Mazmanian's alms shaped illustrious careers
Legendary fixture taught game to wide range of baseball minds
The late Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson thought of him as a mentor, and the person who shaped the most important parts of his life.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia thinks of him as a great source of baseball knowledge and invites him to Spring Training each year to help guide his team in the fundamentals of the game.
And now, two of the new managers in the Major Leagues -- Ron Roenicke of the Milwaukee Brewers and Don Mattingly of the Los Angeles Dodgers -- will apply the lessons they learned from a man who helped shape their careers during their teenage years.
In all likelihood, you haven't heard the name -- especially if your focus has been on the Major League level.
On the other hand, those who have been honored to be a part of the game and have encountered him will never forget the contributions of the remarkable Art Mazmanian.
With the recent passing of Anderson and the announcements of Roenicke and Mattingly becoming big league managers, my thoughts turned to the 83-year-old Mazmanian, and I decided to check in with my long-time friend.
His daughter, Nancy, warned me I probably couldn't reach him by telephone until the early evening because he is busy in the late afternoon.
When I reached Mazmanian, he had just returned from the baseball field at South Hills High School in West Covina, Calif.
It is the baseball field where Mazmanian has spent almost all of his life. He can't remember a time when he wasn't in love with the game.
His role with the high school team is honorary, but he is there to teach -- not just watch or tell stories of long ago.
It is the teaching of the game, and the lessons of life as related to the game, that Mazmanian does best. He has influenced hundreds of players, coaches and managers.
Some of those he touched and influenced reached greatness, like Anderson, but that never has been the way Mazmanian looked at his role or his legacy. Anyone who has loved the game has had a friend in Mazmanian.
When Anderson passed away, there were many stories of tribute to his great career as a manager with Cincinnati and Detroit.
Anderson always gave the credit for his success as a manager to his players. When it came to his own life, Anderson made it clear it was Mazmanian who was his most treasured mentor.
Anderson was the featured speaker when the field at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif. was named in honor of Mazmanian four years ago. Mazmanian coached at the junior college for 31 years, spending his summers managing rookie teams in professional baseball for several Major League organizations.
Anderson recalled his 60-year relationship with Mazmanian, going back to the time when he was the batboy for the University of Southern California when Mazmanian played second base.
"I've never been around a person that was so dedicated in his life, in his family and in his work," Anderson said.
"If you can find another person like him, I want to know who it is. He's the best I'd ever seen as far as being a human being ... there can't be no better, there can't be. It's impossible.
"He showed me how to be a person. All that other stuff don't mean nothing."
Roenicke, who played for Mazmanian at Mt. SAC, said of his coach at the dedication ceremony: "The teachings he provided was really about how we should live, how we should go about our jobs, go about the game we play. You play as hard as you can, but you play it clean. You don't cheat, you don't lie. When you're with people with character like that, it makes you want to be like him."
Like Roenicke, Mattingly was just a teenager when he first encountered Mazmanian. The New York Yankees Drafted Mattingly in 1979 and sent him to Class A Oneonta of the New York-Penn League, where Mazmanian was the manager.
Even though Mattingly was a 19th-round Draft choice, Mazmanian showed confidence in the 18-year-old left-handed hitter and sent a report to the Yankees declaring the youngster a definite Major League prospect. Mattingly never forgot the support of the first manager in his long and distinguished playing career.
Mazmanian had his own dreams of being a Major League player for the Yankees, but they never materialized. He was a two-time All-American at USC and signed with the Yankees in 1949, but he never climbed higher than the Triple-A level before retiring in 1954.
He returned to his roots as the coach of the Dorsey High School team in Los Angeles, where he had played, and spent 13 years as a high school coach before beginning his tenure at Mt. San Antonio College in 1968.
Mazmanian spent 18 seasons as a manager at the Rookie and Class A short-season levels for five different organizations while coaching high school and junior college baseball.
"I can never remember a time when I didn't want to be involved with the game of baseball," Mazmanian said. "I love being back and working with high school kids.
"Some of these young men have the chance to play professional baseball."
The coach should know. More than 100 of his players signed professional contracts.
And all of his players learned lessons about life, family and work ethic. You can take it from his dear friend, the late Sparky Anderson.
Fred Claire was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, serving the team as Executive Vice-President and general manager. He is the author of "Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue." This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.