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In this era of Yuppies, Yumpies and Grumpies, baseball now offers its cross-generational Mauchies. They're gray-hairs and greenhorns, Hall of Famers-to-be and journeymen, whiz kids and sons of pro athletes and even a former forward from the Winnipeg Jets' hockey organization. "Are you surprised we're winning?" asks veteran Mauchies catcher Bob Boone, 37. "I'm not at all. I think we should be even further ahead." Old or young, these Mauchies are confident.
Manager Gene Mauch's California Angels should be. Even after a 2-3 performance last week, they were—to the surprise of many—on top in the American League West by two games over second-place Minnesota. They had the AL's top base stealer in daring centerfielder Gary Pettis and one of the best slam-the-door relievers in baseball in much-traveled righthander Donnie Moore. So what if six of their regulars average 36½ years of age, and their pitching staff includes four rookies and a pair of 24-year-olds? A chemistry is at work. "The older guys pass on all kinds of baseball knowledge to us," says reserve outfielder Mike Brown, 25, with a smile, "but I think we keep them young."
This is a watershed season in the 25-year history of the Angels, one marked by a basic change in approach. Gone from last season's 81-81 team, which faltered down the stretch, are six free agents, including Fred Lynn, Don Aase and Bruce Kison. Gone with them is California's tradition of signing every big-money free agent that owner Gene Autry could lasso. Autry's New Year's resolution was, as he put it, "to not sign any more $2 million ballplayers." In the off-season the only moves he and first-year general manager Mike Port made were to sign former Tiger outfielder-DH Ruppert Jones for a paltry $350,000 and to pluck Moore from the Braves in the compensation draft for the loss of Lynn. When four veteran pitchers suffered injuries earlier this season, the Angels actually turned to their farm system. In recent times they didn't have that luxury. "Our minor league system was down for a while, but it's been built back up with good scouting," says pitching coach Marcel Lachemann. "We've got talent that's on its way up."
And look at the All-Star talent that's still around. First baseman Rod Carew, 39, recovered from last year's pinched neck nerve, once again is spraying line drives and, at week's end, was 47 hits shy of 3,000. Reggie Jackson, who'll turn 39 this week, is back in rightfield after two off years as a DH. He was leading the team with seven homers, which brought him up to 510 lifetime, just one behind Mel Ott. Bobby Grich, 36, was batting .287 and playing second base "better than I ever have." Third baseman Doug DeCinces, 34, was parlaying his .219 average into an important 19 RBIs. Leftfielder Brian Downing, also 34, had the club's steadiest bat at .289.
Finally, after two restive years in the front office, 59-year-old manager Mauch is delighted to be back in the fray. "Obviously, we have a team made up of strong personalities—DeCinces, Jackson, Grich, Downing and the rest," he says. "But when we won the division title in '82 they blended into the best team personality I've ever seen. I wanted to be associated with that again."
Mauch's handling of Jackson has kept both men happy, and Reggie's .250 batting average through Sunday was better than last season's .223. "I guess when you DH, you get the feeling they think you can't do some things anymore," says Jackson. "I took it as a negative. It was like pinch-hitting four times a game. When you're playing in the field you're into the game more, mentally and physically. It's worked better for me."
While Jackson's play in right has been adequate—some struggles with fly balls, but nothing too damaging—most eyes have been on his neighbor in center, Pettis, an Angel farm product whose speed and spectacular defensive skills have awed the entire league. Pettis has flagged down seemingly sure triples, leaped to save homers, snatched would-be singles off his shoestrings. And he has made it all look easy. "It's hard to find someone better, ever," says Jackson. "He helps me as a rightfielder with his range. I depend on him. He's the best." Says Mauch, "There's nobody in baseball who can come close to playing centerfield with Gary. Nobody."
Pettis, 27, is a 6'1", 159-pound wisp of a switch hitter who stole 48 bases in 1984, his first full season in the majors. His league-high 20 as of Sunday—in 20 attempts—only hinted at his overall potential. As for his batting, hitting instructor Moose Stubing says, "We're trying to show him he can be a Willie Wilson-Matty Alou type."
Stubing and 1947 National League batting champion Harry (The Hat) Walker, now the coach at Alabama-Birmingham, worked with Pettis in the off-season in an effort to cut down his 115 strikeouts and boost his .227 average. "He was hitting more like a power hitter," says UAB assistant Gary Green. "Coach Walker showed him how to hit inside out, to wait longer and go with the pitch instead of trying to pull everything." Walker switched Pettis to a thick-handled bat for better control, and Stubing stressed the importance of simply reaching base.
"Say he just hits into a force," says Stubing. "He can steal second and score on a hit. That's the kind of thing that can win us games." Through Sunday, Pettis was batting .243 and had been on base in every game he had played except two—both of them losses.