Gene Mauch Lives in Jerry Narron’s Head

Reading comments about managers I decided two things,

1. That the consideration of managers was one of the most backward, most cliché-ridden and least valuable discussions within the sports forum.


2. I‘m not helping.

Bill James 1985

One common thread in the game is that most managers are not innocent bystanders, they participate in the game and like chess baseball is a silent game that each manager asserts that his teams manner of winning is the best method to win games.

And it’s in this that we as fans are constantly doing battle with, it’s something that every manager brings to the table and every manager leaves a mark as well.

The difference between Gene Mauch and Earl Weaver is that Earl Weaver believes in platooning as a strategy and Gene believes it platooning as a religion.”

Bill James
Esquire 1981

Wednesday afternoon the Reds wrapped up the top of the ninth inning with a pinch hitter, Juan Castro stepped in for Josh Hamilton against left hander Alan Embree. Throughout the Reds fan base a ripple could be heard as the paradigm was once again shifted, could this be?

Could Jerry Narron have actually just done that?

Especially perplexing was that Hamilton had hit a home run earlier that day, even more perplexing I that Juan Castro easily rats as one of the worst hitters vs. the league average in the history of the game (2000 ab’s).

Over at Redleg Nation folks still were perplexed a day later

When asked Narron offered this tidbit to the press.

“Two outs, nobody on, trying to get a right-handed hitter up there, Castro is 1-for-1 lifetime against him. If there was someone on base, I’d have given Josh a chance to whack it out of the ballpark. I’m just trying to get something going any way we can.”

Managing a baseball game is just part of the job, but the personality of the good clubhouse guy doesn’t seem to generate the same personality of the tactician, baseball on a whole is not usually like running an NFL offense or floating and shifting lines in the NHL, it’s not a by the seat of the pants endeavor, it’s chess, plodding, give and take moments and the time that thought gets to meander around in brings in personal feelings, experience and doubt into each decision before it’s made.

Thus often the ego of the decider overpowers logic and strangles it in the river of irrational thought.

When thrust into the decision mode we often lean on our experience and with experience in baseball comes quirks and styles. The Reds have been saddled with two Gene Mauch styled skippers this past decade. Both catchers and both considered pets of Gene Mauch. Never a manager who defined normalcy it’s no wonder Narron has so many Reds fans banging their heads against the wall, he’s coping a huge part of his mentors style, and if you were around back when Mauch was around he was detested like Tony LaRussa and derided for his cerebral and stand offish approach to explaining his reasoning behind certain moves. He was Bob Boone to the power of ten and hothead to boot.

Mauch came up through the Dodger organization and despite his lack of years early on Branch Rickey noticed that he had an eye for the game and it was with Brooklyn that Mauch caught his first whiff of what most managers thought of the game and it’s patterns.

Leo Durocher to Gene Mauch when asked why he put on the H&R instead of a bunt

Kid, people talk about percentages, I got my own percentages

Mauch must have remembered this because in 1985 he used to regularly pinch hit Jerry Narron with his lifetime .280 on base for Gary Pettis, who despite his lack of pop had a good on base percentage. For the season Narron pinch hit a total of 22 times and had a .409 slugging percentage. He also pinch hit Rob Wilfong for Reggie Jackson in April of that year, a feat that still confounds me to this day.

The reason was he wanted to move the runner along to scratch a runner into scoring position. As if having Reggie Jackson at the dish doesn’t represent a player in scoring position (FWIW Reggie had K’d 3 times that day)

Despite the failed gamble the Angels manage to score the next inning when Jerry Narron pinch hit for Pettis and hit a double, keying a comeback, the Angels eventually tied the game and won in extra innings.

Gene Mauch once said :

When the game begins you throw away the book and you make your decisions according to the situation, but there’s no cut and dried strategy. It varies from game to game, situation to situation.

One thing’s for sure I’m not surprised that Josh Hamilton a lefty hitter got brought down against a lefty specialist, and I’m not surprised that Juan Castro came up to bat in that situation either, disappointed yes, surprised… no way.

Moments like the aforementioned Jackson incident are what wash through Jerry’s noggin as he gazes out of the Reds dugout, moments that he witnessed, moments that he likely believes were because of some special sense Mauch or whomever he mentored with that season had, and he might be right, who am I to ask.

But we know the respect for Gene was there, and the respect he had obviously is displayed in the way he manages baseball games, which drives many a fan crazy, whether he’s right or wrong, Jerry is driving someone crazy, but in a way he’s paying Mauch back for the respect he feels Gene gave him, but we Reds fans get Juan Castro instead.

By the way Bobby Veach pinch hit for Babe Ruth in 1925… but that’s another story for another time, however pass that on to Josh Hamilton, it will make him feel better, it couldn’t hurt.

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