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GENERAL’S RETREAT : Gene Mauch Battles Only the Fairways Now, But Baseball Still Beckons

Times Staff Writer

Gene Mauch’s tan, in case you’re wondering, has never been deeper. His one-iron never sharper. His view never better.

From the back porch of his new condominium, Mauch can move from one tea (iced) to another tee (the second) quicker than any trip to the mound at Anaheim Stadium. You figure he needs baseball the way an ulcer needs coffee.

It has been almost 14 months since Mauch, then haggard and beaten, stepped down as Angels manager and exiled himself to the desert, where he vowed under doctor’s orders to face the realities of Gene’s Addictions--cigarettes and baseball.

Mauch never stopped managing. Managing stopped him. It took 1,903 wins, 2,037 losses and a lingering cough to put it all in perspective. And Mauch finally has, he insists.

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“I’ve learned how to sleep again,” he said during a recent visit. “I feel super. I feel great.”

It’s only by chance that Mauch’s new residence looms in the shadow of the Betty Ford Center, though it serves as reminder that relapses--baseball or otherwise--are always just around the corner.

Mauch, 63, is learning to cope without his dearest friends, cigarette and baseball, though the breaks haven’t been clean.

“When I want a cigarette, I have it,” he said between puffs. “But there were times I’d have one cigarette in the ashtray, one in my left hand, then put one in my right hand and start to light it. Now I might go two hours after a meal before it even registers that I want a cigarette.”

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Years of chain smoking triggered the worst fears in March of 1988, when Mauch reluctantly stepped aside as manager and agreed to a series of medical tests that indicated nothing more serious than a bad case of bronchitis.

Unfortunately, there were no tests to measure what 26 years of major league managing had taken from him, though the toll was thought to be considerable given Mauch’s insistence that each game be played as a head-on collision--the fate of the world in its balance.

Mauch’s failure to accept the premise of baseball--that even the greatest teams are destined to lose the equivalent of two months worth of games each season--eventually drove him over the edge.

“You need such great resiliency to be a manager,” Mauch said. “Part of that I lost. You would think over the years you would realize that with 162 games, if you win 90 games, you win. But 72 times you die. (Once) I could handle it. But suddenly, every loss would lay in my stomach. I wasn’t able to bounce back from it.”

Over time, Mauch’s bounce has returned, though he now roams the desert as a Little General without an army. Giving up baseball may have been more difficult than giving up cigarettes, he admits, and you sense his baseball withdrawal will never be complete.

Remember, it took the mightiest fear of all--cancer--to pry Mauch from his dugout perch in the first place.

“When I left last year, it wasn’t, ‘Should I or shouldn’t I?’ ” he said. “I just had to.”

Mauch is feeling good enough to have perhaps forgotten how much baseball can hurt. His engine is purring again, and thoughts of lineup cards fill the air.

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For now, golf is his methadone--Mauch has a five-handicap and plays six days a week, sometimes twice a day.

He has been careful to stay out of harm’s way, lest anyone--Doug Rader especially--consider Mauch the threat others did after his resignation as Angels manager in 1982.

Mauch says he has been offered various front-office positions with the Angels, but so far has declined all offers. There’s only one job in baseball that interests him . . . managing.

“I had the best managing job in the world,” he said of his position with the Angels. “But if somebody called me, and they had a chance to win, yeah, I’d probably do it. When I left in 1982, I thought that was it--with all my heart. In ’83 and ’84, I was out, and I came back and managed again. But I don’t want just a job. If somebody thinks I can do a job better than anybody else, well all right.”

Mauch makes perfectly clear his feelings for Rader, whom he considers one of baseball’s bright young managing talents. Not that the Angels would disagree--the team is playing its best baseball since the division-leading days of 1986.

“He does some things better than I ever did, in that he delegates authority completely,” Mauch said.

Particularly when it concerns pitching and Angel Coach Marcel Lachemann.

“Maybe Lach knew as much or more about pitching than I did when I thought I was teaching him,” Mauch said. “I couldn’t turn things over completely to Lach, because I thought he was still in the learning process. But maybe he knew more than I did already. But I’ve never been able to do that. Doug does it better than I ever did.”

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No, Mauch hasn’t exactly been stranded out here on his oasis. Far from it. While staying out of public view, he has managed to monitor the pulse of the league and his former team.

Mauch spends about an hour each morning poring over box scores, trying to make sense of the numbers. You never know when a team might need a manager.

“I’ll spend 15 to 20 minutes analyzing the different clubs, wondering about their problems or what’s making them go so good,” Mauch said. “I’m having a lot of fun with the Angels right now, I know that.”

On a typical day, you’d find Mauch on the golf course by 7:30. After a morning round, he’ll usually grab a sandwich and an afternoon game on the satellite dish at the country-club lounge across the street. Followed, of course, by another 18 holes in the afternoon,.

“I get home at 4:30,” he said. “If the Angels are on the road, I’ll watch them on Channel 5. And if the Dodgers are home on Z Channel, I have some full days. Two rounds of golf, two ball games. No, it’s not hard. It’s about the only thing I know anything about anyway.”

Though the team is no longer his to manage, Mauch remains forever linked to the Angels. He’s a faithful follower and radio listener, though the ties are no doubt stronger than the average fan’s.

“I know every one of their emotions, what they’re going through right now,” Mauch said of his former players. “I know the ones who might be pressing or the ones going good. The misconception is that the manager doesn’t have any empathy or strong feelings for his players, and nothing could be further from the truth. Because the manager’s been one himself at sometime. He knows every one of their agonies, every happy feeling.”

The distance a manager tends to keep from his players is necessary to make tough decisions, Mauch says, not a reflection of true feelings.

Mauch has long resented those who have tried to climb inside his head for further examination, figuring two was always a crowd in his mind. But it’s difficult not to sense a softening in a former manager’s armor.

Mauch doesn’t feign ability to divorce a lifetime’s worth of friends and feelings.

“I know exactly when the Angels are on the road,” he said. “Lachemann and (Coach Bobby) Knoop, I know where they are at 11 in the morning. I know where they’re going to eat in Baltimore. I know where they’re going to eat in Boston. I know that one day they’re going to eat clam chowder. And when they get to Baltimore, I know they’re going down to the Italian restaurant. I know what time they’ll get to the ball park. I can see the little blond guy (attendant) in the clubhouse waiting for them. Some days you have to beat on the door. I know where they are all the time.”

Mauch says a few players still call occasionally, just to keep in touch. But Mauch remains very much in touch. The Angels are out of sight, but not mind.

A few early-season observations from a former chain-smoker:

--Where Have All The Nine-Inning Pitchers Gone?

Mauch was pondering this after last Wednesday night’s 3-2 loss to Detroit, a game in which starter Kirk McCaskill was relieved by Bryan Harvey with a 2-0 lead after pitching eight shutout innings. The Tigers rallied for three runs in the ninth to win.

Mauch isn’t questioning Rader’s strategy--he swears he would have made the same move to Harvey. Yet he wants to know what became of the dinosaurs who once finished what they started.

“Those are the things I sit around and wonder about,” he said. “But the game’s changed, and nobody’s going to change it back. . . . The day before yesterday (Thursday) (Bret) Saberhagen pitched the only complete game in the big leagues. So where the hell are they? I’m not arguing with it, but it’s just changed.”

Pitching changes are now made almost by formula, he says. Mauch recalled a certain American League championship series against Boston in 1986.

“It’s kind of like when I took (Mike) Witt out of the fifth game in the playoffs,” he said. “The two times Gary Lucas had pitched to (Rich) Gedman, he’d struck him out both times. The third time he hit him in the neck. The next time he pitched to him in Boston, he struck him out again. Unfortunately, he hit him in the neck the third time. Gedman had already hit a homer and double off Witt, so I understand. It’s the manager’s job to make those decisions and the reliever’s job to go do it.”

--Hey, Wasn’t Bob Boone a Pretty Good Catcher?

This in response to stories that the former Angel was afraid to call for inside pitches.

“All that kind of talk makes me laugh,” Mauch said. “When Boone missed the first month of the ’87 season, the pitchers said, ‘We’re doomed, we don’t have Boone anymore.’ Now Boonie’s left. Are they glad he’s gone or what? Those types of things are crap.”

--Lance Parrish and Claudell Washington were Great Acquisitions.

“They know how to play the late innings of a ball game,” Mauch noted. “By that, I don’t mean they get better. Parrish and Claudell don’t get better. But they can function the same. Some people hunch up a bit, but they’re capable of playing the same in the 10th inning as in the third, fourth and fifth.”

So much for Little General fading into the desert sunset.

“I miss 95% of the players so bad I can’t tell you,” he said.

So heads up, American League. Gene Mauch is alive and well. And watching.

“If somebody thought there was something I could do better than anybody else from now to the World Series, I’d probably go to work in a minute,” he said.


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