GENE MAUCH, who died on Monday of cancer at age 79, will be best remembered for the games he didn't win. His 1964 Phillies famously blew a 6 1/2-game lead in the last 12 games of the season; his 1982 California Angels lost a 2--0 edge in a best-of-five ALCS; and the '86 Angels were one out away from giving Mauch his first pennant when they blew a three-run lead. Obscured by those near misses is the fact that Mauch won more games than all but 10 men and was named Manager of the Year three times in his 26-year career.
As a player Mauch was a light-hitting, scrappy second baseman--a "pain-in-the-neck player," in the words of one of his coaches, who explained, "It's the other team that'll find him a pain in the neck. He's confident, he'll squawk and he'll battle." Mauch managed in much the same way. Hired by the Phillies in 1960, he was never afraid to chew out a player or upend a buffet table. He played a grind-it-out style, often bunting in the first for an early run. His detractors accused him of overmanaging--he was once said to give more signals than the Coast Guard, but he got results. The Phillies went from the cellar in '60 to the brink of a pennant in '64. That year ended in heartbreak, which Mauch felt more than his share of, but he never felt regret. "I have never second-guessed myself," he said in 1987, his final season. "I've had some good years as a manager. That's what matters."