Plenty has been written about former baseball manager Gene Mauch, one of the winningest mangers in baseball with more than 1,900 wins, but who also had more than 2,000 losses, including an epic collapse with the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies that has attracted a lot of spilled ink over the years.
But in reading about Mauch, a three-time winner of the Associated Press’ Manager of the Year award, I was stunned to see how little, outside of the local press, has been written about Mauch’s time with the Twins. Even the Society for American Baseball Research devotes all of three sentences to his tenure in the Twin Cities.
Calvin Griffith selected Mauch to command the 1976 Minnesota Twins. With contact hitter extraordinaire Rod Carew, the Twins seemed to be a team to fit Mauch’s little-ball scheme. Yet, in his five years the club never got to the top of the American League West Division.
And that’s it. Was his time in Minnesota no more memorable than that?
Mauch was hired by the Twins on Nov. 25, 1975, shortly after being fired by the Montreal Expos, a team he had demonstrably improved after they lost 110 games in 1969.
“I’ve got no promises to make except we’ll be fundamentally sound as I can possibly make the club and we’ll play with as much enthusiasm and intelligence as possible every day of the season,” he told the Minneapolis Tribune.
The hitting fundamentals were not a problem, particularly with Rod Carew in his prime. In 1976, the Twins led the American League in team batting average, runs and hits. Pitching was not quite as strong — team ERA dropped them to 10th in the AL — and, if I’m reading this correctly, they were a disaster in the field, committing 172 errors, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
Still, they finished 85-77 in his first year at the helm, including a second-half record of 46-33. They went 18-8 in September. In 1977, the Twins embarked on a similar campaign. Once again they led the AL in team batting average, team ERA fell to 12th, but they reduced their errors in the field to 144 and held onto first place for 56 games. And then August turned to September and the Twins began to lose, and the losing streak — the ill-timed losing streak that had dogged Mauch throughout his managerial career — was about to begin. The Twins went 7-18 in September and never recovered.
One of those early September losses was to old foe the New York Yankees, a 4-0 defeat that had punctuated a turnaround for the Yanks. Bickering players had grabbed headlines during the first half of the season, but then New York had won 24 of their next 27 games.
“Winning will overcome dissension,” Mauch told the Minneapolis Tribune. “It’s not doomsday. It’s up to us,” he said, pointing out the Twins still had five games left with the division-leading Kansas City Royals.
Then the Twins lost 4-3 to the Texas Rangers to start a six-game losing streak, the longest of the season. After the game, Mauch “muttered about bases on balls and missed sacrifice bunts.” He also had to have a chat with Twins player Lyman Bostock after he chose to ignore a stop sign at third base and was thrown out at home, according to the paper.
Needing a win against the Royals, the Twins lost 6-3 instead, pushing them farther back in the standings.
“It will take one unbelievable super stretch of baseball to do us much good now,” said Mauch to the paper after the loss.
The Twins finished 1977 at 84-77. They were 73-89 in 1978, 82-80 in 1979 and fell to 54-71 in 1980 when Mauch decided to resign.
“I hate the word ‘quit’ and I want to avoid using it,” he told the paper. “I just think it might be better for the players to hear from a different manager under a less-intense atmosphere than I represent.”
-And then there was this:
Pitchers and catchers were supposed to report today.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) February 15, 2022