SI Vault
Ron Fimrite
October 07, 1985
So says the Angels' Gene Mauch, who after almost 24 years as a major league manager is still chasing his first pennant
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October 07, 1985

'a Man Has To Care'

So says the Angels' Gene Mauch, who after almost 24 years as a major league manager is still chasing his first pennant

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"My parents were...well...just like two people going steady," says Leanne Epling, now 35, sitting in the living room of her farmhouse outside Sacramento. "In all my years of growing up, I never heard them really upset with each other. Oh, he would get upset when Mom called him cute. 'I'm not cute!' he'd shout. But he was—and is—such a handsome man. He was always a changed person when he got home from the ball park. We didn't do a lot of things outside the house because he just liked being with the two of us, although we did see a lot of Jolene's family. Big Roy would play the ukulele and we'd all sing together. We had good times together."

"Nina Lee was my idol," says Jolene. "She was cute and pretty and sweet and giving and enormously strong. And I'd ruin my brother's reputation if I told you how tender and caring he is."

Not long after Mauch left the Angels, Nina Lee fell ill. She seemed to recover, but then on April 6, 1983, the family was informed that she had a melanoma, a usually fatal form of cancer. She told her husband that she was sorry because she knew how hard this was going to be on him. Four months later she died, five months before what would have been the couple's 38th wedding anniversary. Mauch had known it was coming, but he couldn't control his response. "Everything else in his life had been planned," said his daughter. "This was suddenly humbling. Now nothing mattered to him. Everything he had worked for seemed meaningless. He was a wreck."

"He'd never tell you it was a depression, because he hates words like that, but that's what it was," says his sister. "He'd lost interest in everything. He never dreamed he'd be left alone. I didn't know if he'd ever come back from it. I remember thinking he'll die a bitter old man. He kept asking, 'Why?' Why should this happen to someone who was so good? Well, I told him I'd always been a good girl, and I lost a daughter when she was only eight. I told him he was negating everything that Nina Lee lived for. I told him she wanted him to continue to be the man she loved." Jolene smiles sadly. "Well, if there's one characteristic that typifies my brother it's his resiliency. It was a matter of time."

In mid-September of '83, Bavasi asked Mauch to rejoin the Angels as director of player personnel, a job he had originally held in 1981 before taking over as manager for the first time. It's a position Mauch had always considered a sinecure, a way of "stealing money." He took it. if for no other reason than to get out of the house, but he found it impossible under the circumstances to become even remotely involved with the team. He had lost the will to care about anything.

Mauch commuted to the ball park in 1984 from Rancho Mirage, an hour and 40 minutes away. He would take his seat in the rear of the press box and sit there silently through a game, a forbidding, gloomy, unapproachable presence. But toward the end of that season, his love of baseball began to tug at his grief. It was a gentle pull at first, but with the Angels in the pennant race again he felt a stirring inside, a rekindling of old fires.

The Angels were playing in Kansas City the last week of the '84 season, and Mauch surprisingly made the trip with the team. The Angels still had a mathematical shot at the division title, so the games were critical. It was also understood in the front office at that time that manager John McNamara did not plan to return for 1985. Mauch took up his seat in the rear of the press box. As always, he was left to himself. But something was happening to him. Late in a close game. Willie Wilson hit a sharp ground ball to second baseman Bobby Grich. Rod Carew was late covering first, so Grich held up his throw for an agonizing moment as Wilson, one of the game's swiftest runners, sped down the line. Then, from the rear of the press box there came a mighty roar, a sound familiar to any who had been with this team for a while. "Throw the goddamned ball!" There was a surging urgency to that cry. It was compelling. Heads turned in astonishment to where Mauch, silent these many months, was sitting. But he was already on his way to the door. He wasn't going anywhere. He was coming back. "A man," he says, "has to care. Or he's nothing."

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