The genius (and madness) of Gene Mauch

Gene Mauch always wanted to be a big league manager.

1944 – Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop – Gene Mauch

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.

1987 – California Angels manager – Gene Mauch

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.

1987 Topps – Mike Heath & Dan Petry

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.

1963 Topps

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.

1970 Topps

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.

Mauch vs Umpires and then Mauch vs baseball.

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?”

1968 Topps & 1966 Topps

March Card Show Pickups

One night I was checking out some of the other collector blogs and as a few of the guys were showing off their card show finds, I realized how long it had been since I had been to a card show myself. After a quick google search, I saw that there was a card show in my area that was only a few weeks away. I shot my buddy Matt from Passion for Cards a text and he said he would meet me out there.

I didn’t really have any major cards on my wish list but I knew that he has been working on his 1963 Topps set. You can check out his pickups from the show HERE. Go ahead and subscribe to his channel as well. He never lets me down in showcasing his sweet collection. It’s a MONSTER too!

The show was at a local bingo hall and featured about 25 dealer tables. Lots of vintage cards and autographed memorabilia were mixed in with the usual dime-boxes, quarter boxes, and buck-boxes. I only had a few hours so I pulled a chair out of the corner and posted up at one of the dealer’s dime-box tables. Picked up about 300 cards in total. Here are a few of my favorites.

I recently started a player collection of Rickey Henderson. These cards will help fill some gaps. You can check out a post I did on Rickey a few months ago HERE. In 1995, Topps featured Rickey in their Bazooka set. He hit .300 that year with 9 home runs and 32 stolen bases. I was happy to find the 2001 Topps Traded as it features Rickey in his Padres uniform and books for $12. Not bad for a dime. Lastly, Rickey showed up in 72 games for Boston in 2002. Leaf featured his on the base paths in their relatively uninteresting base set.

I found myself pulling more and more of the Topps Archives out of the boxes. I’ve always thought that Topps Archives was one of the more creative sets out there. Each year, the 300 card set is broken up into three different designs from the past. I’ve always liked the 1991 Topps design and anytime I can find someone from the Mets is always a bonus. Mookie looks great on the 1984 Topps design again as well. Topps really outdid themselves with the photo choice of Xander Bogaerts. This one will go into my “personal favorites” binder.

I’ve already completed my 2014 Topps Gyspsy Queen set but I wanted to add this Johnny Bench to my catcher’s collection. Same goes for the 2000 Fleer Greats card. Despite never being a set that caught my eye, I grabbed it for a dime. Allen & Ginter is a great set for signatures and some years the design strikes my eye, 2012 wasn’t really one of them but Bench looks good on this one.

I decided I would start a mini-collection of cards with the ivy-covered outfield wall in the background. I was able to add three good ones out of the dime-box. The Fleer Ultra Ray Lankford is much more vibrant in person. He is a widely underrated player given that he played most of his career in a lackluster Cardinals era. He came in at the tail end of the Willie McGee/Ozzie Smith era and was traded to San Diego just before the Pujols/Molina era. Even still, his 38 career WAR as a Cardinal is 13 more than McGee, and just 3 behind Lou Brock. Andrew Cashner’s Topps Chrome rookie card features him warming up at Wrigley. Today he can be found at Camden Yards in an Orioles uniform. Predicted to be the worst team in baseball this year, they are off to a hot start with a new GM, new manager and virtually a new 25 man roster. Leaf captured a likely force out at second for Ryne Sandberg’s base card. It’s always been a favorite of mine.

As a nine year old little league player, I volunteered to play catcher at one of the team’s first practices. Mainly because I thought wearing the equipment was cool and because Gary Carter was a catcher. The other reason was because if I didn’t do it, we probably wouldn’t have had a catcher. Our main pitcher threw harder than anyone in the league. I learned to catch the ball at all costs because if I didn’t, it was going to hurt – bad. I love cards of catchers. I love to see the changes in the protective gear and the mitts over the decades.

Three more for the Adrian Beltre player collection. Those 2018 Archives on the 1991 design get me every time. Beltre is one of the greatest third baseman of our generation. With Beltre, you have the big traditional numbers: 3,166 hits, 477 home runs, 1,707 runs batted in. You have the awards: five Gold Gloves, four Silver Sluggers, four top-10 Most Valuable Player Award finishes. And you even have an outrageous advanced statistic: 95.7 career wins above replacement, which trailed only Albert Pujols among active players when Beltre retired last year. He also hates to have his head touched. I love to watch YouTube clips of teammates trying to catch him off guard and touch his head.

The Virginia Beach/Norfolk area has been a hotbed for Major League baseball talent and I try to collect the local guys. Ryan Zimmerman graduated from the University of Virginia, was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the first round of the 2005 draft and has played for the entirety of his 15 year career. If he can stay healthy, Ryan may close out his career with 300+ home runs. I picked these up for .30 cents and realized that I had picked up the middle SP card not only once, not twice, but THREE times. Not the first time that’s happened. Ryan’s parents still live here in the Virginia Beach area and his mother used to come into my restaurant pretty frequently. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1995. You can learn more about the disease and help the cause through Ryan’s “ZiMS Foundation.”

David Wright is another local baseball star that I collect. I always said that I would never collect unlicensed brand cards like Donruss but these Wrights look so good that I had to pick them up. Wright was not on the Captain of the Mets but played 1,585 games across 14 seasons, with 1,777 hits and a .296 batting average. Spinal stenosis took him off of the field for the last two years but he remained firmly at the helm of the team from the dugout.

There is another show in a few weeks. We are getting a new driveway installed soon so the Wife has me on a budget. It’s a good thing I still have $59 in cash left over from this show.