Dr. Mike Marshall's Pitching Coach Services

June 02, 1979 Sporting News

Second Time Around, Marshall Pitches for Fun
The Sporting News
by Bob Fowler
June 02, 1979

TWIN CITIES, MN:  Mike Marshall, then of the Dodgers, was featured on the cover of the July 27, 1974 issue of The Sporting News.  The color photo showed him throwing a screwball (what else?) and promoted him as a "Tireless Fireman."  Inside, the headline over the accompanying story asked, "Iron Mike--What's Behind Brilliant Record?"

Well, some five years later, here he is again on the cover of the same publication.  And while he is a member of the Twins now--the same phrases--Tireless Fireman and Iron Mike--could be used to describe him.

And, if the same question (What's Behind Brilliant Record?) was asked, the answers would be similar.  That he applied his knowledge of kinesiology (the study of the principles of mechanics and anatomy in relation to human movement) to the screwball.  That he adapted kinesiology and physiological psychology (he received his doctorate in exercise physiology at Michigan State University) to a conditioning program that enables him to pitch frequently and consistently beyond the norm.

That he considers himself an educator first and a ballplayer second.  That the pitcher-batter confrontation is more exhilarating to him than winning.  That he is a non-conformist.

"I'm precisely the same person I was," Marshall said.  "My feelings and attitudes are the same."

Yet, some believe at age 36 he has changed.

For example, he said, "Before, if people told me to do something I didn't want to do, I'd challenge them.  Now I don't argue."

Isn't that a change?

"Not really," he answered.  "I still don't do things I don't want to do.  Before, others held all the aces.  They could have hurt my family.  So, I fought them.  Now, there's no way they can hurt me or my family because we have security--a degree and deferred payments for a long time.  That's why there's no reason to argue."

Maybe others could interpret this as a change:  In talking about why he joined the Twins in May, 1978, as a free agent, he said, "This is my second baseball career.  This one is for fun.  The first was serious.  It was like I had something to prove to someone every day.  I'm over that, now."

Certainly, Minnesota reporters believe Marshall has altered his attitudes toward newsmen.  Colleagues had warned them that the pitcher was uncooperative, yet since joining the Twins he has proved to be an absolute delight to interview, to discuss theories of baseball with, to engage in informal conversation.

"When I was 11 years old, I was in a car that was struck by a train at one of those rural, unmarked crossings outside my hometown," he recalled.  "My uncle was killed in the accident.  I was left with a bad back.

"I had constant pain.  Before games, I'd sit in the clubhouse, facing my locker, trying to get into some position that would relieve the pain.  They said I was introspective, preoccupied and unapproachable.

"After surgery (he had a disc removed following the 1977 season), when I came out of that operating room and had no pain, I felt like someone had removed a large weight off my shoulders."

Maybe that's why he sat with a reporter for 90 minutes in the Minnesota clubhouse before a game one night.  Why he said after a lengthy session, "If there's anything else you need, don't hesitate to ask anytime."  Why he has...forget it, the man said he hasn't changed.

But, if he has, it wouldn't be the first time for such transformations.

Michael Grant Marshall was born in Adrian, Mich., a town of some 12,000 in the south-central section of the state, the son of a draftsman.  While he had an interest in that subject, he desired to pursue the professions of two uncles.  They were high school football coaches.

He was a three-sport (football, basketball and baseball) prep star.  After his high school graduation in 1961, he signed a contract with the Phillies.  He also enrolled at Michigan State that year.  He played shortstop for four summers at Dothan, Bakersfield, Magic Valley and Chattanooga and studied during the falls and winters to obtain his bachelor's degree in physical education.

Then, in 1965, after he had been traded to the Detroit organization, he met Wayne Blackburn, who would change his baseball career. Blackburn was the minor league manager who said, "You can become a major league relief pitcher."

Blackburn was right because in 1967 Marshall was in the Tigers' bullpen.  In 37 games, he had a 1-3 record, five saves and a 1.98 ERA.

"But I wasn't satisfied," he recalled.  "I had a hard slider that was effective against righthanded batters and they had me in a cubbyhole.  I wanted more.  I wanted a pitch that would be effective against lefthanded hitters so I could finish games instead of coming in and then being relieved by John Hiller.

"Because I had a different Mike Marshall in mind than they did, I started working on the screwball."

That was during the winter of 1967 while he was also working on his master's degree at MSU.  When he returned to the Tigers in 1968, they wanted a hard-slider pitcher and he wanted to throw the screwball.  He found himself in Toledo and they went on to win the World Series.

It was the same story in 1969 when he was drafted by the old expansion Seattle Pilots, and in 1970 when he was shipped to Houston.  It was if he brought an illegal pitch, like a spitter, with him.  His screwball was banned.

"They didn't want me to use it because they wanted the Mike Marshall of 1967, the hard-slider pitcher," he said.  "Oh, I still threw it.  But, frankly, it wasn't the pitch I eventually developed.  I threw it with trepidation.  Then I went to Montreal later in the 1970 season and Gene Mauch said, 'Please throw that pitch.'"

Marshall studied the screwball during the off-season at Michigan State.  He had taken a kinesiology course from William Heusner that would alter his life, too.

"Once I was exposed to that course, I realized I knew very little about the subject," he explained.  "Then, Professor Heusner asked me to be his lab assistant and that really got me involved in it."

In applying his anatomy knowledge to the position he had to get his body into to produce the desired rotation for the screwball, he used one career to save another.  Then he used his knowledge of exercise physiology and body movement to prolong that baseball career.

"I didn't have a quality screwball, one I could throw for a strike 60 percent of the time, until May of 1972," Marshall said.  "Now, I don't know how many I throw because of the various rotations I put on the ball.  Each has a different break."

With that assortment of screwballs--he also throws a fastball, sinker and curve--he had a 14-11 record with 31 saves for Montreal in 1973.  He was traded to Los Angeles (the Expos wanted center fielder Willie Davis) and the next year he had a 15-12 mark with 21 saves in 106 games and was the National League's Cy Young Award winner.

In 1975, he was off to a good start and cracked a rib.  The next year he had "the best start of my life" and was traded to Atlanta.

Why?  Maybe it was a personality conflict.  Speaking of his "first career," he said that "every year could have been fun like 1973, if I had been with Mauch."

This was no fun time, however.  It appeared his baseball career was over.  He had a 9.00 ERA in four games at Atlanta and was sent to Texas, where he was 2-2 with one save in 12 games and became a free agent.

Then there was the back operation followed by the uncertainty that he'd ever be able to pitch again.  The workouts at MSU where he redeveloped his screwball.  The call from Mauch, inviting him to Chicago for a tryout.  His impressive work in batting practice and signing with the Twins.

Indeed, the second time around was fun.  In 54 games last year, he compiled a 10-12 record with 21 saves and a 2.45 ERA.  He became a free agent at season's end again, but re-signed with the club Mauch managed, receiving the most lucrative ($300,000 per season) and long-term (four years) contract ever offered a player by Calvin Griffith.

He didn't report for spring training until March 25 and no one cared, figuring his daily exercise program (jogging four miles, throwing baseballs and lifting weights for 60 minutes) would be enough.  It was.

Talk about your good times.  Minnesota was baseball's surprise team, posting a 24-13 record as of May 20 and holding a one-half game lead in the American League West, while Marshall was the major leagues' best relief pitcher.  He appeared in 22 games, winning seven, losing three and saving 10 with an ERA of 1.56.

It was tempting for local writers to describe him as the Doctor of Relief, or use similar puns.  Indeed, Toronto accused him of doctoring the ball, somehow scuffing it to make it dip, and umpires checked him a la Gaylord Perry in two games.

"I've been in the big leagues 10 years and I've never, never been inspected before," Marshall said.  "But all my life, batters have been saying to umpires, 'Make him stop throwing that funny pitch.  It's not fair.'"

How often can he throw it?

"When Marshall first joined us in Montreal, he told me, 'I'll tell you when I can't work,'" Mauch recalled.  "There is a definite lack of communication between the manager and the pitcher because I haven't heard from him yet."

"I have no reason to think I can't pitch every day," added the man who set a record in 1974 by relieving in 13 consecutive games.

But isn't the screwball hard on a pitcher's arm?

"There are a lot of misconceptions about it," Marshall answered.  "They say you can't throw it to righthanded hitters, but I do all the time.  They say it's hard on the arm, and maybe it is for others.  But I understand it so thoroughly, it's easier on my arm than some other pitches."

No one knows how much longer Marshall will continue; he said he'll keep pitching as long as it's fun.  He does know, however, what he wants to do, if he retires.

"My goal in life is to become a physical education instructor, teaching basic motor skills to kids, or instructing adults so they can teach those skills," he said.  "And, if I can find the head of a physical education department who is like Gene Mauch, I'll do it."

And you get the impression that, if he achieves that goal in life, that third career will be more enjoyable for him than either of his first two in baseball.

Happy Pitching Everybody

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