LOS ANGELES -- Gene Mauch, "the little general" who managed the California Angels, Philadelphia Phillies, and Montreal Expos to 1,901 wins, died Monday. He was 79.
Mauch died at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif., the Los Angeles Angels said, after a long battle with cancer. He had lived in the desert resort area since retiring.
A big league skipper for 26 years, Mauch was named National League manager of the year three times. He ranks sixth in baseball history with 3,938 games managed, and is 11th on the career victories list.
But Mauch was perhaps most famous for his teams' collapses. He was manager of the Phillies in 1964 when they led the NL by 6 1/2 games with 12 games remaining, but lost 10 in a row -- and the pennant -- to the St. Louis Cardinals.
He managed the Angels in 1986 when they were within one out of advancing to the World Series before blowing a three-run lead to Boston in Game 5 of the ALCS. The Red Sox won that game and two more to win the series.
Mauch also managed the 1982 Angels, who won the first two games in the best-of-five ALCS against Milwaukee before losing the final three.
"I don't think history will be as fair to him as it should be," said Tim Mead, the Angels' vice president of communications and a member of the organization since 1979. "He was brilliant. Gene Mauch could put together a game just by looking at the box score."
Rod Carew, who played for Mauch in both Minnesota and Anaheim, called the manager, "My favorite man."
"He's always been a special guy to me. He's the best I've ever played for, well ahead of anyone else," the Hall of Famer said.
Mauch was considered a master strategist with a deep understanding of the rules, who was constantly trying to find new ways to gain an advantage.
"He knew the game, he was half a step ahead of everyone else during a game," Carew said. "He was always prepared."
Other baseball people respected Mauch just as much.
"I have been around a lot of different personalities -- Walter Alston, Leo Durocher, Tommy Lasorda. I'd put Gene ahead of everybody in terms of knowing the game," said Preston Gomez, Mauch's third-base coach with the Angels for two seasons in the early 1980s.
"People only remember Gene because he never won," Gomez said. "He's one of the finest baseball minds I've ever been around. When you talk to anyone who played for him, managed against him, they're going to tell you what a great baseball mind he has. You could spend 24 hours talking baseball with him."
Mauch, a native of Salina, Kan., began his major league career in 1944 with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He played for nine seasons on six teams -- the Dodgers, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Chicago Cubs, the Milwaukee Braves, the Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox.
He was a mediocre player, with a career average of .239 and five home runs while playing mostly as a utility infielder. Mauch never had a regular starting role.
His most productive year as a big leaguer was his last in 1957, when he hit .270 in 222 at-bats for the Red Sox.
Mauch then found his niche as a manager.
His first job was with the Phillies in 1960. They went 58-94, but within two years Mauch would be named NL manager of the year after leading them to an 81-80 record in 1962.
He won the award again in 1964, the year of the Phillies' great disappointment. Mauch guided Philadelphia to a record of 92-70, his best as a manager until 1982 when his Angels went 93-69.
He left Philadelphia 54 games into the 1968 season.
In 1969 he was hired as the manager of the expansion Montreal Expos. Mauch stayed in Montreal for seven seasons and won his third and final manager of the year award in 1973 as he helped lift the lowly Expos to a 79-83 record and a fourth-place finish in the NL East.
Mauch joined the Minnesota Twins in 1976 and would spend the rest of his career in the AL. He was with the Twins until 1980, followed by two stints with the Angels, the first in 1981 and 1982 and the second from 1985-87.
One of Mauch's greatest collapses came at the end of his career, with the Angels' so-called "Donnie Moore" game.
With a 3-1 lead in games over the Boston Red Sox in the best-of-seven AL Championship series, the Angels held a 5-2 advantage going into the ninth inning of Game 5. Security guards lined the field, waiting for the crazed crowd that would flood the field when the inevitable Angels victory came.
After Mike Witt retired the first two batters, the Red Sox got a runner on before Don Baylor homered to make it 5-4.
Mauch pulled Witt and brought in left-hander Gary Lucas to face the left-handed hitting Rich Gedman, who was 4-for-4 against Witt in the game. Lucas hit Gedman with a pitch -- his first hit batter in four years -- and Mauch brought in Moore, his closer.
Henderson hit a two-run homer to put the Red Sox ahead 6-5.
The managerial moves, though they made sense, still were questioned years later.
The Angels tied the game again in the ninth but lost in 11 innings and then dropped the series when the Red Sox won two straight in Boston.
Moore never recovered from the game. He was soon out of baseball, and committed suicide in 1989.
Yankees manager Joe Torre was a television analyst for the Angels when they lost that series.
"I felt so badly in '86, I think we all did, not only for Gene Autry but for Gene Mauch, who has gone through a long career," Torre said. "I could still see it now, Reggie (Jackson) standing next to Mauch in the dugout waiting for the last out to be recorded. It wasn't to be.
"I don't think there's any manager who ever knew any more baseball than Gene Mauch."
Asked in recent years how often he thought about that 1986 disappointment, Mauch replied: "Only when guys have the temerity to ask about it."
Mauch was still following baseball closely when the Angels won the World Series in 2002, softening many of the team's ugly memories.
"I get so keyed up during these games," Mauch said during the Angels' playoff series against the Minnesota Twins in 2002. "All I did for 50 years was study the game day and night. And I will forever, for however long 'forever' is."
Mauch is survived by his wife, Jodie, and a daughter, Leanne. Funeral services were pending.