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Maybe what they were saying about Gene Mauch mellowing was true after all, for there he was, stretched beneath the afternoon sun wearing nothing but his undershorts and looking for all the world, his unconventional attire aside, like some middle-aged layabout catching a few rays at Malibu. Could this inert sunbather possibly be the same human dynamo whose intensity has always been so palpable that, according to one of his former pitchers, Bruce Kison, you didn't have to see him staring at you, "You could feel it on your back"?
Well, appearances can be deceiving. Mauch wasn't on any beach; he was just outside the visitors' dugout down the first base line at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. And he wasn't sunbathing; he was sweating. "I love to sweat," he explained. "I love the feel of it." It was a good day for sweating—99° and air so thick you could see it. And Mauch wasn't just lazing about letting his mind meander along frivolous pathways. His statistical charts were at his side, and he was conjuring up ways for his California Angels to clobber the Orioles that night.
Mauch's busy manager's mind is never ever at rest, for that matter. It is a beehive aswarm with statistics and stratagems, situations and alternatives. Charlie Metro, an old baseball hand, once said of him, "You can outpersonnel Gene Mauch, but there's no way you can out-maneuver or outslick him." Or outwork him. Mauch was out there sweating and thinking in the ball park on that brutally hot September day a full seven hours before the game was to begin. That's normal for him. Anything short of an 11-hour workday seven days a week is considered criminal indolence. His wife, Nina Lee, once said of him, "There's no doubt in my mind that if Gene were single, he'd sleep at the park. He'd move in, in fact, and live there the year round." Once again, as he has so relentlessly in the past, Mauch is flogging an undermanned and overmatched team to exceed itself in a pennant race. "He's doing it with mirrors." even the reporters covering the team say. The Angels were picked by preseason forecasters to finish no higher than fourth in the American League West. This very magazine rated them 24th among the 26 major league teams. But with Mauch shuffling the aged and infirm, the beardless and the incompetent, in and out of his constantly fluctuating lineup—145 different orders in 155 games—the Angels were poised at the top of the AL West with a week to go.
The Angels are dead last in the American League in hitting. They will finish the season without a top 10 hitter, a 100-RBI man, or a 20-game winner. But they will shine in two areas their cerebral manager swears by, defense (the Angels are second in the AL in fielding) and one-run victories (they are 29 and 13). They're also good at coming back from a trouncing. Eleven times this season opposing teams have blown them out by scoring 10 or more runs. Nine times the Angels have come back the next day to win. "The job he's done keeping that team in first place is just unbelievable," says infielder-DH Roy Smalley III of the Minnesota Twins, who is Mauch's nephew and hardly an unbiased observer but nevertheless reflects sentiments heard around the league, even on Mauch's own team.
Mauch is considered even by his severest critics to be probably the game's most astute and daring tactician, a manager who will try anything anytime and yet never without some contemplation of the consequences. Against Baltimore last month he used five infielders and two outfielders in a bases-loaded, no-out ninth-inning situation. The gamble failed when the Orioles' Mike Young drilled the game-winning hit past the first baseman. But there is no question that Mauch, who never joins the finicky multitudes that second-guess him, will try it again if the circumstances arise. "It takes a good manager and a gutsy manager to think of it and use it," said Baltimore manager Earl Weaver afterward.
For the most part, Mauch's gambits and ploys, conventional and off-the-wall, have been successful this year. "Just look at the one-run games," says his former general manager, Buzzy Bavasi, now retired. "Walter Alston always said that a good manager wins the one-run games." Still, it is outside the white lines where Mauch, who has never been known to be especially chummy with his players, seems to have found himself. The old Mauch could be a chilly presence.
"You'd walk by him in the hotel lobby and he wouldn't even look at you, let alone say hello," says Cleveland Indians manager Pat Corrales, who caught for Mauch when he managed the Phillies in the '60s. "He was from the old school, a real hardnose. He could intimidate you without ever opening his mouth." Mauch is, by all accounts, a changed man. After a two-year hiatus and a crushing personal trauma, he has come back to the Angels as a more compassionate and, yes, mellow human being—although no one would hazard suggesting that to his face.
"We have superstars on this team who aren't great players anymore," says Reggie Jackson, who calls Mauch the Prime Minister instead of the customary Little General because "it has more class." Mauch let Jackson, a DH the past few seasons, play in the outfield for much of the early season, and Jackson feels it rejuvenated his career. "Gene respects his stars," he says. "I know I've been handled right. My ego has changed, but I've still got one, and he's recognized that. I think since he's come back he's better able to see the big picture."
"He's the best prepared of all the managers I've played for," says Doug DeCinces, who played for Weaver in Baltimore. "Playing against him you get a whole different view of him. You see him in that opposite dugout as this arrogant little commander. But his approach is positive, so much so that I feel like I'm letting him down when I can't play or when I haven't played well."
"He's the perfect manager," says Jackson. "He communicates, he disciplines, he fires up young players, he fires up stars. No player beats him to the ball park. He's all baseball. He's the perfect manager. Except he hasn't won."