YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

DECISIONS, DECISIONS : While Their Teams Struggle, These Two Managers Endure : GENE MAUCH : Brilliance Means Little Without Hitting and Pitching

August 23, 1987|MIKE PENNER | Times Staff Writer

The quintessential Gene Mauch moment of 1987 occurred May 12 in Detroit, during the third inning against the Tigers, after a pitch in the dirt.

Tiger catcher Mike Heath retrieved that loose ball with a scoop of his mask, a seemingly harmless move that would have gone unnoticed had Mauch maybe skipped a line or two when he memorized the rule book about 35 years ago.

But Mauch remembered, and out of the dugout he came, walking toward home plate to remind umpire Durwood Merrill of an obscurity known as Rule 7.05, Paragraph D--which 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 a catcher's mask. Oh yeah, said Merrill, that Rule 7.05, Paragraph D. Must have slipped my mind.

The next thing the Tigers knew, Merrill was ordering 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.

Sparky Anderson, the Detroit manager, shook his head in amazement and admiration.

"No one knows the rules better than Gene Mauch," Anderson said. "He could teach a seminar on it."

A great moment in baseball managing?

Not if you're interested in results.

Final score from Detroit that night: Tigers 15, Angels 2.

If you're looking for a tag-line on Gene Mauch's fifth season with the Angels, this is it. Title it: "Genius Wasted." And subtitle it: "You Can Lead a Horse to Water but Only if You Have the Horses."

In the month of Mauchian strategy charted and presented below--July 16-Aug. 15--as with much of the rest of the season, the manager was rendered ineffective nearly half the time by games that got out hand early and stayed that way. In this 28-game sampling, for instance, 13 games were decided by five runs or more. Included were Angel defeats of 12-2, 11-3, 15-4, 14-0 and 13-3, along with Angel victories of 12-6, 9-2, 12-3 and 8-2.

In such games, all a manager can do is cross his legs and watch, maybe making a pitching change. Mauch, the ultimate hands-on manager, doesn't enjoy sitting on those hands. He's happiest when he's thrust into a 3-2 late-inning struggle with a bench-load of pinch-hitters at his disposal and a fully stocked bullpen.

During the first month of the second half of the season, Mauch was involved in just seven one-run games. His record was 4-3. He lost two of those in extra innings and the third on a perverse twist--a squeeze bunt, a taste of his own Little Ball medicine.

Mauch spent most of the month searching for ways to compensate for a starting pitching staff that produced just one complete game and worked five innings or fewer 13 times. Hitting is one way to compensate, but by mid-August, the Angels were batting .250 as a team--worst in the major leagues.

So Mauch scraped together a 13-15 record during that span mainly by milking his bullpen. He went to DeWayne Buice and Greg Minton often and early, several times requiring individual relief stints of four innings. "I really make them work for those saves," Mauch said at one point.

Overall, the bullpen responded almost flawlessly, winning five games, saving seven and holding late-inning leads three other times.

Other sub-plots that demanded Mauch's attention: What to do with Gary Pettis, he of the golden glove and tissue bat; how to get Bill Buckner and Brian Downing into the lineup at the same time; and, how to juggle his middle infielders once Gus Polidor surprisingly threw his bat into the ring.

A month in the life of Gene Mauch:


There was very little Little Ball exhibited between July 16 and Aug. 15. Bunting and running would seem to fit this team, what with its slap-hitting attack and young speed. But two obstacles ran that strategy into the ground.

One revolved around the separated shoulder of Dick Schofield and the failing bats of Pettis and McLemore. With Schofield on the disabled list and Pettis and McLemore batting .230 or less, the Angels' stolen base potential was squelched. In 28 games, the Angels stole just 10 bases.

Second, with the pounding received by Angel starting pitching, Mauch frequently found himself playing from behind. Sacrifice bunts aren't considered keen strategy when your team is trailing in the fifth, 8-2.

Mauch had his players sacrifice 10 times. Six times, the ploy led to Angel runs.

Some notable instances:

--July 19: Down, 5-4, in the eighth inning, Mauch had Bob Boone sacrifice, moving runners to second and third with one out. Jack Howell was then walked intentionally to set up the double play. Ruppert Jones followed with a bases-clearing pinch-double and the Angels won, 8-5.

--July 22: Ahead, 5-4, in the top of the ninth, Mauch had White sacrifice with one out. That moved Pettis to second base, from where he scored on a single by Downing. The Angels needed that run, since the bullpen had to hold off the Boston Red Sox for a 6-5 victory.

Los Angeles Times Articles