Exits of Martin and Mauch show vulnerability of baseball pilots -- even if they win
Probably because their game-to-game strategy is so visible when it doesn't work, baseball managers are tremendously vulnerable to the second guess. Most accept it as an occupational hazard, but none of them likes it.
In this precarious situation, losing is almost certain to result in a quick exit - and even winning is no guarantee of lengthy employment. By way of illustration, one need look no further than the American League West, where the last two managers to win the title, Gene Mauch and Billy Martin, are ''between jobs'' at the moment.
Martin was fired after his 1982 Oakland team failed to measure up to the one that won the division crown a year ago. Mauch resigned under pressure after his California Angels, up 2-0 in the best-of-five playoffs that would have put them in the World Series, lost three straight to Milwaukee.
What happened to the two men was not new to either of them.
Martin, who became Oakland manger two years ago, has now been dismissed by five teams, including Minnesota, Detroit and Texas, plus twice by the New York Yankees. He needs only one more managing job with a different team to tie Jimmy Dykes's modern major league record.
Mauch had been fired before by Philadelphia and Montreal, and quit as manager of the Minnesota Twins in 1980, saying he no longer wanted to pilot a team that had little chance of becoming a contender.
Gene was clearly upset with the size of the moth collection in the wallet of owner Calvin Griffith, who was allowing many top players to become free agents rather than pay them super salaries. This, at least, was one problem he didn't have to worry about in Anaheim under the free-spending regime of Gene Autry.
In Mauch and Martin the baseball world is dealing with two extremely strong personalities. I tried to talk earlier this season with Gene about the importance of baseball percentages - how reliable they are in his opinion and under what conditions they should be ignored.
''My percentages are different from yours because you are not a baseball man, '' Mauch told me. ''If I tried to explain my decisions, you wouldn't be able to grasp what I was talking about. You can't know the players in my clubhouse the way I do, and that's the basis most of the time on how I make up my mind.''
What got Gene into touble in this year's American League playoffs was the same inflexibility that cost him the 1964 National League pennant as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. Philadelphia that year had a six and a half game lead with 12 to play, but lost 10 in a row in the final days of the season and finished second.
Mauch is still being criticized 18 years later for pitching a weary Jim Bunning and Chris Short 13 times in the Phillies' final 20 games while ignoring relief ace Jack Baldschun. With their normal amount of rest between starts, Bunning and Short might have won the necessary games to bring Philadelphia a pennant.
In this year's version, after Tommy John and Bruce Kison won the first two playoff games, Mauch employed much the same sort of strategy - using Geoff Zahn in Game 3, then coming back with John and Kison in the last two contests.
Critics questioned the idea of bringing back a tired John (age 39) after only three days' rest. Instead Mauch could have used Ken Forsch, who led the Angels in shutouts during the season. Then if it did go to a fifth game he would have had a well-rested John backed up by Kison if needed.
Some also questioned the choice of Zahn, who had been treated roughly by the Brewers all season, in Game 3.
In defense of Mauch, nine times during a 22-year managerial career he won 80 or more games with teams that were not considered that strong. Even his '64 club in Philly had been picked for fourth. He certainly is not thought of as a loser by his peers and, if he were to put himself back on the market as a manager, he'd probably have a job before the end of the week.
After he resigned, Autry and General Manager Buzzie Bavasi three times asked Gene to reconsider, although earlier Autry had told reporters that California, in his opinion, had blown the playoffs.
Martin, who knows as much about assembling and running a baseball team as anyone in the game, has always been his own worst enemy. His managerial stops usually run to a pattern - two years during which he turns mediocre teams into winning ones and then the inevitable breakup - usually triggered by a power struggle with ownership. Often Billy seems to discover players in his clubhouse that he cannot get along with.
Oakland probably would have kept Martin anyway, however, if the ownership hadn't begun to sense that he was losing the control he once had over the club. It is virtually impossible for anyone, including Billy, to maintain discipline among players when the manager sometimes shows up late or leaves before the game is over.
Several reports claim that Martin, near the end of the season, missed his pre-game radio show on three successive days. There were also rumors that when he tried to get his contract renegotiated during the season and was rejected, he blew up and wrecked his ballpark office.
Yet Martin's managerial career is undoubtedly not over. With just a small concession on his part he probably could have had the job at Cleveland last week. But there's always the possibility that Billy's turn-down was calculated; that he won't move anywhere until he is sure Owner George Steinbrenner won't bring him back yet another time to the Yankees.