Posts Tagged ‘Gene Mauch’

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Reggie Jackson

December 10, 2012

reggie

(This post originally appeared on The Classical.)

Evidence

Two: Mr. October

The Donnie Moore card has been on my desk for several days, waiting to be made sense of. Beside it is a small fragment of another baseball card. I recently fished the fragment out of my son’s mouth. He’s fifteen months old, which means I’m fifteen months into a new life, one more splintered and doubtful than what preceded it, more overpowered by love. He has a basket of 2011 baseball cards that we play with in the evenings. Most of the creased, beaten cards are of currently active players, and I’ve been surprised at how many of them I’d never heard of, more evidence that I’m falling away from the times with the slow but irreversible momentum of an untethered spacewalker. But mixed in are some cards featuring older players achieving milestones. Ernie Banks, Willie Mays. When I fished the fragment out of my son’s mouth, it took perhaps a second to process the limited clues available and recognize it as being from one of these “legend” cards. I could tell from the California Angels batting helmet, the wire-rimmed spectacles, and the gaze trained on the far distance that my son had bitten off a piece of Mr. October.

Mr. October got his name for his apparent ability to play spectacularly well when the games mattered the most. The narrative truth of this rests on his iconic three-homer game in the clincher of the 1977 World Series. He had paved the way for this moment to be a mythic apotheosis by anchoring three World Series championships with the A’s, and he added luster to its magic by again performing spectacularly well in a 1978 World Series win. His exploits, and the outsized personality that went with them, seemed to illustrate the notion that some guys are able to rise to a higher level during big moments.

It’s true that Mr. October’s career World Series numbers are phenomenal: In 27 career World Series games, he had a .357 batting average, a .457 on-base percentage, and a .755 slugging percentage). But if his ability to play better in crucial moments was truly unshakeable, why wouldn’t he have also hit well during his appearances in the American League Championship Series? In 45 games with the pennant at stake, he posted these anemic numbers: .227/.298/.380. Overall, his total postseason numbers suggest a slight increase in performance over his career numbers (in 77 postseason games, he had a .278 batting average, a .358 on-base percentage, and a .527 slugging percentage, all a little higher than his regular season splits of .262/.356/.490). The slight superiority of those postseason numbers could easily be attributed to most of his postseason appearances coming during the prime of his career, when his overall regular season numbers were higher, too.

These findings, if you can call them that, are in line with the general conclusions of all inquiries into the notion of “clutch” performance: Basically, as a sample size increases and thus becomes a more fully supported representation of reality, any seeming evidence of clutch performance tends to recede, if not disappear altogether. It seems a decent bet that Mr. October would dismiss this suggestion that his clutch abilities are imaginary, that he believed and still believes that he was in possession of a certain magic unavailable to his peers.

When I think of Mr. October as an Angel, I see him in a moment seemingly designed to demonstrate that magic, if it exists, is so migratory and random in nature as to be entirely beyond the grasp of human hands. He is in the dugout beside Angels manager Gene Mauch in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 1986 American League Championship Series, the Angels seemingly assured a pennant. In my memory, Mauch, who previously presided over the monumental collapse of the 1964 Phillies, is not smiling, but Mr. October beams broadly, winningly. He has removed his glasses, anticipating a pennant-winning victory scrum in which he apparently hopes not to have his glasses damaged. Some events transpire. Mr. October’s smile constricts. The game is once again in doubt. Mr. October puts his glasses back on.

(to be continued)

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Barry Foote

March 2, 2011

According to the Gods: a 2011 Team-By-Team Preview

Philadelphia Phillies

In 1973, Montreal Expos manager Gene Mauch, quoted in a Baseball Digest article on the league’s best catchers, referred to Barry Foote as “the next Johnny Bench.” Foote appeared in his first few games that season, then made the Topps all-rookie team the following year, logging promising stats for a 22-year-old rookie catcher in a pitching-dominated era: 11 home runs, 61 RBI, .262 batting average. But that’s about as far as things went toward a realization of Gene Mauch’s foray into fortune-telling. In his second full season, Foote’s average dipped to .194. His numbers climbed from disastrous to mediocre in 1976, but in 1977 Gary Carter took over the Expos’ catching duties, and Foote was shipped to the Phillies, where he hung around on the bench behind the starter, Bob Boone, and also behind Steve Carlton’s personal backstop, Tim McCarver. He got a post-season at-bat with the Phillies in 1978 (he struck out), then in 1979 after a trade to the Cubs he got one more chance as a regular, and he did pretty well, smacking a career-best 16 home runs. Two years later, with the Yankees, he got an at-bat in the World Series (he struck out). All in all, not a bad career, the kind of thing, really, that most of us can only approach in our wildest dreams: an entire decade in the major leagues. And he wasn’t just standing around in a warmup jacket with a bat on his shoulders the whole time. He hit some dingers, got a taste of the post-season, logged an admirably thick, full entry into the swinging ’70s parade of baseball mustaches. And in the midst of it, as shown in this 1978 card, Barry Foote even seemed to be enjoying himself, despite his recent fall in status to third-string catcher. So, in terms of what all this means for the purposes of using a randomly selected piece of cardboard from the past to see into the flesh and blood of the future, I predict that there will be good moments and enjoyment for the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies, but the sky-high hopes for the team, predictions of historical greatness abounding, will make those shoulders slump a little off to the side, like The Next Johnny Bench in this 1978 card, as if in an attempt to casually shuck the weight of almost impossible expectations. Weight like that, no matter what you do, tends seep under the skin and harden into disappointment.

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How to enjoy the 2011 baseball season, part 3 of 30: Read Peter Schilling Jr.’s 2008 novel, The End of Baseball. The book, the best baseball novel I’ve read in a long time, brilliantly imagines an alternative history in which Bill Veeck, during World War II, purchases the Philadelphia Athletics and stocks the team entirely with Negro League stars such as Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Martin Dihigo. 

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2011 previews so far:
St. Louis Cardinals; New York Mets

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