Dr. Mike Marshall's Pitching Coach Services

May 2006 St. Petersburg Times

Ex-pitcher has yet to lose passion for quixotic quest
By Dave Scheiber

The place is tucked beside a cluster of old oaks just off U.S. 301, an unassuming spread sharing the roadside view with Stepp's Towing Service and Autoland used cars.

It's 9 a.m. sharp, a breezy weekday morning here in the town famous for fresh bottled water.   But behind a worn white wooden fence, set off by a sign proclaiming in big black letters, "Pitching Research & Training Center," a man who enjoyed fame for a time as the best closer in big-league baseball pursues his life's mission in daily obscurity.

As always, the Doctor is in.

"I see you found us okay," he says with a smile to a recent visitor.

Dr. Mike Marshall, 63, walks briskly over to shake hands by a weathered cinderblock building that anchors the front of his property.   A professorial-looking figure, he is bald on top and gray on the sides, with a roundish 5-8 1/2 frame and a flame still burning in his blue eyes.

Those eyes stared down batters back in his mutton-chop sideburn days in the 1970s.   With the '74 Dodgers, he became the first reliever to win the Cy Young Award, setting major-league single- season records with 106 appearances, 2081/3 innings and 13 straight games pitched in relief - among 15 marks in a career from 1967-81.

When it comes to workhorse stature, Mike Marshall set the standard.   His major-league record for innings pitched by a reliever in a season isn't likely to be broken, and he holds the second- highest total as well:

1. Marshall, 208 1/3, 1974, Dodgers
2. Marshall, 179, 1973, Expos
3. Bob Stanley, 1681/3, 1982, Boston

Those same eyes pored through two decades of research at Michigan State, which he attended nearly every offseason in the minors and majors from 1960 through 1978.   That last year, when he finished seventh in the AL Cy Young voting for Minnesota, Marshall earned his doctorate in philosophy with an expertise in biomechanics.

But there is more to the eyes now.   They are a reflection of intensity and single-minded purpose, of a man convinced he knows something that will help baseball in a big way, if only he can get anyone to listen.

The title of his 1978 Ph.D. dissertation was hardly the stuff of standard dugout banter:   "A Comparison of an Estimate of Skeletal Age with Chronological Age When Classifying Adolescent Males for Motor Proficiency Norms."

Yet Marshall's study of kinesiology early in his career led him to a surprising discovery.   He developed a motion that ended the immense stress on his elbow, allowing him to pitch well with little rest.

Today, Marshall's approach to hurling a hardball has become the pitch of his life.   He delivers it with urgency and passion, peppered with technical terms and physiological explanations.

He has an exhaustive Web site (drmikemarshall.com) outlining his findings in the microscopic detail of a man who once turned down a full scholarship to study neurosurgery.

He has produced a 21/2-hour, double DVD training video that spells out every element of his research, emphasizing the physical harm done by the traditional "reverse rotation" delivery.

Simply put, Marshall says he can eliminate all pitching-arm injuries from Little League to the majors if people in the game - GMs, managers, coaches, pitchers - would adopt his method.

The thing is, the only real interest so far is from the two dozen high school and junior college pitchers who come from all over the country each year to master the technique.

It is a motion that stirs emotion in Marshall.

"The reverse rotation is destroying pitching arms, and you think I can get a single major-league pitching coach to understand that or a single GM to call me up and ask me to come talk to them?" he says, his normally even-toned voice rising.

"Not at all. They're dealing with some fantasy Earth-is-flat reality.   You can't convince them to do otherwise.   And I don't know how to beat this wall of ignorance.   The problem is, I know how to eliminate all pitching-arm injuries.   I know how to do it.   I swear to God I do."

His epiphany came after his rookie year in 1967.

Marshall finished with a 1-3 record, posting a 1.98 ERA with 10 saves.   But he was aware of a tightness in his pitching elbow.   When the season ended, he found he no longer could bend his pitching arm up to his shoulder or extend it straight out.

X-rays showed he had lost 12 degrees of his range of motion from the constant stress on his elbow joint.   He mentioned the problem to his kinesiology professor, who suggested he film himself pitching using a high-speed film camera.   Marshall, a graduate assistant at the time, borrowed one from the agricultural engineering department and soon had a eureka moment.

Watching himself at 400 frames per second, he could see the heavy twist and torque movement of his arm, causing the elbow bone to slam into its joint with each pitch.   Only when he threw his fastball - turning his palm outward upon releasing the ball - did the stress on the elbow disappear.

This "pronation" of the palm, as Marshall calls it, lies at the core of the pitching style he developed for himself and teaches his students for all types of pitches.   He says it is essential in protecting elbows. But it is not the only thing that makes his motion different.

The traditional pitching movement, he explains, features a reverse rotation of the hips and shoulders away from the plate before releasing the ball toward home.   "What they don't understand is that when you take your pitching elbow laterally behind your body, before you can throw the ball to the plate, you have to bring your elbow back to the pitching arm side of your body and then redirect the ball toward home," he says.   "Well, anything you've done sideways is counterproductive.   You have to stop that side force in order to start it again toward home plate."

The style he teaches looks considerably different, though it offers the same variety of pitches.   The emphasis is on applying a continual, straight-on force toward the plate.   The pitcher swings his arm back and all the way up - ready to drive the ball over the top as soon as his glove foot lands.

"So we can drive behind it as hard as we want and we'll never hurt ourselves," he says.   "With the traditional motion, you can tear the heck out of your shoulder and elbow.   Professional baseball started about 130 years ago and baseball has just been copying the guy who won the most games that first year.   But it was a terrible motion then and it still is."

A typical morning at Marshall's school begins with weight training, but in a most atypical fashion.

His students warm up by putting donut-shaped weights, as heavy as 25 pounds, on their wrists.   They swing their arms overhead, then eventually begin thrusting their weighted arms forward, punching the air full force, in a simulated delivery.

Instead of throwing baseballs, they warm up with lead balls weighing 10-12 pounds and hurl footballs to gauge the spin action of a pitch.

"These guys work out very hard and develop incredible arm strength," Marshall says.   "You take a 25-pound weight and strap it on the biggest, strongest major-league pitcher and say, 'Okay, let me see you throw a pitch with it.'   He can't do it.   They think they're strong, but they're not.   They're not trained at all.   They only throw baseballs.

"The point is," he adds, "you don't need steroids to get very, very powerful.   In fact, we get more powerful than (athletes who use them) will ever get because we not only strengthen the muscles, we strengthen the bones, ligaments and tendons, and we do it in a manner the body is supposed to do it."

Marshall's students swear by his teachings. Most have developed well-muscled upper bodies and have embraced his forward-motion pitching style.   Most have enjoyed success in high school but want to improve their chances of excelling on college teams and perhaps of playing big-league ball.

Clint Wilson, 19, of Tyrone, Pa., battled elbow problems as a high school pitcher.   "Every time I'd throw, it'd take two weeks to throw at least halfway better again," he says.   "But since I came here, I've thrown every day.   It's amazing to not feel like my arm's going to fall off before I throw."

The students pay about $200 for their weights and equipment, and Marshall charges them $10 for housing a day in small dorms plus $10 for each class in various programs that run from August through May.   After training, many work odd jobs at nearby Saddlebrook Resort.

And all face the same obstacle:   returning to coaches who mistrust their new pitching forms.

"A lot of times, you go to a tryout and the coach will say, 'That's nice but that's not for my team,' " says Reed Metz, 20, of Hudson.   "And then they'll tell you to get the heck out of there."

"Those coaches aren't interested in learning," Marshall says.   "They just demand the kids change back."

Making inroads in the majors is even harder.

"It's a club-by-club decision as to whether they would want to adopt it," Major League Baseball spokesman Pat Courtney says.   "It's not something we could mandate."

Other baseball officials contacted by the Times declined to comment for attribution but say that the idea of fundamentally changing the way pitchers throw is neither practical nor realistic.   They maintain that it would require an organizational overhaul and that there is no compelling track record to spur such a dramatic change.

"I think baseball guys say, 'He's a nice guy but we think he's a kook,' " Marshall says.

But Marshall has supporters.

"Mike is a highly independent and unique individual, and I have a lot of respect for what he achieved," says Red Adams, Marshall's former pitching coach with the Dodgers.   "He had a great screwball that he could throw at different speeds.   He knew every muscle in his body.   And he worked at perfecting something different and made it work."

   Then there's Michael Greenisen.   They met in 1966 in graduate school when Marshall was a senior grad assistant.

Greenisen works for NASA, where he has directed the biomechanics lab and now conducts experiments for the international space station.

Greenisen helped Marshall with his early high-speed filming and has remained close.

"He's not passionate, he's obsessed," he says with a chuckle.   "Mike is obviously a very bright guy.   He hit the tail end of that period in baseball when there weren't a lot of college-educated players, and virtually no college-educated coaches or managers.   So he became a little bit of an anomaly.   He's a guy who applied classical Newtonian physics and utilized his talent to become a major-league pitcher."

Initially, pro baseball was a way for Marshall to pay for college.   He was a shortstop in the Phillies' minor-league system from 1961-65 but experienced persistent pain as a batter from a childhood car accident.   So he decided he'd be better off at his other position, pitching.   In 1966, now in the Detroit farm system, he campaigned to get a shot and looked good enough that the Tigers brought the right-hander up as a pitcher in 1967.

In 14 years, Marshall posted a record of 97-112 with a 3.14 ERA.   In addition to the '74 Cy Young, he was fourth in NL balloting in '72 and second in '73, then seventh in the AL in '78 and fifth in '79 He was an NL All-Star twice and a fireman of the year with three clubs, though his strong views often created friction with teammates and managers.

As a Seattle Pilot in 1969, one of his teammates was famous renegade pitcher Jim Bouton, who went on to author the baseball best- seller, Ball Four.

"I haven't studied what Mike is proposing, but I just know that Mike has always been way ahead of baseball," Bouton says.   "When we were with the Pilots together, they dismissed Mike and he wound up in the minors because baseball couldn't tolerate somebody like Mike Marshall, somebody who was different.   They didn't like his personality - and then he went on to become a Cy Young Award winner.   He's a guy who thinks outside of the box, and the guys in power are very much inside the box."

Bouton sees a simple solution.

"How would it hurt baseball to bring Mike Marshall to spring training or some sort of special camp and listen to what he has to say and try out his theories?" he says.   "Give him a minor-league team to work with.   See what happens.   It isn't that they dismiss an idea.   It's that they don't even want to give it a chance.   I mean, he has some credibility.   He's not just some guy out of the woodwork."

Marshall, who lives modestly off his career earnings, holds out little hope of major-league baseball taking him seriously.   He insists he feels no frustration over that.   Instead, he says he is focusing on a new generation, buoyed by the completion of his instructional DVD in April.   He wants to educate parents of youth ballplayers about the perils of the traditional pitching.   And he presses on, hoping the youngsters he trains will one day change attitudes.

"I have an obligation to teach what I know," he says.   "Basically, I'm giving my knowledge away.   I've nowhere near recouped the cost of what I've done.   I just want to teach people how to throw a baseball to the best of their abilities.   I know how to do that."

The Marshall Motion

In Dr. Mike Marshall's pitching motion, the pitcher swings his arm back like a pendulum as far as he can then brings the ball over the top as soon as his glove foot lands.   The idea is to drive the ball in as straight a line toward home plate as possible, though all manner of breaking balls can be thrown with the technique.   The delivery, explains Marshall, differs from the traditional style, which is marked by a "reverse rotation" of the hips and shoulders away from the plate before re-directing the ball toward home - a motion he decries as the cause of elbow and shoulder injuries.

Rays botched test case, Marshall says.

The one real big-league test case for Mike Marshall's pitching method involved a former Devil Ray.   Marshall's top pro success story, Jeff Sparks, pitched briefly with Tampa Bay in 1998-99 and sings his praises.

While serving as coach at West Texas A&M in 1993-94, Marshall worked with a right-hander named Jeff Sparks.   In the summer of 1999, the Rays obtained Sparks in a trade with Pittsburgh.   He made his major-league debut in September and stayed with the team until mid May 2000.

Sparks logged 30 innings, striking out 41, walking 30 and yielding 19 hits.   After the Rays learned that Dr. Marshall had trained Jeff, they released him, and Marshall doesn't hide his feelings on the matter:   "They tried to change Jeff, and as a result of him not being able to do it their way, they released him."

Sparks, now 34, never pitched in the majors again but has tried to keep his career alive in independent ball.   "As far as Mike's program, the only thing I can say about it is there's no better way to throw a baseball in the world," he says. "You cannot injure your arm.   Can't.

"My driving force now is to pitch 'til I'm 56 or 60 and prove to everybody that this is the way to throw a baseball, despite how it may look."


     The reported did the interviews in May, before my pitchers left for the summer.   I thought that he did a very good job.

     I especially liked that he got a comment from a General Manager as to why they are not interested in talking with me.   "Other baseball officials contacted by the Times declined to comment for attribution but say that the idea of fundamentally changing the way pitchers throw is neither practical nor realistic.   They maintain that it would require an organizational overhaul and that there is no compelling track record to spur such a dramatic change.

     In this comment, this anonymous baseball official cited three reasons why he is not interested in talking with me.

01.   He said that the idea of fundamentally changing the way pitchers throw is neither practical or realistic.

     Why is it not practical or realistic.   In 1971, after I took high-speed film of myself, I fundamentally changed how I threw my pitches.   As a result, my earned run average went from 4.38 in 1971 to 1.78 in 1972.   I believe that the changes I made in a single off-season were both practical and realistic.

     But, where is the harm?   I could take high-speed film of their pitchers, teach them how to pronate their releases and minimally train them with my wrist weight and iron ball exercises and they could see for themselves how practical and realistic the changes are.   After all, if they did not like the changes, then they could always return to what they did before I trained them.

02.   He said that using my pitching motion and interval-training program would require an organizational overhaul.   Who designed the pitching motion and training program that they are presently using?   Are the pitchers in their organization without pitching arm injuries?   Are they producing Cy Young quality pitchers?   Maybe they need an organizational overhaul.

03.   He said that there is no compelling track record to spur such a dramatic change.   I think that my accomplishments represent a compelling track record.   I can train their pitchers to be better than I was.   Besides, he has stacked the deck against me.   They will not let my pitchers pitch the way that I teach them.   Jeff Sparks struck out forty-one batters in his thirty major league innings and had a 1.54 earned run average after his first twelve games in 2000 and they released him.

     I will accept any even-playing-field challenge that pits their 'traditional' pitching motion and training program against my pitching motion and training program.

Happy Pitching Everybody
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