Thursday, January 6, 2011
The Cerebral, Eccentric, Obsessed, & Misunderstood Mike Marshall
While doing some research for a posting on this blog, I happened to run across a 1978 article by Scott Ostler, about former Dodger pitcher, and Cy Young Award winner, Mike Marshall.
For some reason, I don’t recall ever having read such article, but after reading it, I can fully understand why Marshall was not well liked by his teammates, management, fans, and the press. The guy really didn’t possess a stitch of humility.
My introduction to Mike Marshall was reading about him as Jim Bouton’s Seattle Pilots teammate and chess partner in Ball Four. I read the book as an 11 year boy, against the wishes of my brother, who told me that I’d be disappointed and lose my love for baseball after reading of the behavior of the players depicted in the book. (He was wrong).
I remember during Marshall’s Cy Young season in 1974, while attending pre-game batting practice at the Ravine, one of my buddies asked him for an autograph and his reply was, “Go get your math teacher’s autograph. He’s the hero you should be seeking out.”
I took it as any 13 year old would, “my math teacher? Are you kidding me. That guy doesn’t know a baseball from a grapefruit and I already know how to calculate an E.R.A. and slugging percentage, so he really isn’t of much use to me.”
Anyway, Marshall was a true eccentric. He was smarter than any player in the game and he knew it. The first real cerebral player that I ever encountered as a fan. And that is what made him so entertaining. You never knew what he'd say or how he’d react. At the time, Marshall was working on his Doctorate in Exercise Physiology. He studied on road trips and in the locker room. Baseball was a job to finance his education. Against conventional wisdom, Marshall didn’t ice his arm after games and he pitched in short sleeves even in the coldest of weather. No pitching coach could tell him what to do because Dr. Mike knew the anatomy of the pitching arm, proper delivery, kinesiology and biomechanics.
Marshall’s mechanics were developed through intense study and review of filming his pitching motion. While earning his Masters Degree in Physical Education at Michigan State in the 60’s, Marshall broke down his pitching motion piece by piece and was able to correct a flaw that was creating stress on his elbow. He changed his delivery to release that stress and he created unorthodox exercises that strengthened his arm and allowed him to rebound and pitch more frequently.
He pitched 208+ innings in 1974 back in an era when the closer didn’t just attempt to retire the final three outs. Marshall set a major league record with 106 appearances, (that’s 65% of the season’s schedule). Take a look at the number of his game appearances by inning entrance followed by a stat line that displays the number of times he pitched to the final out. What he accomplished is extraordinary and will never be duplicated.
Inning entrance 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th extra inning entry
Number of appearances 1 0 3 13 24 42 19 3
Pitched to final out 0 0 2 13 17 35 18 1
Though Marshall finished with only 21 saves, his additional 15 victories are a meaningful statistic because he threw so many innings after entering the game with the club behind or tied. Imagine a closer of today’s standards being counted on to enter 100+ games and 80 of them in the 8th inning or earlier.
What I never realized was the acrimony between Marshall and his Dodger teammates. Marshall rips the mid 70‘s Dodgers claiming players were obsessed with their stats, unflexible and unwilling to accept criticism. He said that the Dodger infield would not respond to his requests to adjust in positioning. He added that Walt Alston was not in control and not allowed to make managerial decisions freely. Most scathing of Marshalls accusations were against General Manager Al Camapnis who he accused in a subtle way of being racist, this a full 9 years before the Nightline scandal surfaced.
It appeared to me that Marshall was obsessed with his ego and unflexible and unable to associate with those he viewed as inferior to him in intellect. The man was incredibly intelligent, but I get the impression that his high opinion of himself deterred him from developing any relationships with his teammates, management, the press or the fans. That paranoia reached such a ludicrous level that he blamed Vin Scully for turning the fans against him when he was booed in 1975. He attacked Vin Scully? How can that be taken seriously?
Today Marshall is involved in running a pitching academy in Zepherhills, Florida, that teaches the most awkward pitching motion ever seen. Dr. Marshall claims that it is an injury free motion and he teaches his pupils to throw weighted balls and strengthen the tricep muscle. His techniques go against all conventional pitching wisdom and are highly criticized by todays pitching establishment. Marshall is equally critical of all baseball organizations pitching coaches claiming that they are shortening careers. None have given him a chance to test his program. He has been essentially shut out from the game.