The book: “The Little General: Gene Mauch, A Baseball Life”
The author: Mel Proctor
The vital statistics: Blue River Press, 360 pages, $22.95. Released Publisher, pages, price. Released spring, 2015
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Vromans.com, the publishers website
The pitch: Gene Mauch’s name came up as a piece of Dodgers’ trivia history recently.
Corey Seager was the Opening Day shortstop on April 4, at 21 years, 343 days.
Did that make him the youngest to do it in franchise history?
That distinction still belongs to Mauch, who started and played in the first five games for the 1944 Dodgers at age 18 years, 152 days. Key members of that Dodgers’ infield, including Pee Wee Reese, were off to World War II. Manager Leo Durocher admired the grit and headiness of the 5-foot-10, 165-pound Mauch, whom Branch Rickey had signed after his junior year at L.A.’s Fremont High and brought to spring training. Durocher was to be a player-manager, putting himself at second base, but a mishap in spring training – a botched throw from Mauch to Durocher caused him to break a finger – ended that experiment.
On April 18, 1944, with the Dodgers at Philadelphia, Mauch started, batting eighth. Lloyd Warner pinch hit for him in the sixth. The next day, Mauch got his first hit. Eventually Durocher had veteran Billy Hart play shortstop, and Mauch went back to the minor leagues with just 15 at bats.
It’s all there in Chapter 2 of this tribute book to Mauch written by Proctor, and if all you somewhat know about Mauch was how his managerial reign in 1964 with the Phillies and in 1982 and 1986 with the Angels got to the doorstep of the World Series but never crossed the threshold, then you’re missing out so much on a man that Proctor rightfully frames as someone more misunderstood than not.
Proctor, the one-time play-by-play voice of the Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles, Washington Nationals and San Diego Padres, says early on that Mauch has been described as “brilliant, intense, inventive, creative, daring, aggressive, handsome, innovative, stubborn, cocky, introspective, gruff, stern, angry, haunted, unapproachable, arrogant, combative, intimidating, fascinating, complex, sensitive, caring, poised, dignified, regal.”
He even uses a line from the late Jim Murray in the L.A. Times: “He’s as intense as a light bulb, as explosive as six sticks of dynamite in a bouncing truck.”
While a sports director at a Palm Springs TV station in 2002, Proctor tracked down Mauch, a local resident, to use him as a studio analyst during the Angels’ World Series title run. Their friendship led to Proctor deciding to do the book on Mauch, who died in August of 2005 from lung cancer.
“One of his greatest regrets,” Mauch’s daughter, Lee Ann, tells Proctor, “was that his dad hadn’t seen what he’d accomplished in baseball. He regretted that he hadn’t made the Hall of Fame.”
When you consider that Mauch became manager of the Phillies as a 34-year-old in 1960, but had been big-league skipper ready years before that as a member of the Dodgers, Pirates, Boston Braves and Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs and Cardinals organizations, learning mostly from Durocher and Billy Southworth, there is much more context to how he squeezed out a record of 1,902 wins against 2,037 losses, especially when managing teams like the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos of the 1960s and ’70s.
This is proof that no one can lose that many games unless you’re really good.
What’s satisfying to read is that as much as Mauch may have been understood from a media point of view, he really did appear to love the game that didn’t always love him back.
He likely had his most satisfying run in baseball during his career from 1954-56 as the captain of the PCL’s Los Angeles Angels, playing on what could be the greatest minor-league team ever. It led to the Red Sox signing him for the 1957 season and striking up a kinship with Ted Williams. The Red Sox valued him more for his mind, having him become the player-manager of their Minneapolis far team (nurturing a young Carl Yastrzemski) before the Phillies came calling for him.
So is it fair to call him the greatest manager who never won a World Series?
It just seems to skim the surface of what Proctor brings out, even the discoveries such as how he used to earn money as an extra on baseball movie shoots at the old Wrigley Field (including “The Jackie Robinson Story,”) he how met newly installed Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in a 1959 playoff series, and how, according to Mauch’s daughter, he once saved garbage bags full of unopened newspapers from the 1986 season but never read them.
More to know:
= Proctor’s first book with Blue River Press: “I Love The Work, but I Hate the Business,” a “survival guide” for the sports broadcasting business.