|Dr. Mike Marshall's Pitching Coach Services|
August 06, 2007 Bradenton Herald
August 06, 2007
By JOHN LEMBO
Ex-big leaguer Mike Marshall believes his radical delivery technique can save pitchers' arms.  But, how many are willing to try it?
Mike Marshall is trying to revolutionize baseball.  Not in a laboratory or at a college, or on the outskirts of a ballpark, or nestled deep inside a bullpen.
Marshall's experiment takes place alongside Route 301, on a 280-foot-wide spread located across the street from a gas station and down the road from RV parks and a tire distribution center.
Past the white-picket fence encircling the area, young men toss plastic lids into pitching nets, lift wrist weights in front of a full-length mirror and do nearly 100 reps with 12-pound iron balls.
"My purpose is simply to eliminate pitching injuries," Marshall said during a recent summer morning at the research and training facility that bears his name.  "I know how to do it, I'm telling everybody how to do it, they can do it or not do it as they wish.  I think the mothers of 12-year-old pitchers would want their sons to do it."
A 14-year major league pitcher who retired in 1981, Marshall, 64, is sure his system works, positive if pitchers learn to throw a ball his way, there would be no more sore or stiff shoulders.  Pitching injuries, like the ones that have sidelined the careers of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, would go the way of the Pet Rock.
"With this pitching motion, it is impossible to hurt yourself," Marshall said.  "You have to be in shape, you have to train, but if you use this motion, you can throw."
He stumbled upon it following the 1967 baseball season when, as a rookie, Marshall appeared in 37 games for the Detroit Tigers.  His out pitch was a slider, which he threw the way the coaches taught him, "Turn that thumb up and yank that ball across," Marshall said and Marshall posted a 1.98 ERA.  But, when the season was over, Marshall said his right elbow was so stiff he had a hard time shaving.
Already en route to earning his doctorate from Michigan State, Marshall decided to do some homework.  He had his elbow X-rayed, and then sped up some film of him throwing sliders and fastballs and analyzed the delivery.  That's when he noticed the problem; whenever he threw his slider, he'd release the ball with his thumb facing upward, forcing him to bang his elbow into place.
"If you keep banging it, it calcifies to the extent that you can't extend your arm," he said.  "I lost 12 degrees of range of motion in my elbow.  It's a serious pitching problem."
Correcting it meant Marshall had to learn how to pronate his release.  When a pitcher pronates, he finishes his motion with his thumb facing down and the back of his pitching hand slanted toward his body, alleviating pressure from the elbow and the shoulder.  He also held his hand at the bottom of the baseball, incorporating a pendulum swing into his windup.
Using this method, Marshall built up a freakish brand of endurance.  He appeared in a record 106 games, all out of the bullpen, for the 1974 Los Angeles Dodgers, winning 15 games, securing 21 saves and logging over 208 innings, helping him win the National League Cy Young Award and helping the Dodgers reach the World Series.
Five years later at the age of 36, Marshall made 90 appearances, 89 of which came in relief - for the Minnesota Twins, threw in more than 142 innings and finished in the top five in Cy Young balloting for the fourth time in his career.
"That was the reason I could pitch 106 games (and) never be stiff, sore or tired, because there's no way I could hurt my elbow," Marshall said.  "There was no way I could have any back of the shoulder problems."
Christmas Day in 1999, Marshall opened his facility, teaching his system to anyone looking to buy in.  It's located about two blocks from his home and houses a maximum of 12 students in four white, one-bedroom apartments spread throughout the 280-by-150-foot property.  The initial program lasts for 280 days, then features six, 72-day programs after the original one is concluded.
Everything Marshall teaches is based on pronation and implementing a windup that involves no leg kick, where a pitcher brings his arm straight down, as if he is throwing a softball, and slings it forward.
Honing these techniques requires a number of diverse training methods.  Pitchers toss plastic lids covered in tape, and if the lid comes out of a pitcher's hand at a 45-degree angle, the pitcher is properly pronating.  Students squeeze a football at the top of an end so they can strengthen their fingers.  Iron balls, which vary in weight; one of the students, Jeff Sparks, was using a 12-pound weight while another, Dan Robinson, used an eight-pounder during one summer session are used to strengthen a pitcher's hand and help them accelerate the baseball.  Wrist weights, some of which top out at 30 pounds, get the blood to flow to the proper muscles.
Marshall teaches his pitchers a variety of curveballs and screwballs, along with two fastballs that can be thrown with equal effectiveness toward both sides of the plate.  But his whole lesson revolves around throwing the ball correctly.
"The first skill that a baseball pitcher must learn is to pronate the release of their pitches," Marshall said.  "The problem comes when pitchers are taught to throw a curveball, they turn their thumb up.  And they've been teaching that the entire history of baseball."
Consider Robinson one of the converted.
His father was searching the Internet, looking for someone to eliminate the pain in Dan's pitching elbow, when he stumbled upon Marshall's Web site.
That was in 2005.  Since then, Robinson, a 23-year-old New Hampshire native, and his family have moved to Wesley Chapel.  And after two weeks with Marshall, Robinson said his pain was gone.
"We came down here, and I had no idea what I was getting into," Robinson said.  "He was like, 'I can teach you how to throw without getting hurt.'  He's right.  He knows his stuff.  "I didn't think I could get into this shape in my life.  You can't get hurt; you just keep getting stronger and stronger," Robinson added.  "There's no limit to how strong you can get.  No ice, you don't need ice.  (Marshall) is the man."
Robinson wants everyone in baseball to listen to Marshall.  Nobody, however, has.
Sparks, a 1995 draft pick with the Cincinnati Reds who has been working with Marshall for more than a decade, spent 23 games with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999-2000, striking out 41 in 30 1/3 innings and sporting a 4.15 ERA.  He walked 30 but allowed just 19 hits, pitching to Marshall's credo, walks are OK, base hits are not.
Nonetheless, the Devil Rays demoted him and never brought him back, a decision Sparks and Marshall blame on Marshall's unique pitching motion.  Sparks, 35, hasn't returned to the Major Leagues since, jetting from one independent league to another in hopes of getting back to the big leagues.  "I've seen the United States through baseball," Sparks said.  "Everywhere I've gone, it's been the same old story; they like my ability to get people out, but they don't like the way I do it."
John Flaherty, Tampa Bay's catcher during Sparks' run with the Devil Rays, remembers the pitcher's screwball and his penchant for working out with the same weighted ball he uses at Marshall's facility.
"Right when he came up, he did really, really well for us," said Flaherty, now a broadcaster with the New York Yankees' YES Network.  "All the comments about his weird motion and all that, I don't know if that had anything to do with (Sparks getting released).  I remember he got off to a really good start and struggled a little bit, and (the Rays) made a move."
Ron Guidry, a 1978 American League Cy Young Award winner and now the Yankees' pitching coach, said he didn't know much about what Marshall has been teaching.  But he ventured a guess as to why baseball hasn't embraced it.
"You open up a lot of doors when you say, 'OK, let's try it this way,' " Guidry said during the Yankees' recent trip to Tropicana Field.  "Then somebody else is going to come up and say, 'Well, I've got the perfect way to slide.'  Now does Major League Baseball have to back that too?  The more that they can become involved out of their realm of things, then I guess they open themselves up to problems."
Atlanta Braves general manager John Schuerholz echoed that sentiment to Yahoo! Sports columnist Jeff Passan.
"It's so far afield from the traditional, normal method," he said.  "Not many people would be comfortable embracing a concept that's so basically diametrically opposed to the teachings of baseball."
Marshall has heard this all before.  He disagrees, obviously, but still plans on doing what he's doing, teaching what he is teaching; for he is sure his way is the right way.
"(Major League Baseball) thinks there is one way to do things, and that's the way it's been done for 130 years," Marshall said.  "They have no idea how good pitching can be.  It can be so much better than it is."