Gene Mauch's major flaw was not having Roy Smalley sacrifice bunt from the No. 2 spot in the order if Lyman Bostock or Rod Carew reached first base in the first inning for the high-scoring 1977 Twins, even though that was the move that drove team owner Calvin Griffith and his brothers, Jimmy and Billy Robertson, up the wall.
The Little General's No. 1 shortcoming was the manner in which he would overuse relief pitchers. Certainly, the standards for such usage were much higher during a big-league managerial career stretching from 1960 through 1987, but love as I did covering Mauch as Twins manager, it can't be disputed that he ruined a fair number of careers for pitchers, particularly relievers.
The most-grievous example was what he did with Tom Johnson in 1977. Bill Campbell had been Mauch's bullpen stopper in 1976, pitching an astounding 167⅔ innings in 78 appearances. "Soupy'' was a member of the first first-agent class and was able to get a multiyear contract with the Red Sox.
That moved up Johnson to ace status in '77 and he pitched 146⅔ innings in 71 appearances. There were shoulder injections to keep on going. By late summer, Johnson might not have been able to scratch his right knee, but Mauch kept pitching him as the Twins faded in September in the American League West.
Nicest guy ever, St. Paul's Tommy Johnson, but he pitched only part of the 1978 season after that. His arm was cooked and, as has been publicized, he never reached the qualifying standards for a pension that existed then.
This was how it came to be that Mauch was arguing with Griffith in May 1978 that the Twins had a great need to sign reliever Mike Marshall. "Iron Mike'' was the perfect reliever for Mauch, because the more work, the better he liked it.
Marshall, who passed away on Monday, came to prominence pitching for Mauch with the Montreal Expos from 1970 to 1973, and then became a star with the Dodgers. He pitched in a record 106 games in 1974 and became the first reliever to win a Cy Young Award.
No player was more closely associated with Marvin Miller, the wise director of the players association, than Marshall. As free agency and big salaries came, the owners' loathing for Miller had only increased.
And Marshall — never one to pull punches with his comments on the need for a hard-nosed union — became a pariah as soon as his success waned slightly.
Mauch: "I need us to sign Mike Marshall.''
Calvin: "NO! I don't want that guy on my team.''
Mauch: "Marshall can fix our bullpen. He's a freak.''
Calvin: "I know. That's why I don't want him.''
The manager and The Boss had different definitions of freak — Mauch, meaning this was one of the few relievers that he could not overuse, and Calvin, meaning that anyone as closely associated with Miller as was Marshall had to be a freak.
Griffith finally gave in and the Twins signed Marshall on May 15. Marshall made 54 appearances in his partial season for the 1978 Twins, then set the club record with 90 appearances in a very effective 1979.
Doug Corbett became Mauch's preferred choice to finish games as Marshall struggled in 1980. The manager and his machine then had a falling out and the pitcher was released by the Twins in early June.
Marshall not only was Iron Mike when it came to games pitched, but also as an interview subject. You could not scribble fast enough to keep up with his pontificating, on the art of pitching, on his doctorate in kinesiology, or on the wisdom of Miller.
My favorite interview with him was on a phone call. The 1980 Twins had opened on a Friday night in Oakland. I wasn't there, yet wanted to come up with a Twins column for the St. Paul Pioneer Press to run Sunday.
I was able to get a room number for Marshall at the Twins' Oakland hotel, called about 10 a.m. Pacific and he answered.
Jerry Koosman had pitched six scoreless innings in the opener. The Twins were leading 5-0 entering the bottom of the seventh. Koosman ran into trouble, and Mauch hooked him in favor of Marshall with two outs.
The lead was reduced to 5-4, and then Rickey Henderson hit a three-run home run off Marshall to make it 7-5, A's. The Twins scored two in the ninth for a tie, then won it, 9-7, on solo home runs by Smalley and Rick Sofield in the 12th.
After those events, what former Cy Young winner could you call in his West Coast hotel room the next morning and get a full pitch-by-pitch analysis of the at-bat that resulted in a three-run home run? One. Mike Marshall.
And by the time my 20-minutes listening session was concluded, Marshall had me convinced that Rickey Henderson, Hall of Famer-to-be, had to be one of the dumbest hitters ever to pick up a bat to be ready to give a full swat to the type of pitch and in the location that had been plotted out to strategic perfection by Dr. Mike.
My lasting impression of this unique character:
The quotes were great. The oft-worn green leisure suit was not.