10/23/08 1:53 PM EST
Maddon had great mentor in Mauch
Rays skipper learned from one of baseball's best minds
Joe Maddon first met Mauch in the 1980s during Gene's first tour as manager of the California Angels.
Mauch obviously saw something special in the young Maddon, a struggling Minor League catcher who would never make it to the Major Leagues. As a player.
Now, as Maddon manages the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series he often recalls many of the lessons Mauch, who died in August 2005, instilled in him.
You can't find a better mentor.
I was a young, green-as-could-be reporter in the 1960s, and it was Mauch who went out of his way to teach me the nuances of baseball, the sport I thought I knew a lot about but really didn't.
You never walked away from Mauch knowing less about baseball than you did before. He made certain of that because he was baseball 24 hours a day.
He taught me to appreciate the cerebral part of managing.
I see a lot of Gene Mauch in Joe Maddon -- sometimes the unorthodox moves which are difficult to explain, the demanding, almost coaxing ability to get the most out of the young, enormously talented Rays, and his ability to reduce the most complicated issue to simplistic terms.
An hour after the Rays lost their first World Series game to the Phillies, 3-2, on Wednesday, I sat alone with Maddon in his Tropicana Field office and talked about the influence Mauch had on him.
It was well after midnight and maybe this wasn't the best time to look back to the early years that molded Maddon as one of baseball's best managers, but after we were deep into the conversation, I believe it helped soothe the excruciating loss.
"In 1981, 1982, I'd go to Spring Training with the Angels as a grunt. I'd throw batting practice and catch pitchers," Maddon said. "Gene would always want me to throw to the better hitters and really took care of me."
Outside his office, the Rays were going through their post-mortems engulfed by the huge media contingent.
Maddon glanced out through the door, content the situation was in hand.
My guess is he wondered how Mauch, who endured huge setbacks and never guided any of his four teams (Phillies, Expos, Twins, Angels) to the World Series, would handle this.
Maddon, out of Hazleton, Pa., was signed as a free agent catcher by the Angels in 1975. He bounced around the Minors for nearly five years before refocusing his career on scouting and ultimately managing.
Between 1984-93, he was the Angels' coordinator of the Arizona Instructional League.
"On occasion, Gene would throw little thoughts at me that stuck," said Maddon. "For example, and this one really stands out and has probably helped me the most here, he told me I had created a great atmosphere in the Instructional League in 1984. I had no idea what he was talking about, but he made me stop and think about it. He was talking about relationship building, organizational skills -- all the other outside peripheral things I was doing but didn't realize how important they were."
Strategy was another subject.
"The way I describe him is that he was dripping with common sense," said Maddon. "He saw the most simple things that most people missed. He would haphazardly tell me different items."
Tapping on his head, Maddon adds, "I can't remember them all, but I know they're in here and part of what I do. Primarily, he was a guy who reduced complexities into simple matters."
Early in his career, Mauch had the bullpens switched at Philadelphia's Connie Mack Stadium. Instead of having the Phillies bullpen down the foul line from their dugout, he wanted it down the other foul line.
"So I can look out from the dugout and see the pitchers warming up," he said.
It was Mauch who perfected the double-switch when he replaced a pitcher. If the pitcher was due up to bat in the next half-inning, he'd put a hitter in that spot so he could bat in the normal spot for the pitcher and not waste the pitcher if a pinch-hitter was needed.
"The thing that was misconstrued about Gene was that he had such a rough exterior," said Maddon. "People thought he was real gruff and not approachable. For me, he was just the opposite. He actually liked my sense of humor. He'd let me in his office all the time and we'd just talk about stuff."
Maddon spent 12 years in the Minor Leagues as a manager and instructor before he was promoted to the Angels as their bullpen coach in 1994. A year later, he became first-base coach, was interim manager three times, and was bench coach for 10 seasons before Tampa Bay hired him prior to the 2006 season.
He fine-tuned his skills under Angels skipper Mike Scioscia, another excellent mentor, the last six years there.
As this World Series picks up steam, I know before it's over I'll see moves that'll remind me of Gene Mauch.
Mauch would often become irritated if his pitchers threw strikes with an 0-2 count.
"Something else he loved was first-pitch breaking balls," remembered Maddon. "I've always liked that because it can pretty much set up an at-bat in favor of the pitcher.
"I just know the influence he had on me. The best way I can describe Gene Mauch for me is if he ever said anything I would never challenge the validity of it. You knew it was right."
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.