Gene Mauch: The Little General

<i>In the first of a four-part series, takes a look at colorful Phillies managers of the past. It begins with a look at Gene Mauch.</i> It is the ghost. Those who were there recall the devastating demise of the '64 Phillies. Those who were not will never hear the end of the terrible tale. At the helm of the sunken ship was Gene Mauch. He would lead the Phillies to what some might say is a baseball tragedy, but yet may be the most famous season in Phillies history.

"I'm not the manager because I'm always right, but I'm always right because I'm the manager." - Gene Mauch

It would be impossible to talk about the period of time Gene Mauch managed without discussing the issue of racial integration in baseball that was going on and what the Phillies were doing to be a part of that process. The Phillies were the last team in the National League to integrate and they had a terrible history of abusing African American players, specifically Jackie Robinson. In 1947 when Robinson, playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, was bravely and tirelessly trying to break the color barrier the Phillies pitchers were terrible to him, purposely throwing at his head when he was up at bat. A particularly horrific display was when the Phils stood on the steps of the dugout and pointed their bats at Robinson, making gun shot sounds. The Phils would not field an African-American player until 1957. The Phillies organization would have to work hard to live down that history and in the 1960's they would try to begin doing so with much more effort. The Phillies owner at the time, Robert Carpenter, would realize he needed to begin to begin rebuilding the team by 1960 and would start to look to the growing pool of African American players, although many would suggest he did so reluctantly. As the city's politics were changing the Phillies organization's politics would dramatically change as well, reflecting the nation's frustrations and struggles for equality and peace in the 1960's.

When Gene Mauch was hired to manage the Phillies he was just thirty four years of age and had come up through the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in the 1940's. He was a baseball man through and through that studied the game as a science, which earned him the nickname of "The Little General". His attention to detail often made him successful but would also tend to backfire on him and lead him to over manage, something that many people who remember 1964 say is the reason the Phillies took the dive they did that fateful year. He was, of course a quotable sort, witty and tough, but most of all he took the game of baseball extremely seriously. "I want my players to realize that baseball is their livelihood-not a way to have fun," he once said. And although Mauch had been known to use racially offensive language he seemed to be color blind when it came to assessing a player.

The Phillies club improved their roster for the 1961 season, when GM Bob Carpenter made some positive moves. The Phils acquired talented hitters Don Demeter and Wes Covington, known as "The Lumberman" for his excellent ability in the clutch. Bobby Wine, Ruben Amaro, and Tony Taylor rounded out the Phillies great defense in the infield. The pitching wasn't great however and Robin Roberts had his share of conflict with Mauch who was displeased with his performances, even though it should be said Roberts was suffering from a knee injury. The Phillies would end up finishing in last place for the fourth season in a row in 1961, having racked up a 23 game loosing streak that still stands in Major League baseball history today. Mauch did his best according to the team though. Insisting on a curfew for the players and making them work out before every game. He made threats and gave fines, but all to no avail that year. Despite the dismal standings at the end of the season, Mauch would say he was proud of his Phillies and that he had never seen another team work harder than that one.

In 1962, the National League expanded and with Mauch's baseball genius the Phillies would get themselves out of the proverbial gutter, finishing their first winning season in nearly a decade under Mauch. The pitching staff was a big part of that with Art Mahaffey recording his best season in the majors (3.94 ERA) and excellent reliever Jack Baldschun going 12-7 with a 2.95 ERA. Mauch pushed that team hard and believed in their talent. Mauch's flaring temperament and moodiness could not erase one very important fact and that was his complete and well studied knowledge of the game of baseball. Although the regulars played solid ball in 1963 with Johnny Callison and Tony Taylor putting up great numbers, the Phillies still struggled to put all of the pieces together. It was in the final eleven games of the season played on the road when Gene Mauch would lose his temper and completely explode on his team. He would attack the guys after the Houston Colt 45's rallied to win one particular game, kicking lockers and overturning tables of food. Outfielder Wes Covington would find himself covered in chicken grease. For all of the humiliation they may have suffered that day, Mauch's display of rage appeared to have worked on some level. The team would finish the season with a five game winning streak against San Francisco and Los Angeles.

When the 1964 season began there was a competition for third base between Richie Allen and Don Hoak. Mauch, true to character was vocal about what he wanted, or who, and that was Allen, who had been the Phillies top prospect in the farm system. The fight for civil rights continued and Philadelphia was still a hot bed of racial unrest. The Phillies were trying to embrace a diverse community and players like Allen, Ruben Amaro, Tony Gonzalez and Tony Taylor were appealing to minorities. That year fans of all races in Philadelphia were getting excited about Phillies baseball. By June they had a 25-15 record and to this day his players will speak about what affect Mauch's passion for winning and his ability to mold young players had to create that success. "He created a camaraderie in the clubhouse," Dennis Bennett would say. "He was the finest manager I ever played for." Mauch seemed to know how to bring out the best in the players and how to educate them. Clearly he had his share of tantrums and run-ins but he had also created a reason for the players to respect him with how hard he worked and how much effort he put into cultivating an atmosphere of closeness between the team mates in the clubhouse. Cookie Rojas would say that Mauch made them feel they had a chance to contend when no one else did and "Under Gene Mauch we learned a lot about baseball."

"Go start a fight! Do something before it's too late." - Gene Mauch during a September 1964 clubhouse meeting.
They were indeed contenders, and on September 1st in order for the Phillies to win the pennant they would have to win just half of their remaining thirty games. By September 7th they would find themselves still enjoying a five and a half game lead over second place Cincinnati. But as we all know something went terribly wrong. The Phils needed to do better against the first division teams if they were to truly contend and they also needed to acquire a right-handed power hitter, something they found in Frank Thomas. By September they truly looked like they had it in them with fantastic pitching from Jim Bunning and added depth to the bullpen coming from veteran left-hander Bobby Shantz. But things just seemed to unravel that month in many ways. The defense especially began to suffer when it had been so good throughout that year. But it would also be said, directly to him actually, that Mauch had become so obsessed with winning that he made bad decisions out of desperation, and in a crucial game against the Braves, the Phillies would lose 5-3 shrinking their lead to two and a half games. One player pointed out that Mauch wanted to win so badly he forgot to have fun; perhaps his youth and drive just overwhelmed his sensibilities. When the Phillies were completely out of the race and the reality set in, it was a beat writer by the name of Allen Lewis who told Mauch he blew it the way all managers blow it, by pitching guys out of turn. His insistence on winning every game, Lewis would tell him, was the thing that did him in. Frank Thomas would liken the collapse to watching a horror film. And it would be truly the beginning of the end for Gene Mauch with the Phillies.

In his next three seasons with the club, he fought hard to try and get back that chance at the pennant with the Phillies but bad trades, injuries, and a growing distance in the relationship between him and the players (Hmm…some things never change) would leave him without what he so desired. His clubhouse tirades would become more frequent and they would begin to fall on deaf ears. In 1968 after many problems with players, and in the end an infamous showdown with Richie Allen, Mauch was fired.

Ruly Carpenter might have said it best when describing Mauch and the 1964 season when he told a reporter, "The '64 club accomplished a lot for their abilities. The fact that that team contended is a testimony to Gene Mauch's genius as a manager". It might be difficult for people to remember anything more than the horror of that year but it is clear that anyone who knew and played for Gene Mauch that year credits him for making believers out of all of them including the city of Philadelphia. And even then that was no easy feat.

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