CD's Connect The Dots... Wall of Famer

The names are a veritable Who's Who of Phillies immortals. To recite their names is like taking a walk on the hallowed ground of Phillies history. Some are baseball Hall of Famers, while others are just held dear to all that is close to the hearts and minds of Phil phans everywhere. Yet one name is conspicuous by its absence. A man who in many ways brought a city back from the baseball abyss. His name is Gene Mauch, a man deserving of becoming the latest Phillie Wall of Famer.

Robin Roberts is there, as are Jim Bunning, Steve Carlton, Chris Short and Grover Cleveland Alexander. The greatest starting rotation in Phillie history. Mike Schmidt is there, as is Willie Jones and Richie Allen. The greatest third basemen in Phillie history. The shortstops that played with Schmidt and Jones, Larry Bowa and Granny Hamner are also there, as are legends like Richie Ashburn, Ed Delahanty, Chuck Klein and Del Ennis.

Tug McGraw, who threw the final pitch in the only World Series the team ever won is there, as is Bob Boone, who caught it. In all, 27 names are on the Phillie Wall of Fame, everyone deserving and proud of the honor. Yet one name is conspicuous by his absence. Gene Mauch. This is wrong. It is time to right this wrong.

Oh, I understand the uphill battle he faces from a skeptical public that largely remembers him for 10 days in September of 1964 when a pennant won became a pennant lost. I acknowledge that phans who followed that team have placed the team's collapse squarely on his shoulders and for his part he always carried that burden very well.

Still, the truth is that for the greater part of his career as the manager of the team, he was one of the best in the business and literally lifted the franchise from the worst to one of the best. In his nearly 8.5 years as the Phils' skipper the "Little General" won more games, created more excitement and groomed more mediocre talent into solid big league players than any Phillie manager in history. Let's examine the record and possibly scale away the fiction from the fact.

When Gene Mauch became the youngest major league manager in baseball at 34 in 1960 he took over a team and franchise that was the laughing stock of baseball. The truth is that no one wanted to play for the Phillies and Mauch delighted in retelling stories of how every player on the club referred to themselves as ex-Cardinals or ex-Dodgers or ex-anythings...anything but the Philadelphia Phillies.

The club was not only bad, but the pharm system was in disrepair, Connie Mack Stadium was always nearly empty and the team was clearly the worst franchise in baseball, with little hope for improvement. Gene Mauch quickly announced that he not only wanted to become the "best manager in the National League but one of the best ever." While sports writers and baseball executives snickered, Mauch went about transforming the team, one piece at a time.

Of course, the bottom had to drop out first and this occurred in 1961 when the club lost a record 23 games straight and finished with a 47-107 record, a winning percentage of merely .305. Yet, as the losses piled up, Mauch was instilling in them something that would carry them through the difficulties. They were forced to bond, almost like lost sailors at sea totally dependent on each other for survival. No more ex-this or ex-that, they were now Phillies and Mauch continued to remind them that better days were ahead.

Still, the team continued to flounder through much of 1962 as Mauch coached, coaxed and cajoled every ounce of skill out of such talented but undisciplined youngsters as Johnny Callison, Art Mahaffey, Tony Taylor, Chris Short, Dennis Bennett and Tony Gonzalez. He convinced minor league draftees like Jack Baldschun and Clay Dalrymple that if they listened and worked they would succeed. He resurrected careers of such veterans as Roy Sievers, Cal Mclish, Johnny Klippstein, Ryne Duren and Wes Covington and he began to convince a disinterested public that this was no longer a team to be taken lightly.

His firebrand temper often made him unpopular with the press but his winning brand of baseball and wondrous knowledge of the rules showed everyone that this was no longer a city or team that would accept defeat...he was here to win. And suddenly the winning started. Gene Mauch convinced this group in 1962 that they could be winners and 30 wins in the final 44 games got the team to 81-80, an amazing 37 game improvement over the '61 sad sack crew. Miraculously, this had been done with largely the same squad, but a squad now focused and dedicated to winning...and winning Mauch's way.

He had certain belief systems that he instilled in his team, one of them that the Phils should never lose to an inferior team like the Mets or Houston Colt 45's. The fact was that in 1962 they almost never did, posting an impressive 32-4 record against the expansion teams. He also felt that certain players should never beat his team, and throughout his managerial career, they rarely did.

The 1963 team was the best club in baseball from June 25 through the rest of the season, posting a 56-35 record to finish 87-75 and a strong fourth place, this from a team that was still only two seasons removed from a 107 loss campaign. Through it all he continued to nurture youngsters like Callison, Short and Taylor, and not coincidentally, they are all on the Wall of Fame because of his influence.

Still, his greatest managerial job came in 1964 when a team picked to finish no higher than fifth turned the National League on their collective ears by nearly stealing a pennant they had no business competing for. Oh, that group was talented, and with the addition of rookie Richie Allen and veteran hurler, Jim Bunning, they were a team that would never be beaten easily. Still, those two new assets were somewhat negated by the aging of 1963 ace hurler, Cal Mclish and the injuries and eventual departure of aging slugger and clean up hitter, Roy Sievers.

Both Mclish and Sievers were heavily counted on for 1964 and neither contributed anything at all to the effort, yet the Phillies continued to win, almost as much on the sheer force of Mauch's will as the clutch bats of Callison and Allen and arms of Bunning and Short. Through 150 games the Phillie record stood 90-60, which meant that since that 30-14 finish in 1962 the team had compiled a very impressive 207-149 record, a most impressive .581 winning percentage.

Even more impressive was the fact that the phans began to take notice, so much so that the city voted to build Veterans Stadium, future home to the greatest Phillie clubs in franchise history. It is not far fetched to say that had Gene Mauch never managed the Phillies, Veterans Stadium might never have been built. Mauch also came onto the scene during a period in baseball history when franchises moved cities often and Philadelphia's Phillies were no guarantee to stay put given the terrible ball park location and equally horrible attendance figures.

The vote came in 1964, no coincidence indeed, given the team's success. Still, Mauch is not often remembered for these successes but for what was to transpire beginning on September 21, 1964 and stretch for what seemed an eternity but really only lasted 10 days. Sadly, it is those ten days and not all the aforementioned successes that have forever tormented the City of Brotherly Love and cast aspersions on the man who managed those fateful games.

It has always been my contention that Gene Mauch took much undo blame for those losses and that history has been rewritten to make him look even more the fool. This is sheer nonsense and anyone who takes the time to study those ten fateful games would probably come to the same conclusion. It is said that Mauch unwisely pitched Bunning and Short on two days rest, yet this was a widely held practice in those days, and Short pitched well in both of his starts on short rest.

It has also widely been written that he stopped using ace reliever Jack Baldschun, something even Baldschun is quoted as confirming in a book recently published about that club. This is absolutely false, as Baldschun pitched in no less than seven of the games, including six straight. The fact that he was not used in save situations is not difficult item to fathom...there were no games to save as the team was constantly behind.

Still, the Phils had opportunities to win six of those games late with but one single clutch hit, something they were suddenly unable to do. That team had lived on clutch hitting throughout the '64 season yet stopped hitting at the most inopportune time. Truth be told, a solid case could be made that it was the hitting and defense that eventually proved the team's downfall and not the lack of pitching.

Mauch was also blamed for using youngsters like Alex Johnson and Rick Wise but one of the trademarks of that club was the ability of rookies Richie Allen, John Herrnstein, Danny Cater, Johnny Briggs and yes, Johnson and Wise to contribute heartily on a nightly basis. To have not used the rookies would have been to go against the very things that had made that team so successful.

The ten game losing streak cost Philadelphia the pennant, caused the club to dismantle the roster, and probably cost Mauch and Allen future Hall of Fame births. It certainly cost Johnny Callison the Most Valuable Player award and forever cast a dark shadow on the tremendous accomplishments of the manager.

Still, Mauch's winning ways continued with 85, 87 and 82 win seasons from 1965-67. However, his star slowly began to dim and when the city and manager parted ways in 1968 while he was still at a respectable 26-27 record, his legacy of failure in 1964 would live with him forever. This is not only unfortunate, but unfair.

Under his guidance, a city and team began to care again about winning baseball; Phillie baseball. Under the Mauch watch a franchise decided that it not only enjoyed the fruits of victory but decided to build on that success with a new stadium, and with it the riches to afford such stars as Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Steve Carlton and Pete Rose.

It is no coincidence that of the 27 players on the current Wall of Fame, no less than seven were managed by Mauch and all but Robin Roberts genuinely owe their career achievements to the efforts of the Little General. Jim Bunning is in the Hall of Fame today because Mauch resurrected his career, and Callison, Allen, Short and Taylor all had their great Phillie careers under the guidance of Mauch. Even Bob Boone calls Gene Mauch the greatest manager he ever played for while they were together with the Angels.

Players like Bobby Wine, Ruben Amaro, Pat Corrales and yes, Dallas Green owe their coaching successes to the things they learned under the wise tutelage of Mauch and baseball rules have been rewritten and studied because of his keen knowledge of the rule book. If Mauch did not invent the double switch, he perfected it and percentage baseball was masterminded by the very genius of his mind.

Yet, every home game during baseball season Phillie phanatics walk by this most revered Phillie site and admire the achievements of past team greats while being denied the chance to study perhaps Philadelphia's greatest manager. This is something that seems inherently unfair and can only be rectified with a vote this year. The voting for this year's induction takes place on Phillies.com through March 24 and then the top three candidates will go through a process that will culminate on August 11 with the announcement of the latest addition to the Wall.

Yes, a strong case can be made for candidates such as Lenny Dykstra, John Kruk, Darren Daulton and Juan Samuel. Arguments might be sound for past standouts like Ron Reed, Jim Konstanty, Dick Ruthven or Rick Wise. But the simple truth is that it would take a very compelling story to justify any of these players being selected over the sustained and historic achievements of Gene Mauch while managing the Phillies.

If selected, unfortunately, Gene Mauch won't be able to attend his own coronation as he passed away last October after a lengthy illness. However, what better fitting tribute to the man that to finally pay homage to what he achieved while with the team that he so loved until the end.

This vote would not be for sentimentality but for sensibility. Gene Mauch deserves to be on that wall along with so many of the fine players that he managed. It might finally bring some closure to a ten day period that haunted him all his days while paying just due to the very skills that put he and his team in a position from which to sustain that painful ordeal. It is deserving and it is overdue.

Here is one vote to be cast and counted, a vote to make Gene Mauch the Philadelphia Phillies latest...Wall of Famer.

Columnist's Note: Please send all questions and comments to allenariza@earthlink.net and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast


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