even hit the ground.
There were many other outbursts in Mauch’s 3,942 game managerial career. Despite those outbursts, many said that Mauch was “one of the nicest guys in baseball.” It was almost as if he had a split personality.
The finest example of this was after a Philadelphia loss to the Reds on May 12, 1965. Mauch locked reporters out of the clubhouse, broke a window, ripped the phones out of the wall, upended all of the furniture, and finally jammed his fist through the door of a dressing room locker.
The reporters could do nothing but listen through the door. Once the door was finally opened back up, Mauch was gone, having left a trail of destruction in his wake.
The next night, after the Phillies defeated the Reds, Gene was all smiles. Warmly welcoming the same reporters into the Phillies clubhouse, Gene innocently asked them, “Hey, where were you guys last night?”