Born in Salina, Kansas, and raised there and in Los Angeles, California, Gene Mauch had played parts of nine seasons from 1944 to 1957 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs, Boston Braves, St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox. In 304 games and 737 at-bats, Mauch hit .239, with 5 home runs and 62 RBIs, striking out 82 times.
Gene first became a manager at age 27 in 1953, when the Braves named him the player-manager of their Double-A Atlanta Crackers farm team in the Southern Association. His team finished 84–70, in third place, three games behind the Memphis Chickasaws, and fell in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual league champion Nashville Vols.
As a child, before the Milwaukee Braves moved to Atlanta, my dad used to take me to see the Atlanta Crackers. For 60 years (until 1961), the Crackers were part of the Class AA Southern Association, a period during which they won more games than any other Association team, earning the nickname the “Yankees of the Minors”. In 1962, the Association disbanded. Then, the former Miami Marlins, a Class AAA International League team that had spent 1961 playing in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Charleston, West Virginia, moved to Atlanta and adopted the name “Crackers.”
The combative Mauch was known for frequent skirmishes with the league’s umpires and later conceded he was too young for the assignment. But seven years later, John J. Quinn, the Braves’ general manager who hired him for the Crackers’ job, would later give him his first big-league managerial opportunity with the 1960 Phillies.