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

Junk Wax Treasures – 1987 Fleer Award Winners

Collectors either love or hate the infamous “junk era” of baseball cards. The late 80’s saw the emergence of price guide publications like Beckett and Tuff Stuff valuing cards well above the cost of a single pack. Collectors realized that they could spend .50 on a pack of 1987 Topps and possibly pull a Jose Canseco rookie worth $5. What a deal! The New York Times even published a very eloquent article suggesting that baseball cards were now a wise choice for those hoping to diversify their investment portfolios! With that, people starting buying and hoarding cards with the hopes that they would be able to send their kids to college or retire in 20 years. After all, investment experts from the New York Times SAID that cards had increased in value approximately 32% every year since 1978! To keep up with demand, from 1987 to 1994, card companies turned their printing presses up to “ludicrous speed”. With that, we saw baseball cards flood the market from every angle. Not only were companies of the day like Topps, Donruss, and Fleer producing boxed complete sets, wax boxes, cello boxes and vending boxes, they were producing proprietary sets for retailers. Stores like Woolworth’s, 7-11, Revco, K-Mart, Walgreen’s, Ben Franklin and Toys-R- Us all wanted their own baseball card action. The hobby was now turned into a powerhouse and stayed that way until 1994 when the Major League Baseball Players Association decided that the team owners desire to institute a salary cap wasn’t in the players best interest. The players walked off the fields. With negotiations going nowhere fast, the owners locked the players out on August 12th. There would be no World Series that year. It would not be until April 2, 1995 that the players returned to the field but the damage had already been done. No players meant no cards. No games meant no fans. After the longest strike in Major League baseball history, the baseball card bubble was on the verge of bursting.

As everyone knows, anytime you have more supply than demand, prices will fall. Great news for me. I can pick up cool sets like this 1987 Fleer Awards Winner set for a couple of bucks. The bad news for me? The set will ALWAYS be a couple of bucks. I don’t care.

I had this set as a kid but had lost it somewhere along the way. I can only assume that at some point in 1987 a family member and I were in a 7-11 where these sets were distributed and I asked them to buy it for me. Fortunately, I picked this one up on Ebay for about $3.

The set features 44 player cards and 6 logo sticker cards. I lucked out and received 2 Mets logo cards in this one. The idea behind the set is that it features players who were awarded some type of award. Just not necessarily in 1986 which leaves me wondering how they came to settle on some of the players included. Anyways, let’s take a look at a few.

1986 NL Cy Young Award Winner – Mike Scott

Mike Scott went on to a successful career with Houston after the Mets traded him in 1983. Up until then, he had bounced up and down between the New York Mets and the their AAA minor league team the Tidewater Tides. They played here in Norfolk, VA and he is featured on a mural right outside of the upper level press boxes at the stadium. He was also one of my first “through the mail” autograph returns. He signed a pretty beat up version of his 1988 Donruss MVP card in blue sharpie. It looked a lot better than his mug-shot featured above.

Despite playing a prominent post season role in 1985 for the St Louis Cardinals, Todd Worrell still qualified as a “rookie” in 1986. He would go on to save 36 games in 1986 and be awarded “Rookie of the Year”. Brett Saberhagen is featured in this set despite winning his Cy Young Award in 1985. In 1986 he posted a 4.12 ERA and went 7-12. He was still considered a “star” so I’m sure Fleer did not want to leave him out. Card companies loved future Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt and included him in any set they could throughout the 80’s. 1986 was the year Schmidt led the league in home runs and RBI’s. He would also go on to win his 3rd and final National League MVP award.

I’ll just put it out there. I have no idea what the “Sports Writers Fielding Award” is. When you look at all of the players featured in this set as “Sports Writers Fielding Award” winners, it coincides with the listing of Gold Glove winners from the previous year. Why not just list it as such? I’ve always liked Don Mattingly. I especially like this card featuring him at Comisky Park. You can always tell it’s Comisky when you see the yellow guard rails in the stands. He had a hell of a career with the New York Yankees. Despite the many accolades, he doesn’t have a World Series title and saw his fair share of injuries. His shot at the Hall of Fame has come and gone. He was simply a player that was REAL good but for too short period of time.

Ray Knight was a solid choice for this Award Winners set as he won the 1986 World Series MVP. It was Knight that crossed home plate after the infamous Bill Buckner error at first. The Mets would win Game 6 and Knight would hit the tie breaking home run in Game 7 as the Mets went on to become world champions.

Fleer was two years late with Ozzie Guillen’s “Rookie of the Year” card. He won that award in 1985. As strange as it is that they would include this card in this set, it has always been one of my favorites. I love the colors, the stadium in the background and the classic “Sox” logo featured on his jacket.

Through his 17 year career, Cecil Cooper was a solid player. A five-time All Star, Cooper batted .300 or more from 1977 to 1983. 1980 was his best season as he finished right behind George Brett in American League batting average. Brett finished with a .390 average and Cooper finished 2nd with .352. He also led the league in RBI’s with 122. He would notch his 2,000th hit in 1986 and close out his career in 1988 with 2,192 hits.

Future Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg is featured taking a swing at Wrigley Field. 1986 was only one of his nine Gold Glove seasons. Sandberg made his major league debut in 1981 with the Philadelphia Phillies as a shortstop that could also play 2nd and 3rd. He only appeared in 13 games and managed one hit in six at bats – ironically, a base hit at Wrigley Field with a bat borrowed by starting shortstop Larry Bowa. The Phillies would go on to trade Larry Bowa to the Chicago Cubs and Cubs demanded the rookie Sandberg as a 3rd baseman. The Phillies agreed as they did not have a need for him. 3rd base was occupied by Mike Schmidt and their current 2nd baseman Manny Trillo was performing well. In return for Sandberg and Bowa, the Phillies would get shortstop Ivan DeJesus. The trade worked out well for Chicago as they would see the post season in 1984 for the first time in 39 years.

There wasn’t a card company out that didn’t insist on featuring Jose Canseco in their 1987 sets. Canseco was everywhere. I remember my uncle taking me to a card show around that time and seeing Canseco rookie cards in the display cases with price tags of $200+. The 1986 Donruss Rated Rookie was the card to have and there were tons of them. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out why these guys were shelling out $200 for the one card when they could spend that money on a few wax boxes and maybe pull multiples. I’ve never been good at math but even as a ten year, I knew that didn’t add up. Card shows in the late 80’s and well into the 90’s were a gluttonous experience. Cards and big money were flowing everywhere. I was a cheap date for my uncle. After an hour of searching, we walked out with only a handful of cards – a crisp 1977 Gary Carter, a 1985 Donruss Gary Carter, a 1987 TCMA Tidewater Tides team set, and a 1988 Donruss Gregg Jefferies. I think we spent $20.

Another milestone card features future Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven. He would reach 3,000 strikeouts in 1986 largely due in part to a magnificent curve ball that he could throw over the plate anytime in any count. He would go on to win a World Series with the Twins in 1987 as they defeated the St Louis Cardinals in 7 games.

Marty Barrett was known as an excellent 2nd baseman and a great contact hitter. He would set a major league record in the 1986 with 24 hits in 14 post season games and was awarded the MVP of the ALCS. He would p1rove to be a tough out against the New York Mets in the 1986 World Series as he hit .433 during the series. Barrett was also a member of the Pawtucket Red Sox team that set 13 baseball records over the span of a 32 inning game against the Rochester Red Wings.

The game began Saturday April 18, 1981 at 8:25PM after a 30 minute delay due to problems with the stadium lights. The game went well into the night and into Easter morning. By 4AM the players were “delirious” from exhaustion. Rochester’s Dave Huppert had caught the first 31 innings before being replaced, and Jim Umbarger pitched 10 scoreless innings from the 23rd inning, striking out nine and giving up four hits. The president of the league, Harold Cooper, was finally reached on the phone by Pawtucket publicity manager Mike Tamburro sometime after 3AM. The horrified Cooper ordered that play stop at the end of the current inning. Finally at 4:07 AM, at the end of the 32nd inning and more than eight hours after it began, the game was stopped. There were only 19 fans left in the seats—not including David Cregg, who had fallen asleep – all of whom received season or lifetime passes to McCoy Stadium. As the players went home to rest before returning at 11AM for an afternoon game that Sunday; they saw people going to Easter sunrise service. When Wade Boggs’ father complimented him for getting four hits in the game, the player admitted that he didn’t think he had a good game. After all, he had come up to bat 12 times.

We will close it out with this card of “The Kid”. The “Game Winning RBI” metric was designed to recognize players credited with the difference making run in a game. The award was meant to identify players that were good clutch hitters and could perform well when the game was on the line. The stat never proved particularly useful as the “game winning run” being tracked was quite random and there was no particular player that was really any better than another in driving in the winning run. The stat was quietly discontinued in 1990. I can’t even find the official stat where he is credited with leading the National League in GWRBI’s. Either way, this card sits nicely in my “Gary Carter binder” in the “oddball card” section. I’m not even sure what my grand total of Carter cards is. I just know it’s a lot.

Johnny Klippstein

01011106-2After Cleveland’s big win last night in Game 1 of the World Series and a short post about Cleveland’s Hall of Fame player/manager Lou Boudreau, I thought I’d sit back, watch tonight’s Game 2 and post about a Chicago Cub.

Johnny Klippstein is not a name you hear very often but he pitched for the Chicago Cubs from 1950-1954.  Known as one of the “most liked guys in baseball” during his 18 year career, Klippstein pitched for 8 teams from 1950-1967 and posted a 101-118 record.  Nicknamed the “Wild Man of Borneo”, Klippstein was seen as a player with great potential who could turn in masterful performances from time to time.  It was often his lack of control that overshadowed his dominance on the mound.   Leading the league in hit-batters one year, he also claimed the single-season record for wild pitches twice.

In 1943, at the age of 15, Klippstein was visiting an uncle in Appleton, Wisconsin and decided to take advantage of a tryout camp being held locally by the St Louis Cardinals. After trying out, Klippstein was signed the following spring.  300 players tried out and out of all of them, Klippstein was the only to sign a contract.

After completing school in the spring of 1944, Klippstein reported to Allentown of the Class B Interstate League.  As one of the youngest players in the league, he won his first game but posted a 10.50 ERA.  After bouncing around the minors that season, Klippstein returned home to finish up his last year of high school.  Following the school year, he returned to baseball for the 1945 season and performed much better.  The Cardinals were finally starting to see the potential in Klippstein.

After missing the entire 1946 season due to being drafted into the Army, Klippstein returned to the Cardinal’s minor league season and struggled to regain his form.  After a disappointing season, the Cardinals lost Klippstein to the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1948 draft.  After excelling in the Dodgers minor league system through the 1949 season, the Dodgers ended up losing him to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for $10,000 in cash.

Klippstein made his major league debut with the Chicago Cubs but never blossomed with Chicago.  After the 1954 season, he was dealt to the Cincinnati Reds where he developed further as a pitcher, learning the slider and working on his control.  It was in 1958 the

St. Louis Cardinals Stan Musial

Klippstein facing Stan Musial as Cincinnati catcher Ed Bailey awaits the pitch.

Klippstein was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers where he reinvented himself as a relief specialist.  The following year, he would pitching over 50 games, the Dodgers would go on to win the National League Pennant and eventually defeat the White Sox.  1960 would be the season in which Klippstein would show his age and as the Dodgers became more concerned about his health and effectiveness, they traded him to the Cleveland Indians where he would go on to lead the league in saves with 14, post a respectable sub-3.00 ERA and was considered one of the most effective closers in all of baseball.

Despite his success, the Indians made him available for the expansion draft and shipped him to the Washington Senators in exchange for $25,000.  The Senators flopped that year and so did Klippstein, posting a 6.78 ERA and leading the league with ten wild pitches. Klippstein was shipped back to the Cincinnati at the end of the season.  The next year he pitched much better but found himself being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in spring training of 1963.  He would go on to have the best season of his career pitching in 49 games and posting an ERA of 1.93.  The Phillies would go on to finish in fourth place that season. 1964 saw Klippstein being marginalized and found himself buried in the bullpen and eventually waived.  The Minnesota Twins would pick him up and he would go on to develop a quick-pitch curve which helped him to become one of the most effective closers in the league and help the Twins clinch the pennant.  The Twins would go on to lose to the Los Angeles Dodgers thanks in part to the magnificent pitching of Claude Osteen and Sandy Koufax.

1966 would see Klippstein on the hill just 26 times and found his 18 year career over.  He finished with a lifetime 4.24 ERA.  When asked about his “best season”, Klippstein often remarked that he never had one.

Despite wearing the uniform of 8 different teams in his career, Klippstein loved the Chicago Cubs and remained a die-hard Cubs fan for the rest of his life.   In 2003 while listening to the Cubs defeat the Marlins, he passed away after a long battle with prostate cancer.  I can only imagine how excited he is to now be looking down on his Cubs and his former Indians both sharing the spotlight in the 2o16 World Series.