|Dr. Mike Marshall's Pitching Coach Services|
July 27, 2007 St. Louis Post-Dispatch
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
July 27, 2007
By Tom Wheatley
FILE PHOTO:  Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Mike Marshall set a record when he relieved in 13 consecutive games for the Dodgers.
Chris Carpenter just had his fifth arm surgery in eight years.
If he and the Cardinals want to learn a possible reason why, they can walk across the street to the Adam's Mark at 3 p.m. today, and Mike Marshall will explain it to them.
Marshall, the former Cy Young reliever with a doctorate in exercise physiology, will address the Society of American Baseball Research convention.
He has spent the past 30 years researching pitching injuries and designing a motion he claims will eliminate them.
It's a straight-up, straight-ahead drive toward home plate, with no sideways movement of arm, leg or torso.  The ball is released with the hand aimed at home plate and the thumb "pronated" — pointed down — instead of up, as in the traditional motion.
Marshall has never examined or worked with Carpenter, but he says his system removes arm stress for every kind of pitch, including the curveball, and maximizes the speed of each pitch.  Major League Baseball, including the Cardinals, is skeptical.
The Cardinals did inquire.  In January 2006, assistant scouting director Dan Kantrovitz, who was researching theories on pitching mechanics, visited Marshall at his home outside Tampa, Fla.
Marshall detailed his system and the science behind it.  The band of believers at his modest, live-in training course pitched and fielded questions.
Marshall said that at Kantrovitz's request, he sent the Cardinals a video, which was returned in a beat-up package.
Farm director Jeff Luhnow, Kantrovitz's boss, said he was unaware of that response.
"That was completely a misunderstanding," said Luhnow, whose official title is vice president for amateur scouting and player procurement.
He said Kantrovitz summarized the details of his "fact-finding mission" to the staff, including general manager Walt Jocketty.
"It's very unorthodox, very unconventional," Jocketty said.  "People say he is unbending, that it's his way or the highway.  And people who think like that tend to turn people off."
Told of the comment, Marshall laughed and said, "That's about right."
His knows that his speech can be a mix of the technical and the tactless.  What exasperated him was Luhnow's reaction; while Luhnow called the system "interesting and eye-opening," he said the data proving success was "pretty anecdotal."
Marshall claims that no pitcher has been injured using his motion.  He said the documentation is on the video, in his book and in 20 scholarly presentations over the past 25 years.
Marshall, applying the research as he learned it, used his motion to become a record-setting reliever in the 1970s.  He set 15 records, including endurance marks that still stand for games pitched in a season (106), relief innings in a season (208) and consecutive games (13).
"A BIZARRO WORLD"
At age 64, Marshall remains isolated in what he calls "a bizarro world," in which doctors and coaches accept overhand pitching as the death of arms.
"That's such bull," said Marshall, adding a pithier syllable. "Every elbow is made for pitching.  It's the flaw in the motion that destroys the elbow.  There is absolutely no stress on your arm, if you learn how to use the arm correctly."
Marshall choked up as he pondered disabled talents such as Carpenter and Mark Mulder of the Cardinals, and Kerry Wood and Mark Prior of the Cubs.  He calls arm injuries an epidemic.
That compassion, not financial compensation, drives his passion.
His pitching school about breaks even.  He put his instructional book and videos on his website, www.drmikemarshall.com, at no cost.  He freely answers e-mails from parents and youth coaches.
He calls doubters "the flat-earth society."
"What I'd like is for all the pitching coaches on every big-league team to come down here and learn this stuff, so I can quit doing it," Marshall said. "But they're afraid to have to learn."
"Most pitching coaches say, 'I've been playing all my life and this is how we do it.'  So kids keep getting hurt.  And these guys don't care."
Marshall began turning his sport on its head in 1967.  He was a 24-year-old rookie with the Detroit Tigers with a 1.98 earned-run average and a right arm that ached when he combed his hair.
He was also an off-season grad student at Michigan State.  He analyzed comparative X-rays of his arm and high-speed film of his traditional motion, which he decided was both dangerous and inefficient.  So he gradually built a new motion based on Newton's three laws of motion.
He has critics, but nobody will debate him or offer proof that his system is flawed.  His supporters say that's for good reason.
"Nobody can take the opinion 'it doesn't work' for any procedure that Mike has," said Michael Greenisen, a NASA biomechanics expert who went to graduate school with Marshall.  "The data is there on the 500 frames per second of film, plus lack of injuries to anyone using the technique, plus the testimonials."
Marshall's head cheerleaders in baseball are former Tampa Bay pitcher Jeff Sparks and veteran college coach John Maley.
Sparks played for Marshall at West Texas A&M, was drafted by Cincinnati and played for parts of 1999 and 2000 with Tampa Bay, fanning 41 in 30 1/3 innings.  Maley is head coach at Incarnate Word, an NCAA Division II school in San Antonio.  He got his start at Henderson (Ark.) State, where head coach Marshall made him pitching coach.
"In the 20 years I've known Mike and used his system, my pitchers have not had one arm injury," Maley said.  "And my guys are better at the end of the year than the beginning of the year."
Marshall believes nobody should pitch competitively until the biological age of 13 — as shown by growth plates on X-rays, not by the calendar.  Then they should be limited to one inning per game, two games per week, two months per season.
Players must be 19 to enroll in his live-in camp.  Minus the big-league stamp of approval, he does not hear from healthy blue-chip prospects.  Their arms don't hurt.  Yet.
He mostly attracts pitchers with nothing to lose.  Marginal talents hoping to make a college team.  Long-shot draft hopefuls.  Damaged goods.
That sets Marshall up for comments like this from Luhnow:  "It sounds great, it really does.  But how many pitchers in the big leagues really utilize it?"
A better question may be:  How many Marshall protégés are left alone by pro pitching coaches?
Sparks said that after being signed by the Cincinnati Reds, he was surrounded by six coaches, told that he had the best arm in camp but that he had to change to a conventional delivery.
Marshall has sent three protégés to the big leagues — Sparks, Jeff Kubenka from St. Mary's (Texas) and Dodgers reliever Rudy Seanez from St. Leo (Fla.).  Others are rising in the minors.
"Mike's a genius," Sparks said.  "His time will come.  It just may not be in my lifetime."
Maley believes the push will come from owners or their bean counters, who will finally overrule the traditionalists for financial reasons.
Meanwhile, Marshall keeps stepping straight ahead.  Since the early '90s, he has had an offer from NASA to study bone and muscle deterioration in space.
"I'd love to have Mike here working," Greenisen said.  "But it took me awhile to realize that his passion and obsession is preventing injuries to pitchers in baseball."
And so as Chris Carpenter, a fellow Cy Young winner, had another elbow surgery, and the Cardinals pay him $18.5 million not to pitch for nearly two years, it has come to this for Marshall:
Rocket science values his expertise.  Big-league baseball does not.
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