Gene Mauch disposed of the last speck of suspense left in the Angel season Sunday when he announced his intentions to return next year as manager.
Just why, is another question.
After watching the Angels finish their schedule with a 10-6 loss to the Cleveland Indians at Anaheim Stadium, thus ensuring his team of a tie for last place in the AL West, Mauch may have thought otherwise about fulfilling the final year of his contract. But there he was afterward, smiling, joking, already talking about his plans for the 1988 Angels.
"We just want every ingredient that we were positive that we had when we went to (training camp), this spring," he said.
Until his announcement, no one was quite sure if Mauch would include himself among the featured parts. Almost daily, he had deflected questions about his future, so much so that he and General Manager Mike Port discussed the situation Saturday evening. Weary of the inquiries, Mauch finally put an end to the various speculation shortly after Sunday's game.
"It's never really been an issue, but you guys . . . brought it up 400 times," Mauch said. "I didn't know there was ever anything to talk about. Guys keep asking me, but as far as I know, everything is like it was when I signed my contract."
"So," asked someone, unsure of Mauch's response, "you are coming back next year?"
A dramatic pause. "Yeah . . . as far as I'm concerned," Mauch said.
When Mauch returns, he most likely will find bits and pieces of a team that lost 87 games and became the first club since the 1914-1915 Philadelphia Athletics to go from first to last in a single season. This time, the Angels share sixth in the AL West with the equally dismal Texas Rangers. Some consolation.
For at least a half-inning, though, the Angels flirted with fifth place. They took an early 1-0 lead in the first, but then watched as starter Mike Witt (16-14) allowed four home runs (a career high), as well as an assortment of doubles and singles. For variety's sake, there was also a wild pitch and a hit batsman.
Before the end of the seventh inning, Witt was resting comfortably in the Angel dugout. All in all, not the type of game that will come in handy during his off-season contract negotiations.
Still, Witt finished the season as the Angels' winningest and most consistent starter. Then again, there wasn't much of a starting rotation left, what with various injuries and calamities.
Actually, Mauch said, there wasn't much of anything to remember about 1987, except maybe the performances of Devon White, Wally Joyner, DeWayne Buice and Greg Minton.
"It was a very disappointing experience," he said. "You start the season with your hopes real high and just fall behind--knowing you had some good pitching, knowing you had some good young people to break in.
"It's our intent now to go back to square one."
Disappointments? "You could fill up almost two hands," said Mauch as players stopped by his office to say goodby.
According to Mauch, the most noticeable problems:
--Gary Pettis and his .208 batting average.
--Injuries to Donnie Moore, Kirk McCaskill, Dick Schofield, George Hendrick and Butch Wynegar.
As for remedies, Mauch had choices available.
"It won't take much," he said. "Try to get the guys that we counted on, mainly McCaskill and Moore, get them healthy. We have a right to expect the normal amount of improvement in the younger guys. There isn't anybody on this team that did anything this year that they can't do as well or better next year."
Mauch should hope so, or the 1988 view will be much like this season's: from the bottom up.
Angel Notes Pitcher Don Sutton, 42, said he hasn't yet made up his mind about returning next year. "I have no idea what's going to happen, I really don't know," he said. Sutton's contract expires at the end of the year which, in essence, means he can't make his decision until the Angels make theirs. . . . Catcher Bob Boone, also signed through 1987, said he would like to be back for another season. "I know I want to play more baseball, and I believe there's more baseball in Bob Boone. No question, I would prefer it to be here." . . . Brian Downing, yet another Angel whose contract ends this year, on what he planned to do during the off-season: "Catch up on some yardwork, I don't know. I didn't expect this to be an open time." . . . Mike Witt finished the season with a 4.00 earned-run average, his highest since 1983. . . . Bill Buckner had to be helped to the Angel training room in the ninth inning when a foul ball hit by Gary Pettis struck him in the right forearm. Buckner returned, though, in time to watch Johnny Ray line out to center, the final out of the Angels' season.
Sunday's attendance: 36,779.
1987 (81 home dates): 2,696,299.
1986 (81 home dates): 2,655,892.