Make Way For The Mauchies

Thanks to Gene Mauch's return, the surprising Angels have the rest of the AL West reeling
May 19, 1985

In this era of Yuppies, Yumpies and Grumpies, baseball now offers its cross-generational Mauchies. They're gray-hairs and greenhorns, Hall of Famers-to-be and journeymen, whiz kids and sons of pro athletes and even a former forward from the Winnipeg Jets' hockey organization. "Are you surprised we're winning?" asks veteran Mauchies catcher Bob Boone, 37. "I'm not at all. I think we should be even further ahead." Old or young, these Mauchies are confident.

Manager Gene Mauch's California Angels should be. Even after a 2-3 performance last week, they were—to the surprise of many—on top in the American League West by two games over second-place Minnesota. They had the AL's top base stealer in daring centerfielder Gary Pettis and one of the best slam-the-door relievers in baseball in much-traveled righthander Donnie Moore. So what if six of their regulars average 36½ years of age, and their pitching staff includes four rookies and a pair of 24-year-olds? A chemistry is at work. "The older guys pass on all kinds of baseball knowledge to us," says reserve outfielder Mike Brown, 25, with a smile, "but I think we keep them young."

This is a watershed season in the 25-year history of the Angels, one marked by a basic change in approach. Gone from last season's 81-81 team, which faltered down the stretch, are six free agents, including Fred Lynn, Don Aase and Bruce Kison. Gone with them is California's tradition of signing every big-money free agent that owner Gene Autry could lasso. Autry's New Year's resolution was, as he put it, "to not sign any more $2 million ballplayers." In the off-season the only moves he and first-year general manager Mike Port made were to sign former Tiger outfielder-DH Ruppert Jones for a paltry $350,000 and to pluck Moore from the Braves in the compensation draft for the loss of Lynn. When four veteran pitchers suffered injuries earlier this season, the Angels actually turned to their farm system. In recent times they didn't have that luxury. "Our minor league system was down for a while, but it's been built back up with good scouting," says pitching coach Marcel Lachemann. "We've got talent that's on its way up."

And look at the All-Star talent that's still around. First baseman Rod Carew, 39, recovered from last year's pinched neck nerve, once again is spraying line drives and, at week's end, was 47 hits shy of 3,000. Reggie Jackson, who'll turn 39 this week, is back in rightfield after two off years as a DH. He was leading the team with seven homers, which brought him up to 510 lifetime, just one behind Mel Ott. Bobby Grich, 36, was batting .287 and playing second base "better than I ever have." Third baseman Doug DeCinces, 34, was parlaying his .219 average into an important 19 RBIs. Leftfielder Brian Downing, also 34, had the club's steadiest bat at .289.

Finally, after two restive years in the front office, 59-year-old manager Mauch is delighted to be back in the fray. "Obviously, we have a team made up of strong personalities—DeCinces, Jackson, Grich, Downing and the rest," he says. "But when we won the division title in '82 they blended into the best team personality I've ever seen. I wanted to be associated with that again."

Mauch's handling of Jackson has kept both men happy, and Reggie's .250 batting average through Sunday was better than last season's .223. "I guess when you DH, you get the feeling they think you can't do some things anymore," says Jackson. "I took it as a negative. It was like pinch-hitting four times a game. When you're playing in the field you're into the game more, mentally and physically. It's worked better for me."

While Jackson's play in right has been adequate—some struggles with fly balls, but nothing too damaging—most eyes have been on his neighbor in center, Pettis, an Angel farm product whose speed and spectacular defensive skills have awed the entire league. Pettis has flagged down seemingly sure triples, leaped to save homers, snatched would-be singles off his shoestrings. And he has made it all look easy. "It's hard to find someone better, ever," says Jackson. "He helps me as a rightfielder with his range. I depend on him. He's the best." Says Mauch, "There's nobody in baseball who can come close to playing centerfield with Gary. Nobody."

Pettis, 27, is a 6'1", 159-pound wisp of a switch hitter who stole 48 bases in 1984, his first full season in the majors. His league-high 20 as of Sunday—in 20 attempts—only hinted at his overall potential. As for his batting, hitting instructor Moose Stubing says, "We're trying to show him he can be a Willie Wilson-Matty Alou type."

Stubing and 1947 National League batting champion Harry (The Hat) Walker, now the coach at Alabama-Birmingham, worked with Pettis in the off-season in an effort to cut down his 115 strikeouts and boost his .227 average. "He was hitting more like a power hitter," says UAB assistant Gary Green. "Coach Walker showed him how to hit inside out, to wait longer and go with the pitch instead of trying to pull everything." Walker switched Pettis to a thick-handled bat for better control, and Stubing stressed the importance of simply reaching base.

"Say he just hits into a force," says Stubing. "He can steal second and score on a hit. That's the kind of thing that can win us games." Through Sunday, Pettis was batting .243 and had been on base in every game he had played except two—both of them losses.

Another second-year starter, 22-year-old shortstop Dick Schofield, has given the Angels such steady defense that they have abided his slow development at the plate. The son of the former major league infielder of the same name, Schofield had a tendency last year to hold his hands too high and wrap the bat too far behind his head. He hit .193 and struck out 79 times. This season he has ironed out those flaws, though a recent slump dragged him down to .215.

"I still have a lot to learn," Schofield says, but his polished glovework—the product of fielding "a million grounders" from his father as a youngster, according to his dad's count—made him the league's top-rated defensive shortstop last season. In a 6-1 loss to Boston last week, Schofield made a spectacular diving stab of an up-the-middle grounder and flipped the ball backhanded to second for a forceout. "He won't be an Ozzie Smith because he doesn't have Ozzie's speed, but he's just short of that," says Grich.

In contrast to the loose, ever-smiling Pettis, Schofield is reserved. Some Angels, however, have seen him gradually coming out of his shell. "He even told a joke this morning," said Grich one day last week. "I couldn't believe it. I don't even remember if it was funny—we all laughed anyway so he wouldn't be afraid to tell another."

Schofield has three teammates who can appreciate the pressures he faces as the son of a former athlete: Boone, whose father, Ray, was a major league infielder; rookie relief pitcher Urbano Lugo, whose dad, also named Urbano, was one of the most famous Venezuelan League pitchers ever; and righthanded starter Kirk McCaskill, another rookie. McCaskill, from the University of Vermont, signed a four-year, $350,000 contract with Winnipeg in 1983 as the first collegiate hockey player picked in the 1981 NHL draft. His father, Ted, played pro hockey for 18 years. Kirk opted for baseball after spending the better part of his one season in hockey riding a minor league bench.

Given this blend of ages and abilities—and a succession of injuries that hit DeCinces (back spasms) and Carew (foot bruise) and disabled pitchers Geoff Zahn (shoulder tendinitis), Ken Forsch (strained elbow), Frank LaCorte (calcium deposits in the shoulder) and Luis Sanchez (neck sprain)—Mauch, now in his 24th year of big league managing, has pulled all the right strings so far. His steady hand has brought along the young players, and his long acknowledged baseball acumen has held the respect of the veterans. "I don't know if I would use the word 'defer', an old goat like me, they defer to me a little," says Mauch gruffly.

Mauch resigned as California manager after the '82 season, partly to attend to his ailing wife, Nina Lee, who died of cancer in 1983. An intense worker, always scrutinizing and analyzing the baseball world around him, he found his separation from the game unsettling. He was suddenly an outsider. "I had never let myself become too friendly with the people I played against, and I started to regret that," says Mauch. "But you know, how can you be all friendly with someone and then go out and try to beat their brains out?" Considered the best manager never to win a pennant, Mauch hungered for another shot. "I had a formula that worked for so long—all baseball and maybe squeeze in a little fun," he says. "When I tried it the other way around, it just didn't work for me."

Mauch jumped at the Angels job when John McNamara left for the Red Sox last fall. He returned brimming with fresh ideas. One was to return Jackson to right. "I never considered Reggie a defensive liability in his great years," says Mauch. "He was an all-around ballplayer. All I knew was that after '81 the Yankees had figured he was through, by Reggie standards, and that he had come out and played rightfield for me the next year and hit 39 homers and driven in 101 runs. Then he'd had two off years as a DH. It seemed clear that he needed to be back in the field."

"Gene is amazing," says Lachemann. "What he does is so commonsensical...but nobody else would think of it. You're always learning from him."

The Angels turned in a couple of typically Mauch-heroic performances in Milwaukee on Friday and Saturday nights. On Friday, Jackson launched a three-run homer into the leftfield seats to help stake starter Ron Romanick to a 4-0 lead, and Boone squeeze-bunted Grich home for the winning run in a 5-4 win. In a 6-5 victory on Saturday, Jackson belted another opposite-field, two-run shot, and Juan Beniquez' single in the ninth inning brought home the game winner following a single and a sacrifice.

On Sunday, a two-run homer by Jones lifted California to a 3-0 lead, but Milwaukee came back to rake McCaskill and three relievers for 13 hits, and the Brewers went on to win 7-4. Jackson put on a good show nevertheless, rapping two hits and hustling like a rookie, especially when he barreled into Milwaukee second baseman Jim Gantner in a failed effort to break up a double play. Mauch, too, went down fighting, getting ejected for some heated arguing with the umpire.

Moore, who had not allowed a run in his last 13 appearances, got the save on both Friday and Saturday. Those performances lowered his ERA to 0.84 and gave him eight saves, only three shy of Sanchez' team-leading total of 11 for all of last season. On a staff that features such young talents as Romanick and Mike Witt (SI, April 22), Moore has been the real stopper. "If you had to narrow it down," says Mauch, "you'd have to say Donnie is the one most responsible for our success."

Moore, 31, didn't find much success in his first decade of pro ball, bouncing around among nine major and minor league clubs before catching on with the Braves in 1982. Only in '84 did he come into his own, after developing a split-fingered fastball to complement his fastball and slider. "He needed something off-speed," says former Braves manager Joe Torre, now an Angel broadcaster. "He was throwing the fastball and slider at the same speed. Bob Gibson [then an Atlanta pitching coach] worked with him on hitting the outside of the plate, too. He has such good control, he was throwing too many strikes—too many middle-of-the-plate strikes. But he's such a hard worker, it was just a matter of time before it would all come together." Says Moore, a burly, pleasant man who much prefers to talk about his team rather than himself, "Maybe I'm just a survivor."

If the Angels are to survive an AL West race with Minnesota, Chicago and Kansas City, they'll need good health, continued harmony and more of Moore. "When the going gets tough, that's when the veterans will come into play," says Jackson. "That will come later this season." Right now, the Mauchies are on the march.

PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIERPlaying the field makes Reggie a happier hitter. PHOTOTONY TOMSICJackson showed how much he's into the game physically as he tried to bust up a DP. PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIERMauch grew restive in the front office. PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIERValued chiefly for his defensive abilities, Schofield made a rare trip home on Sunday. PHOTOTONY TOMSICPettis, who stole 48 bases last season, has a league-high 20 steals and hasn't yet been caught. TWO PHOTOSTONY TOMSICMcCaskill (above) once skated with the NHL Jets; Moore was with the NL Braves. PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIERDowning, the team's most consistent hitter, is batting .289 with 18 runs muscled in. TWO PHOTOSHEINZ KLUETMEIERAngel graybeards Carew (left) and Grich, Downing and Jackson (below) are playing—and at times acting—like youngsters.