Dr. Mike Marshall's Pitching Coach Services

May 20, 1993 Fort Worth Star-Telegram

The Doctor is in:  Quoting Isaac Newton and his own pitching stats, baseball's mad scientist is making believers.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
May 20, 1993
Author:  STEVE CAMPBELL

CANYON, TX:  There are no players in the fold, no scholarships to give.  The baseball field is still little more than a gleam in Mike Marshall 's eye.  The Buffaloes of West Texas State University won't be fielding a team until next season, so at least there is time.

And a plan.  The Marshall Plan.

Actually, it will be Doctor Marshall to his impending crop of kinesiology students.  Michael Grant Marshall, iron man, iconoclast, idiosyncratic Cy Young Award winner and irrepressible exerciser of free speech, has a doctorate in exercise physiology and intends to teach nine semester hours at West Texas State this fall and six next spring.

In fact, Marshall describes the job he started May 1 as "three-eighths athletics, five-eighths academics."  Here is a 50-year-old who quotes Isaac Newton, Rudyard Kipling and Daniel Bernoulli, condemns pitching coaches for "contaminating" their pupils and says he couldn't care less about won-lost records.  Here, in a baseball landscape traditionally barren in wisdom that goes much deeper than, "Babe Ruth is dead; throw strikes," is a voice of: (a) reason; or (b) treason.

"We're not baseball as usual," Marshall says.  "I look at the baseball field as nothing but a laboratory for the physical education department."

Marshall's baseball tastes always did run toward the unusual.  As a player, Marshall used the field as a laboratory and himself as the rat who turned into such a big cheese:  He became the first reliever in major-league history to win the Cy Young Award.  Tireless planning and experimenting transformed Marshall from a run-of-the-mill prospect into an indomitable reliever whose standards never since have been challenged.

So thorough is Marshall, he spent nearly 15 years trying to dissect the old-fashioned curveball to his satisfaction.  His studies have led him to write a yet-to-be-released book, The Kinesiology of Baseball Pitching, a detailed and academic look at the trade he plied long enough and well enough to accumulate 92 victories, 178 saves and 699 appearances from 1967 to '81.  Newton had his Principia Mathematica.  Marshall fancies the notion of his treatise emerging as the Principia Baseballica.

Consumer tip:  Keep a dictionary and a copy of Gray's Anatomy handy.  When the subject is pitching, Marshall starts talking about exercise physiology, structural analysis, mechanical analysis, motor-skill acquisition, psychology and sociology.

"I'm not writing a 100-page silly thing talking about teaching you to pitch," Marshall says.  "I know, it's too technical, everybody will say.  But that's all right.  The information is there.  If somebody wants to learn it, fine.  If they don't, I've met my obligation.  And I do feel an obligation to explain what the ramifications of baseball pitching are on all levels.  Because I know it.

"That's a burden.  When somebody has something nobody else knows, that's a burden.  You've got to get it out, especially when it's causing harm to many.  I don't equate it to having knowledge of the nuclear bomb, and therefore we don't want to share it.  I understand Einstein's concerns about the atomic bomb. But I have a responsibility as an educator, as a Ph.D, to share what I know that will enhance this teeny little segment of society.

"Playing baseball is not earth-shaking.  We'd get along without it.  But since it's here, and I've studied it, and I have the knowledge, I need to put it out in front of people in the correct way."

Leave it to Mike Marshall to know that because of the path of the sun, the standard angles to lay out a baseball field are facing 20 degrees south of southwest or 20 degrees north of northwest.  Though the West Texas State field still is a work in progress, Marshall already has done a one-month study of the wind patterns.  Pitch selection, after all, is at least partly a function of knowing which way the wind is blowing.

"I'm a noodge; I make lists," Marshall says.  "I'm a persistent person.  I have to start somewhere, and I have to work it to death until I understand it, and then I move on.  I can't get off something until I have it resolved."

Consider how Marshall spent a decade transforming himself from a minor-league shortstop in the Philadelphia Phillies' chain into a reliever fit enough to pitch in a major-league record 106 games one season.  Marshall used a 1964 kinesiology course at Michigan State as the impetus to to take a good look at himself.  Using the principles he learned from his classwork, Marshall dissected film of himself hitting and pitching.

Marshall had suffered a back injury in a car accident at age 11, and he found the demands of shortstop to be too much.  So he informed the Phillies that henceforth, he was a pitcher, a suggestion met with so much enthusiasm, he got traded.  By '67, Marshall had reached the big leagues with the Detroit Tigers, compiling a 1.98 earned-run average in 59 innings.  But he had only just begun to tinker.

"The pitcher I was in '67, put it this way:  I was never going to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish," Marshall says.  "A sinker-slider pitcher has a limited application.  You pitch to right-handed batters and get taken out when the left-hander comes to the plate."

Marshall consulted Bernoulli's equation to develop a rotation that would give the ball a different kind of break.  He used mechanical analysis derived from Newton's three laws of motion to determine how to impart the desired rotation on the ball.  From there, he undertook a structural analysis of the body to determine what kind of muscle development it would take to get the job done.

Voila, the Marshall screwball.  Florida Marlins pitcher Charlie Hough, who has 20-plus years of big-league service, says he has never seen a screwball like the one Marshall developed.

"It wasn't a screwball in the truest sense of the word," Marshall says.  "It was like a left-hander's curveball.  I could vary it between a left-hander's curveball and a left-hander's slider effect.  So now I became a left-handed/right-handed pitcher.  Nobody was more surprised than I that it turned out to be of Cy Young caliber."

Marshall reached the big leagues for good in '71 with the Montreal Expos.  After that season, he did a three-dimensional film analysis of his delivery and made some refinements.  He also started a weightlifting regimen that by the standards of the day qualified him as a heretic.  It took three years for the 5 foot 8 1/2 Marshall to go from a 175-pound workhorse to a 205-pound source of wonderment.  From '72 to '74, he won 43 games and racked up 263 appearances, 503 innings and 70 saves.  His ERAs: 1.78, 2.66 and 2.42.

"I was `a weirdo, an egghead, a goofball,' all those things," Marshall says.  "In '74, I became a genius.  I wasn't any different then.  Everybody preferred to think of me as some kind of physical freak rather than a knowledgeable scientist.  I'm certainly not a physical freak.  There is nothing exceptional about my strength, my leverage system, my type of muscle fiber.  My percent of fast-twitch muscle fibers is no greater than anyone else, I'm sure, though I've never been tested.

"What I did was pure science.  I used me as my subject, but I was a scientist before I was a professional pitcher."

The Expos shipped their seemingly mad scientist, who just happened to be the reigning Cy Young runner-up, to the Los Angeles Dodgers for outfielder Willie Davis before the '74 season.  Marshall became a Cy of Relief for the Dodgers, winning 15 games, saving 21 and setting major-league records in appearances (106) and relief innings (208).  For that, by the way, Marshall earned $78,000.

"He put on the damndest performance I've ever seen," Hough says.  "His conditioning and stuff were almost obnoxious, he was so good at it.  It was kind of crazy how good he was.  We kind of stood there (in the bullpen) and said, `Let's not play today.  Let's watch Mikey.'  I pitched 49 games, and nobody knew I was on the team.

"What he did, I don't think will ever be done again."

Hough says he still does some of the light exercises and weightlifting drills Marshall demonstrated then.  If Marshall's novel approaches to training and pitching mechanics didn't make him enough of a curiosity around the clubhouse, there was his penchant for keeping a book on his outings.  Every pitch, every batter, every result.  Remember, this was before sabermetitians, or the Elias Sports Bureau or Stats Inc.

"Most everybody thought he was a little nuts - myself included," Hough says.  "But if you stop and analyze it, what he did was analyze his stuff.  He was 10, 15 years ahead of his time.  Now that stuff they call the (Dr. Frank) Jobe exercises, he was doing in the early '70s.  But he was doing it with much heavier weights."

Live by the experiment, die by the experiment.

After the Cy Young season, Marshall decided that what he really needed in his repertoire was a curveball.  Though Marshall couldn't find what he considered the end-all mechanics or muscle development for the curve, he unveiled one anyway in '75.  Marshall broke a rib throwing a curve that season, signaling the beginning of a succession of injuries and inconveniences.

A trade to Atlanta during the '76 season, back surgery after it.  A knee injury fielding a bunt for the Texas Rangers in '77.  An American League Fireman of the Year award with the Minnesota Twins in '79 (90 games, 142 innings, 32 saves), followed by his conditional release 18 appearances into the '80 season after a bitter contract dispute.

It wasn't until '88, too late to help his career, that Marshall got a grasp on that confounded curveball.

"It was driving me crazy," Marshall says.  "In a sense, I was contaminated:  I had numerous pitching coaches.  What they said was my base for everything.  You have to start from somewhere.  They were 180 degrees wrong.

"You certainly do not pull down the shade (which is often-cited advice for throwing the curve).  That is 180 degrees wrong.  That is as wrong as you can get.  That's the worst, worst thing you can do.  There is no wrist snap in the curveball.  That's a big problem they have that injures the elbow."

To this day, Marshall contends it was the curveball dilemma and not his workload that led to his downfall.  Others, such as Hough and former Rangers pitching coach Tom House, suggest Marshall pushed the body beyond human limits.  House describes pitching as a "tearing-down process" that is so profound, the body can only bounce back from so much.

Marshall scoffs at such suggestions, pointing out that in 1985, he pitched five complete games in two days at a tournament featuring college players.  He says his screwball remains so overwhelming, he is reluctant to throw it in front of the pitchers he works with because, "It just discourages them.  They realize they'll never have a screwball like mine.  But I've been practicing it a lot longer."

"So," Marshall says, "how much of a tearing-down process can it be to throw a ball?"

Marshall coached St. Leo (Fla.) from 1985 to '87 and Henderson State (Arkadelphia, Ark.) from 1988 to '90.  The controversial, cutting-edge pitching coach of the Rangers during that time was none other than House, who brought footballs, laws of physics and assorted polysyllabic words and concepts to the big leagues.  House is the first to say he has drawn on many of the things Marshall was talking about in the '70s.

"He was one of the guys who got me thinking about how you throw a baseball," says House, now a Rangers roving minor-league instructor.  "He was a little bit before his time.  They can shoot the messenger, but they can't kill the message.  Tell him that in my own small way, I'm trying to pass on some of the things he taught."

Marshall says he has received occasional job offers from major-league teams but shot them down.  It wasn't enough to be a pitching coach or a roving minor-league instructor.  He wanted control of all the pitchers in the organization.

"The vast majority (of teams) are more afraid of me, I guess, than they're interested in what I have to do," says Marshall, who helped the likes of Fran Tarkenton, Stan Smith, Bill Kilmer and Tommy John rehabilitate injured arms.  "I guess there are no scientists among the owners."

Science has given Marshall a 74-75 record at Division II St. Leo and 45-58 at Henderson State.  He describes his style as "push the envelope" and his '87 St. Leo team offers a Division II record 5.71 stolen bases per game as evidence of that.  Moreover, Henderson State averaged more than six steals per game during Marshall's stay.

"When I first met him, I thought he was very arrogant ," says right-hander Joey Guthrie, who used the 1988-89 seasons under Marshall as the springboard to two seasons in the minor leagues.  "I didn't know how to take him.  But looking at him now, I understand he's very intelligent.  He has a hard time getting down on other people's level.  After learning that, I realized that if I kept my mouth shut and listened, I could learn more than I ever thought I could.  What he teaches, the way he teaches, isnight and day from anybody else.  But the effectiveness of what he teaches is night and day also.  Not only is it different, but in my opinion, it's the way to do it."

Former Henderson State right-hander Rennie Scott describes the Marshall way as a pushing through the pitch rather than a pulling motion that most coaches teach.  Scott says that under Marshall, he went from "the kind of guy you can find on a street corner" to someone the Boston Red Sox deemed worthy of signing as a free agent.

"The first two semesters, it was very difficult, and I had a lot of problems with it," says Scott, who lasted 2 1/2 seasons in the Red Sox system.  "But once I picked up his style of throwing, you get to the point where you don't care if you were pitching to a hitter in a game, or throwing batting practice or just throwing.  You just wanted to pick up a bucket of baseballs and throw.

"There's no doubt in my mind I never would have played any type of professional baseball if it weren't for Coach Marshall.  I just wish I had gotten to him earlier.  If you're around him four, five, six years, and you pick up all that stuff, Lord, have mercy."  Quietly, if that's possible, Mike Marshall tries to exert a big-league influence.  He says he presently is serving as a consultant for eight active pitchers, including seven in the majors.  He won't disclose their identities, he says, at least in part because he doesn't want to step on the toes of any pitchers.

Besides, "I don't like to encourage it, because I'll become inundated," Marshall says.  "I give a two-year contract.  I'm not cheap.  They can call me day or night for two years.  I'm at their disposal to travel where they are at their expense for short periods of time not to exceed a week, provided my schedule allows."

The schedule doesn't allow for as much as it did the last two years, what with Marshall trying to revive a program that has been dormant since '71. Marshall landed at West Texas State after sending letters to 130 Southern schools, he wanted to work at a place with year-round baseball weather, with enrollments in the 3,000 to 12,000 range.  Though Marshall reports some 40 positive responses, only one school had an opening and a job offer.

So here Marshall is, 15 miles south of Amarillo at a school of 6,500.  He uses big words, and some of the players he recruits have never heard of him, but he says there is no trouble finding common ground.

"In and of the fact that they love baseball, we're already good friends," Marshall says.  "What I want to do is show them how they can be the best they can be.  I once said to an athletic director, `I don't believe in second chances.'  He said, `Damn it, I don't either.'  I said, `I believe in third, fourth, fifth, however many you need to succeed, chances.'  People need time to develop, to become what they should become.

"We all make mistakes.  If you cannot forgive the mistakes and see the growth from the mistakes, then what are we as a society?  We have to allow people to rehabilitate, correct their mistake and move forward."

Baseball continues to move forward, but Marshall wonders if it's progress.  Six other relievers have come along to win Cy Youngs since Marshall:  Sparky Lyle ('77), Bruce Sutter ('79), Rollie Fingers ('81), Willie Hernandez ('84), Steve Bedrosian ('87) and Dennis Eckersley ('92).  Prorating Fingers' strike-shortened season, those Cy Young winners averaged 69 appearances and 111 innings, barely half a season by Marshall's at-his-peak standards.

"They started giving them to relief pitchers for nothing," Marshall says.  "I have nothing against relief pitchers.  It's an interesting job.  Of course, these guys have setup guys, and they never pitch when they're not ahead and can get a save.  That's all silliness.  You can't even consider these people seriously.  When you're ahead by a run and you're pitching the ninth inning, that team has to give you an out, which means they have to bunt somebody up.  If they give you one out, you only have to get two.  If you get the first man out, you're automatically out of the inning.  It's so silly.

"If you're not pitching 162 innings, you're not pitching 10 percent of your team's innings.  I don't care if they're the eighth or ninth innings.  They give Cy Young Awards for 80 innings.  Are you kidding me?  Out of my ('74) season, I can give you two seasons of 80 innings of zero earned-run average.  Are you going to give me two Cy Young Awards?  It's ridiculous.

"But so what?"

There is, after all, so much to do.  So many things to plan.  A Lone Star Conference schedule beckons.

"Athletically, I want to develop a baseball program that pushes the envelope of how to get more and more out of a team," Marshall says.  "I want to develop some pitchers who do more than I did.  I wouldn't mind anybody breaking my record, as long as I trained him."

Happy Pitching Everybody

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