Gene, you can't possibly know how much you touched so many of our lives with the job you did with that 1964 Phils team. I know you touched mine, even though I was just a small boy. Oh, how I loved that team, and know that you did a remarkable job to bring them so close. In many ways, you actually revived baseball in Philadelphia though many fans probably don't realize it. I do!
The Phils in the late 50's were an old team, without hope and without skill. You came on to the scene in 1960 like a breath of fresh air and immediately set out to change the entire philosophy of the organization. Yet you did it in a way that many probably never fully appreciated until later in life.
I recall how you went about building up the confidence of young outfielders Johnny Callison and Tony Gonzalez and how you worked every day to make Clay Dalrymple a major league catcher. I remember how you saw something in a swift second baseman with the Cubs and encouraged General Manager John Quinn to acquire him. Remember him, Gene, a very popular figure in Phils history…Tony Taylor.
Can you ever possibly know the influence you had on such players as Don Demeter, Cookie Rojas, Chris Short and Jack Baldschun? Or how you molded such skilled but green young hurlers like Art Mahaffey, Dennis Bennett and Ray Culp into competent major league pitchers.
Gene, you made the Phils proud to be wearing Phillie uniforms and to this day I still believe you molded them into a united group during that 23 game losing streak in 1961. Through it all, you promised better days and players like Ruben Amaro and Bobby Wine believed you. And you were right! By 1962, the Phils were a .500 club as you had performed a miracle…an increase of 34 wins in a single year!
Still, you insisted the best was yet to come and some of the things you did to foster that belief were brilliant. Remember how you kept Callison on the bench on the last day of the '62 season to protect his .300 average. You wanted him to think like a .300 hitter and his banner seasons in '63 and '64 proved your intuition was correct. You tried so hard to get Mahaffey his 20th win in '62 and I am sure that was greatly appreciated though he ultimately failed to notch his 20th win.
Ever the master of coaxing one more good year out of seasoned veterans, players like Wes Covington, Cal Mclish, Johnny Klippstein, Ryne Duren and Roy Sievers flourished under your managerial leadership. They became your coaches on the field and had much to do with the grooming of the '64 team. 1964, ah! what memories you provided us with that magical year.
Gene, I am not sure you will ever realize how many middle-aged men remember that team and how thrilling the Summer of '64 was for us as youngsters. But, I realize it, my friend, because I receive countless emails from Phils fans everywhere when I write about that team.
You were absolutely brilliant that year. A cursory glance at the rosters of your opponents would have guaranteed the Phils no more than a fourth or fifth place finish. Certainly, the Giants had more future Hall of Famers in their prime, the Braves more punch. The Reds had stronger pitching and the Cardinals had an entire infield of All-Stars, plus Gibson and Brock for good measure. Even the Dodgers, as defending World Champions, had Koufax, Drysdale and Podres.
Yet, with your attention to detail, and your single-minded desire to make every player the best they could be, you provided Phils fans with a team that will never be forgotten.
Memories? Do I marvel at the memories of your strategic brilliance? I remember how you never allowed Jim Bunning to face a National League team in Spring Training so they would be seeing him for the first time when the season began. I recall the way you taught the Phils to bunt to first baseman Ernie Banks whenever you played the Cubs because third sacker Ron Santo was a better fielder with a stronger arm.
And, oh how you dealt with those Phils personalities. Dennis Bennett was very talented, and very headstrong and was convinced he was a better pitcher at night. You reminded him that the World Series was played in the daytime and he immediately began wining in the sunlight!
Oh, and who can ever forget your chess matches with San Francisco Giants skipper Alvin Dark? Simply masterful! Remember, Gene, early in September, when Dark announced that lefty Bob Hendley was pitching, though both he and righty Bob Bolin were warming up. Even the public address announcer called out Hendley as the hurler. Naturally you loaded up your lineup with right-handed hitters like Cookie Rojas, Gus Triandos and Frank Thomas.
Suddenly, its Bolin on the hill and it appears that Dark has outsmarted you. Not quite! In almost surreal fashion, Rojas doubled, Callison singled, Allen tripled and then Thomas homered…the cycle completed in the first four hitters! When Gus Triandos later hit a grand slam home run to clinch the game, you had won the chess match!
Please indulge me while I offer a few more, after all, I am attempting to speak for the thousands who wish they could! The way you used Baldschun and Roebuck so effectively. The way you made Taylor, Amaro, Wine and Rojas interchangeable parts. The way you never complained about using rookies, though six of your 25-man roster were first year players. Remember them, Gene, for I am sure they remember you.
Remember first year bonus babies Rick Wise and John Briggs. Wise will forever be grateful for getting his first big league win on the same day as Bunning's perfect game. Briggs had a solid big league career because you played him just enough in ‘64 to help his development and not hinder it.
Of course, youngsters John Herrnstein, Danny Cater and Alex Johnson all performed well that season because of your careful use of their talents. Then, Gene, the best of them all…and perhaps the most talented player you ever managed, Richie Allen. What an absolutely spellbinding season he had in '64. I was at the game in San Francisco on July 4, 1964 when Allen hit a ball to the gap in right center field. I have never since seen a more athletic act in my life than Allen stretching that hit into a triple…I know you remember it because it won the game!
Gene, even your name is synonymous with winning, for your father named you after Gene Tunney on November 18, 1925. Had Tunney lost to Jack Dempsey, your name would have been Jack Mauch. So, I know I am speaking for the countless friends you made while in Philadelphia, people who still consider you the best manager Philadelphia ever had. Get well soon, my friend, because the world needs more fighters like you.
In fact, as we are about to witness the closing of Veterans Stadium in two weeks, a strong case could be made that you were as influential in getting it built as any politician. The stadium was built in 1971 and was approved in the mid ‘60's, due to the revival of baseball in Philadelphia. That you were the manager during that revival makes it all the more apparent how you influenced the building of the stadium.
During the time you managed the Phils you were known by many nicknames. You were often referred to as Number Four, a number you wore proudly. Many players called you Skipper in deference to your title as manager. Some called you The Little General and others merely called you The Genius. By any other name, you were then and are now still Gene Mauch to me, and that's more than sufficient. For to me, Gene Mauch was then and is now a battler, a champion fighter, and a man with an indomitable heart and spirit.
On behalf of all your friends, Gene, keep battling, don't stop fighting and never lose that incredible heart and spirit. And, we all pray, get well soon!
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