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Counting this year, Mauch says he has had three legitimate chances to win it all. His second chance came in 1982, when he took an Angel team that had finished fifth in the AL West the year before to a division championship. The Angels of '82, already graying at the temples, had some power in Jackson, DeCinces and Don Baylor. The starting pitching, only fair, was given a late-season boost by the acquisition of Tommy John. The bullpen was weak, its closer being a rookie, Luis Sanchez. Still, the Angels swept the first two games of the playoffs with Milwaukee's Brew Crew behind John and Kison. The pennant seemed virtually assured since no team in either league had lost the first two games and come back to win the playoffs. The demons that dog Mauch's footsteps would change all that. The Brewers took the third game at home 5-3, and Mauch came back with his ace, John. But John, 39 and unaccustomed to pitching with three days' rest, was bombed as the Brewers evened the series with a 9-5 win.
In the fifth and final game, the Angels were leading 3-2 when Milwaukee loaded the bases with two out in the seventh. Sanchez, a righthander, was the Angels' pitcher, but a lefthander, Andy Hassler, had been warming up in the bullpen. The percentages called for Mauch to bring Hassler in to face the next hitter, Cecil Cooper, a lefty. But no, Mauch stayed with his ace. Cooper lined a single to left that drove home the tying and winning runs. Mauch had missed the brass ring again. Bunning and Short!
Mauch was roundly criticized for starting John and leaving Sanchez in too long. His players disagreed. "Hell, even if you give him one loss, we still lost the other two, didn't we?" said Jackson. "The whole thing was so unnecessary," said DeCinces. "The blame didn't lie with him at all. We had a lot of players who just didn't have a good series. When he didn't come back for the next season, a lot of us felt bad."
As in '64, Mauch felt no need to justify his moves. But others have. Says Roy Smalley III: "Gene had seen both pitchers [Sanchez and Hassler] all year. Sanchez was the stopper. With Hassler, if you make him throw strikes, he's not as tough because his strength is to make you hit pitches out of the strike zone. But Gene didn't have that kind of leeway, because Cooper doesn't swing at bad balls, and he couldn't put him on base without walking a run in. So Cooper gets the hit. You can second-guess, but Gene believed with all his heart he was right."
There was perhaps even more disappointment in the front office over the Milwaukee calamity than there was on the field. Autry, who had just turned 75, saw this team as his best and perhaps last chance for a champion. He is a kindly man, but the appalling defeats left him angry and querulous. When asked if Mauch was returning as manager in '83, he gave no reply. Bavasi, who had built the team for Autry, was even more devastated by the loss than he was by that most famous of all playoff games, in 1951, when he was the Dodgers' general manager. "To me that was a bigger disappointment than Bobby Thomson," he says, rehashing the disaster from his home in La Jolla, Calif. "The Dodgers at least had won the pennant before. We hadn't, and we had it right in our hands. We were all unhappy about it, but I can assure you not one of us said one word of criticism about the way the series was managed. In retrospect, I think the mistake we made was in not telling Gene right away that we didn't think it was his fault. But then it was our understanding that Gene would be back for another year. When we offered him a contract, he turned it down. He just said he'd like to get away for a while."
So Mauch, hurt, angry, disillusioned, seemingly abandoned, walked away from baseball. He was going back to the home he and Nina Lee had on the ninth hole of the Sunrise Country Club in Rancho Mirage, near Palm Springs. He would play golf and bridge and spend more time with the wife he loved so dearly and who had been so patient through all those years of traveling and travail. He had weathered disappointment before. He was worried about not caring anymore. Within a short time, he would cease to care about anything in the world, for there was nothing in his long experience to prepare him for what would happen next. It would nearly finish him.
Gene William Mauch was born Nov. 18, 1925 in Salina, Kans., where his father, George, ran a profitable bakery business until the Depression wiped him out. "He went from being a very successful man at age 26 to where he didn't have anything," Mauch recalls. "And he still had to put bread on the table for my mother, my sister and me." At first, George Mauch worked as a roughneck in the oil fields of central Kansas. "We lived in all those little towns," says Mauch. "Concordia, Hays, Dodge City, Schoen-chen, Ellis, Russell, Jetmore. Jetmore had 914 people, 910 when we left." On one night shift at the wells in the dead of winter, George Mauch's hands were so frozen to the rig that he had to be pried loose by his fellow workers.
In the summer, Gene and Jolene walked to school "carrying bologna sandwiches in brown paper sacks through dust so thick you couldn't see the sidewalk." In the winter they plodded through snow. One day, when Gene was 12 and his sister nine, they took a forbidden shortcut home on the banks of the Smoky Hill River in Salina. Jolene slipped and fell through the ice into the freezing water. Gene jumped in after her and struggled to get her ashore. The two made it to the bank and then slipped back in again. "We were like frogs climbing out of a well—we'd go three forward and two back." After what seemed like hours, they finally clambered to safety, but the experience remains riveting to Mauch. "We were nine and 12, and I thought that was as far as we were going to get."
"He called me Squeedunk back then," says Jolene. "He kept calling me that in the water. He was much more frightened than I, because this was his little sister and he was responsible. He was always responsible. I always felt I had three parents—my mother, my father and Gene. My brother was and is a unique personality. He intends to be good."
It wasn't long after this that George Mauch decided to move the family to California. He went first, living by his wits in Los Angeles as a "car chiseler," someone who buys cars from one party and sells them to another for a profit. Eventually, before his death at 49, he would become general manager of an auto dealership. After several months in L.A., George sent for his wife, Mamie, and Gene and Jolene. The children were anxious to move. "What the hell," says Gene, "I was never in one town long enough to become attached to anything. Besides, we weren't moving away from anything but a lot of dust."