Buzzie Bavasi, president and GM of the California Angels, once said of Gene Mauch, who was his manager at the time: “He has the wisdom of Connie Mack and the toughness of John McGraw.”
While that was most certainly an overstatement, Mauch was a very good manager, probably the best in baseball history who never won a pennant. He came infamously close to winning pennants three times, each time losing in heartbreaking fashion.
In 1964, when he was only 38 years old, Mauch’s Philadelphia Phillies were in the driver’s seat with a 6 1/2 game lead with two weeks left in the season. Then, his team lost 12 of 13 and watched the St. Louis Cardinals snatch the pennant from them. Mauch was criticized for starting his top two pitchers (Jim Bunning and Chris Short) eight times in 11 days.
With the Halos in 1982, Mauch won the AL West division title in easy fashion and then saw his team win the first two games of the playoffs against the Milwaukee Brewers. Needing one more win to advance to the World Series, Mauch used veteran starter Tommy John on three days rest in Game Four and lost. In Game Five he trotted out Bruce Kisson, also on just three days rest. The Brewers came back to win that game in the late innings to win the flag.
In 1986, in the most heart-wrenching moment of Mauch’s long career, his Angels were within one strike of getting to the World Series when they led in the top of the ninth inning of Game Five of the playoffs against the Boston Red Sox. Unfortunately, Dave Henderson belted a go-ahead home run to stun the crowd at the Big A, and even though the Angels tied the game in their share of the ninth, the Sox won it in the 11th. California lost the next two games and their season was over. Mauch received much criticism for pulling ace Mike Witt in the ninth inning while still leading by a run in Game Five.