On Thursday, Charlie Manuel will pass Gene Mauch as the longest-serving manager in Phillies history, which is quite an accomplishment given the historically poor record the Phillies compiled until recent days. Manuel is not only the dean of Philadelphia team managers, but he is also unusual in that he has remained popular with a fan base known for its toughness and fickleness.
The two managers were vastly different characters. Mauch was the baseball sharpie, honed in the Leo Durocher image of knock down your mother if it means winning a game. Manuel is the good ol' country boy, a baseball lifer who bonds with his players. Most of Mauch's players were afraid of him. His postgame tirades were famous. Once, after the Phillies lost a game they should have won, he tossed the team buffet against the wall, splashing food over the clothes of some of the players.
Mauch is long forgotten today by Phillies fans. But he, too, was once the senior manager of Philadelphia sports franchises and also the most popular. If remembered at all today, he is linked forever to the greatest collapse in baseball history, the swoon of 1964, when his team blew a 6½-game lead with 12 games to play.
There was much more to Mauch, and he deserves to be better remembered.
He arrived in Philadelphia in April 1960, just after manager Eddie Sawyer announced that he was quitting. "I'm 49," Sawyer said. "I want to live to 50."
At 34, Mauch was the youngest manager in the majors. A brilliant student of the game, he took over the worst team in the major leagues, a team that had finished in the cellar for two consecutive seasons. Nicknamed the "Little General," he began the long process of revitalizing the Phillies. It wasn't easy. The Phillies finished last in each of the next two seasons, losing 206 games, including a record-breaking 23 in a row in 1961.
Beginning in 1962, Mauch began molding a successful team built around young players such as Chris Short, Johnny Callison, Tony Taylor, and Cookie Rojas. Adding superstars like Dick "Don't Call Me Richie" Allen and Jim Bunning, the Phillies became one of the best teams in the National League. Much of the credit went to Mauch.
He platooned aggressively, always seeking an edge. When a Houston catcher chased a foul ball into the Phillies dugout, Mauch knocked the ball out of his hand, an action that was legal but forced a rules change. He moved the Phillies bullpen to right field so a coach could signal when a ball was going to hit the wall or be caught. He is often credited with introducing the double switch.
Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson once summed up the attitude of managers regarding Mauch: "If you had the best club, you had a chance to beat him; if he had the best, you had no chance; if the clubs were even, he had the advantage."
Mauch's style of play won over the victory-starved Phillies fans, who flocked to the old Connie Mack Stadium, setting a franchise attendance record of 1.4 million in 1964. Mauch won the coveted Wanamaker Award, given to the athlete who contributed the most to the city, and he was twice named National League manager of the year.
It all turned sour in the unforgettable 10-game losing streak of 1964. The team of destiny suddenly couldn't do anything right. Sure-handed fielders made errors, hitters went cold, and Mauch was left with just two reliable pitchers: Short and Bunning. Always the gambler, he tried to squeeze victories from their tired arms, but failed.
The letdown after the collapse took a terrible toll in the city. I believe the reputation of Philadelphia's fans expecting the worst, of being reluctant to give their hearts to a team, is rooted in that year's collapse. It left a scar that even the Flyers' two Stanley Cups, the Dr. J.-led 76ers' NBA title, and even the 1980 World Series couldn't erase.
It took Charlie Manuel's reign as manager, and the World Series victory of 2008, to lift that monkey off the town's shoulders. But in celebrating Manuel's record performance, let's not forget Gene Mauch. He never won the World Series he yearned so much for, but he gave Philadelphia eight years of some of the best, most exciting baseball the city has seen.