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1974 Sporting News 2
Iron Mike – What’s Behind Brilliant Record?
By Ross Newhan
LOS ANGELES, CA:  Having stared at the typewriter for 20 minutes, I will begin.  Tentatively.  With trepidation.
The man from The Sporting News called and asked for a cover story on Mike Marshall.  Fine.  Deserving.  Good idea.  But where do you start?  And how do you hope to condense it into a prescribed space?
Mike is more than Michael Grant Marshall, 31, born in Adrian, Mich., lives in East Lansing, Mich., 5-10, 180 pounds, right-handed relief pitcher now employed by the Dodgers.  Marshall is a relief pitcher who has revolutionized the thinking about relief pitchers, about their conditioning, about their concepts while on the mound.
He set a major league record by appearing in 92 games for the Expos last year.  He has been in 57 of the Dodgers’ first 84 games, including a record 13 straight in late June and early July.  Marshall had said he could pitch every day, and now most people believe him.
But Mike is even more than all that.  He is a personality about whom you can use all the trite descriptions:  intelligent, articulate, opinionated.  He is a free spirit, a nonconformist who slowly has the conformists thinking that maybe they should be more like him.
Marshall has spent 14 years in baseball and is a student at Michigan State, where he earned a B.A. in 1965, an M.A. in 1967 and is now close to a doctorate in physiological psychology.  He is writing his thesis on “Maturation at Adolescence in Males,” and carries his work with him in a black briefcase on the road.
Since 1966, Marshall also has taught at Michigan State.  His subject is kinesiology, which is the “study of the principles of mechanics and anatomy in relation to human movement.”  Mike Marshall emphasizes that he is an educator first and a ballplayer second, that everything he is as a ballplayer stems from what he has learned as a student and educator.
He has applied his understanding of kinesiology to the screwball, which he can make move in more than one direction.  And he has applied his understanding of kinesiology and other elements of physiological psychology to a conditioning program that makes it possible for him to pitch with a frequency and consistency that is beyond the capability of all other pitchers.
This is what Mike Marshall has said. He also has said that could not begin to describe the program since it would take too much time and space and be without meaning to those who lack an education in physiology.  Asked if the program is more mental than physical, Marshall said, “There’s no difference.  We’re all living organisms.  There’s no dichotomy between mind and body.”
He is willing to reveal a few facts.  He says he has thrown a baseball at least every three days, winter and summer, since 1966.  He jogs two to four miles every day and does some swimming just about every day.  He eats only items that are nutritious.  He does not drink or smoke and will not tolerate smoking in his house or classroom, saying, “I will not allow you to pollute my air.”
Clearly, there is no simple beginning or end to Mike Marshall, no easy way to get inside the multi-faceted man who says that the victory is in the competition, who considers baseball only a hobby and refuses to give autographs since he does not wish himself cast as a false idol.  That Marshall is asked for autographs, that he is very good at his hobby, is reflected in the statistics.
During his last two years at Montreal, Marshall either saved or gained credit for 77 of his team’s 149 victories.  He won 14 saved 31 last year when he was second in voting for the Cy Young Award and fifth in voting for the Most Valuable Player Award.
In his half season with the Dodgers, Marshall has received the nicknames of Iron Mike and the Human Pitching Machine.  Of his 57 appearances, 38 were in Dodger victories.  He was 11-3 with 13 saves under the new tougher rule that makes it necessary for a relief pitcher to face the potential tying or winning run upon entering the game in order to qualify for a save.
Marshall pitched in 17 of the Dodgers’ first 20 come-from-behind victories. When the club went 21 games without a complete game by a starter, Marshall worked in 17 of the 21 and the Dodgers won 14.  In pitching in 13 straight, Marshall broke the major league record of nine shared by Roy Face, Barney Schultz and Tom Dukes.  He pitched 26 2/3 innings during the streak with a 1.67 ERA.  He was 6-0 in that span with two saves.
Of the record, Marshall said:  “That and a dime will allow me to make phone call.  It doesn’t mean a thing to me.  This is a team sport, not one for individuals.  My satisfaction is in doing the best I can every time I go out there and in being in the type of condition that allows me to pitch every day.”
Of the possibility that he will become the first relief pitcher ever to win 20 games, Marshall said:  “I don’t give a bleep about 20.  A relief pitcher’s wins are strictly team wins.  The statistics are just for writers and fans.”
Of his possible selection for the All-Star game, a rare honor for a relief pitcher, Marshall said:  “I don’t really give a bleep about the All-Star Game.  At this point, all I’m interested in is doing the best I can for the Dodgers.”
If Marshall looks on his accomplishments in somewhat of a laconic light, there are those around him who do not.  “I’m not sure that Walter O’Malley has enough money to pay Marshall what he’s worth,” said fellow relief pitcher Jim Brewer.  “He’s amazing.  He can’t be human.  What he has done is against everything that I ever felt was physically possible.
It was just last year that Dodger Manager Walter Alston termed Brewer the best relief pitcher he ever had seen.  Now, while Marshall was appearing in 57 games, Brewer was working in only 18.  Asked if he was disturbed at not pitching more frequently, Brewer, 36, shook his head and said:  “You can’t keep a man from wanting to pitch more, but I have no right to feel that I should be pitching ahead of Marshall.  All of us in the bullpen can do a job, but not at Marshall’s rate.  And it’s not as if he’s pitching to one man each time.  He’s working a lot of innings.”
Said Alston, the Dodger manager for 21 years:  “I’ve had some very good relief pitchers and it would be impossible for me to categorize them, to say that Marshall is the best.”  “I will say that he is capable of working more often than any pitcher I’ve ever had, that he has consistently done a great job.  From the standpoint of being able to work that regularly, he is the best I’ve ever seen.  And the more I see of him, the more I tend to be convinced that he can pitch every day.”
Alston has followed the lead of Gene Mauch, Marshall’s manager at Montreal.  He has permitted Marshall to be his own man.  The relief pitcher conditions himself and is in charge of the mound.  Out there, exercising concepts and artistry, putting to work the reference material he keeps on every National League hitter, this is what is important to Marshall:  “Nothing matters except the competition with the hitters.  By comparison, whether the game is won or lost is absolutely unimportant.  I’m not a man for false sorrow.  Losing doesn’t bother me if I’ve done the best I can.  When the final score is in my favor, so much the better; but in my opinion, victory is in the quality of my competition—not the result.
“That’s my educator’s view which I believe is essential for young people both in the classroom and on the field.  I also believe that it doesn’t end when you turn pro.  If I was out there every day worrying strictly about winning, well, I wouldn’t be out there.  “To me, it’s all in the competition, the concept, the artistry.  Baseball is my hobby.  People think I use education as a wedge, but that’s not true.  I can’t help if they don’t understand.  But it’s not at all inconceivable that if I were offered a post which gave me a free hand in setting up a curriculum, I might leave baseball at the end of that season.”
Marshall does not mean to give the impression that he is totally unmoved by victory.  “This team (the Dodgers) has given me a number of thrills this season,” he said.  “It’s a team that never thinks it’s out of a game, that’s willing to do things on its own, that makes sacrifices.  “What I’ve enjoyed most about being here is the rapport.  With this team, when I ask my infielders or outfielders to move over or play a hitter in a certain place, they respond immediately and get over there to do the best damn job they can to help me out.  “After all, I have a general idea where the ball is likely to be hit, according to what type of pitch I’m throwing, and I want my men standing in a spot so that potentially we would not be vulnerable.”
Asked if he did not receive that same kind of support in Montreal, Marshall said:  “Some writers would probably jump on my positive statement and twist it around to make it sound negative.  But that’s like me saying that I like apples and the reporter writing that I hate bananas.”
What Marshall liked best about Montreal was Mauch.  The trade did not diminish his appreciation for what Mauch gave him, which was (a) the freedom to use his screwball and (b) pitch the game as he wanted to pitch it.  Marshall was traded for several reasons, two of them, as announced by the Expos, being that Mauch felt Marshall never would again be used enough to be effective and the club required a regular center fielder, which the Expos got in Willie Davis.
There were other reasons that may have had more bearing on Marshall’s availability.  In a post-season article that appeared in MSU’s alumni magazine, Marshall was quoted as being critical of the Montreal defense generally and Ron Hunt specifically. Marshall later said his statements were taken out of context by a young reporter.  “What I said to him,” explained Marshall, “was, “Just between you and me, the problem with the Expos was that the defense was terrible.  It was just terrible to see Ron Hunt have to play on one knee in a position where you have to have tremendous agility.’”  The complex statement came out as a straight rap at Hunt, whom Marshall said he could not reach when he called to offer an explanation.
If that article influenced the Montreal management in making Marshall available, there were still others.  The O’Keefe Brewery, owner of 50 percent of the Expos’ advertising rights, announced that Marshall was its player of the year and would receive a $5,000 award.  Marshall wrote a letter to George Lebrecque, then president of O’Keefe, in which he said he could not accept the award since he felt it was wrong to be in competition with his teammates. Marshall asked that the money be donated to sickle cell anemia research.
Reliable sources insist that the brewery took Marshall’s reaction as an affront and pressured Expos’ General Manager Jim Fanning into trading the relief pitcher, a story Fanning denies.  Two weeks after he was traded, however, Marshall learned that the sponsor had given $5,000 to Quebec’s amateur baseball program. Marshall phoned Lebrecque and asked, “What about my letter?”  “What letter?” said Lebrecque.  “You refused, and since you didn’t sign the check, the money isn’t yours.  If you have anything more to say, have your lawyer call.”  Marshall persisted and the matter was settled out of court with the sponsor agreeing to honor the charitable request.
Then, too, there was and still is the matter of a $75,000 defamation of character suit brought against Marshall by French-Canadian newspaperman J.P. Sarault.  Early last season, Marshall told Montreal sportswriter Michel Blanchard “that some small newspaperman feel professional athletes are merely toys.  They’re even unscrupulous enough to quote athletes without even talking to them or sit by the pool listening to their private conversations and then print them.  “They’ll even go so far as to take young ballplayers out for drinks and then quote them off the record. One who has been accused of this behavior is J.P. Sarault.”
Blanchard and Sarault work for rival newspapers and they share a dislike for each other. The next day, Blanchard’s story had Marshall accusing Sarault of being unscrupulous. “Damn,” said Marshall, reflecting.  “Here was Blanchard doing the very same thing.  He took it and interpreted it the way he understood it.”  Sarault served Marshall with the suit in the second inning of the first game of a twi-night doubleheader as the pitcher sat in the Montreal dugout.  The next day, Sarault’s newspaper published the entire suit in the sports section.
Marshall took the matter to the club.  “They did nothing,” he said.  “They did not offer any assistance or advice.”  The case goes to court this fall. What the Expos eventually did was trade the man who had appeared in 92 games, who had saved 33, who had won 14.  Mauch was so stunned that he reportedly said, “I had nothing to do with it.”
Now, as a Dodger, Mike is threatening to obliterate the records he established under Mauch, of whom he says, “Our relationship was poetry.”  It was Mauch who allowed Marshall to develop the concepts, the artistry, the free expression that Marshall now exhibits on the mound.  It was Mauch who permitted Marshall to throw the screwball, applying the lessons of the classroom to it, after Marshall had been prohibited from throwing it in Detroit (by Manager Mayo Smith), in Seattle (by pitching coach Sal Maglie) and in Houston (by Manager Harry Walker).
Those prohibitions merely delayed Marshall, but did not dim his determination.  “I have no idea why they wouldn’t let me use the screwball,” said Marshall.  “All I can say is that those three were linked by a common denominator of insecurity.  They couldn’t accept someone trying to anything different or admit another man’s way might be right.  “Mauch was just the opposite.  I felt we talked as peers.  He had enough security that he could turn the game over to me, that he could let me be without worrying what effect it had on himself or the other players.”
Marshall said Mauch was not the only man who assisted his career.  He named minor league Managers Wayne Blackburn and Jack Tighe and MSU Professor William Heusner.  It was very early in his career that Marshall placed his future in Blackburn’s hands, asking the Montgomery manager if he should remain a shortstop or turn to pitching.  Blackburn made the decision in midseason, at a time when Marshall was batting .310.  Blackburn employed Marshall as a relief pitcher in a game that followed one in which he got three hits.  The manager only needed one look.  He told Marshall, “You can be a major league relief pitcher.”  It was the commitment Marshall needed.
Tighe was managing Toledo in 1968 and welcomed the pitcher there after his frustrating experience with Detroit’s Mayo Smith.  “That could have been an unhappy season for me,” said Marshall, “but Tighe said, `You got a raw deal with Detroit and I’m going to try and make it as comfortable as I can for you.”  Marshall responded with a 15-9 record.
Professor Heusner was Marshall’s first instructor in kinesiology and it was after just one semester, at a time when Marshall was still only 21, that Heusner took Marshall on as an assistant, giving him time to sit alone with the professor and probe the principles of the science that had been so important to his career.  Mike Marshall talks about all of this with some reluctance.  He is not completely wary of the press, but there is a measure of wariness mixed with a self-conscious attitude.
“I felt there were two writers in Montreal that sublimated the truth,” said Marshall.  “Then there was the unfortunate incident with the young writer in Michigan last winter.  “If I were forced to characterize baseball writers, I’d say 50 percent were accurate and 50 percent were inaccurate.  But then I don’t like to generalize about any group.  I try to treat all people as individuals.  “Basically, if I display a reluctance in front of the press, it’s because I don’t like talking about myself.  I’m self-conscious.  I don’t care about publicity.  I get bored talking about myself.”
He would rather talk about why it is not impossible for a pitcher to work every day.  “The idea that a pitcher should throw regularly is supported by research,” he said.  “The body tends to atrophy at lower levels of use.  This has been shown in cardiovascular tests, and the principle applies to any muscle.  To retain a high level of efficiency, you have to practice regularly.  That means a pitcher has to keep pitching.”
Which is what Mike Marshall has been doing, at a record pace, at a pace to which his mind and body are geared, and educator first, an educated ballplayer second, a man who seemed to be saying a great deal about himself when he was asked if he believes in rules.  “No,” said Mike Marshall.  “Rules turn people into sheep.  They destroy creativity.  My motto is:  `I’ll work with anyone—but for no one.’”