Dr. Mike Marshall's Pitching Coach Services

June 15, 1973 Montreal Gazette

The Marshall Pickoff Move: Several Managers Banned It
by Ted Blackman
Montreal Gazette
June 15, 1973

Mike Marshall's whereabouts might be unknown at this moment had he accepted all the no-no's thrown him in baseball.  He was forbidden to use the screwball at one time, or even practice with it.  And he was once under strict orders not to employ his innovative pickoff move or even demonstrate it to teammates.

Happily, for Marshall and the Montreal Expos, Mike has a compulsion to ignore senseless commands.

It's well-known history that several major league pitching coaches and managers put his screwball off limits, arbitrarily shelving a weapon that has bailed out an entire pitching staff for two seasons here.  It's not as common knowledge that his ersatz move to second base surfaced only after suppression, too.

You know the move, the one that nailed Clarence Gaston by a full five feet in the eighth inning of Wednesday night's 3-2 victory over San Diego.  Instead of wheeling counter-clockwise, as righthanders have done since Doubleday first walked, Marshall spins like the sweep-second hand in a one-quarter turn.

"The concept came to me while I was still playing shortstop in minor league ball," he was saying yesterday as he dressed for batting practice.  "We should have been picking off some runners, but we weren't and I wondered if there could be a faster way for the pitcher to turn and throw the ball."

Maybe others had been intrigued by the same proposition, but no one is listed in the Who's Who of Physics as having undertaken the same experiment that Marshall tried forthwith.  He was out on the mound soon after with a Deacon timer, a sophisticated split-second device, and proving the worth of another move.

"We tied the wire to the baseball and connected it with the Deacon," Marshall explained.  "When a light flashed on the timer, I spun and threw in the conventional fashion and when the ball left my hand, the string shut off the clock.  We did it several times, then again with the move I do now."

Marshall doesn't recall the exact fractions today, but he remembers the only important point, it took one-fourth less time spinning through 90 degrees than it did through 270.  Next, came two vital two steps, putting some steam on a normally off-balance throw and perfecting control of the toss.

"Because I studied kinetics, I know that to create force in one direction requires an equal force in the opposite direction.  You know what I mean, aballoon will only travel as fast in one direction as the air travels leaving it.  By pushing back off the forward foot, I create enough force to propel the ball with speed."

Baseball was knocked out by the invention, right?

"Hardly," Marshall said.  "I was told not to show it to the pitching staff because the manager thought it would ruin their arms.  When I became a pitcher I tried it, but Detroit didn't want to use it.  Then, an enlightened coach named Jack Tighe let me use it at Toledo, so I had developed it when I went to Seattle in the expansion draft.

"In spring training, they were working on pickoffs, so I showed it to them.  Again, I was forbidden to use it.  You know baseball minds.  But I used anyway and picked off eight men off first and nine men off second in my half-season there.  I once picked off Bert Campaneris and Rick Monday off second in back-to-back innings."

Two other pitchers in the majors today, Skip Lockwood of Milwaukee and Diego Segui of St. Louis, use the "wrong turn" and both were teammates of Marshall at Seattle. Sometimes, practitioners are Jim Barr of the Giants and Montreal's Ernie McAnally, who is the only Expo to approach Marshall on the matter.

"Funny how they laughed at me at Seattle.  One of the coaches wanted to prove it was useless, so he planted the shortstop at second base and took a lead off the bag.  He invited me to turn and throw any time I wanted and said there's no way I'd get him.  I threw and picked him off easily.  Then I was told not to use it again."

Similar arbitrary stances combined to bring Marshall to Montreal, the last step a trade from Houston for Don Bosch, and how are they going to classify that deal years from now!  As with the screwball, Marshall has had to disobey orders to show baseball a pickoff move that makes him the best in the game.

"I've had to prove my screwball can work, I've had to prove my pickoff works and I've had to prove that a man can retain his individuality in this game," Marshall says.  "So far, I've found only one man (Gene Mauch) who's allowed me the chance to demonstrate what I can do.  He's not afraid of a college education like most of the others."

But he's not pressing Mauch on non-pitching matters.  Marshall has other ideas that run quite contrary to convention, but he's not banging down the door to the manager's office suggesting a better hit-and-run than has evolved through 104 years of professional baseball.  He may, like Ford, have a better idea.

"For those ideas, I'd prefer to wait until I'm asked," he says.


As, over the years, I have learned not to swear to anything, my memory of my pick-offs with the Seattle Pilots were incorrect.

According to Retrosheet.org, I had only six pickoffs during my half-season with Seattle in 1969.  The listed leader in this category for the year is Mickey Lolich (a lefthander) with seven.  However, my six pick-offs came in 87 2/3 innings, while Mickey's came in 280 2/3 innings.

Regarding my pickoffs of Campaneris and Monday:  I did that on April 27, 1969.  In the top of the first inning, with Reggie Jackson batting, I picked Bert Campaneris off second base.  In the second inning, with Dave Duncan batting, I picked Rick Monday was picked off second base.

Happy Pitching Everybody

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