Dr. Mike Marshall's Pitching Coach Services

June 2010:  All Points North Magazine

Striking Out:  Young-winning pitcher's quest to revolutionize his craft
By Benjamin Pomerance
All Points North
June 2010

Go ahead.  Tell Mike Marshall he’s crazy.  Tell him he can’t reinvent a sport more tightly tied to tradition than an Amish wedding.  Tell him he can’t change an idea that’s been in every coach’s mind since Abner Doubleday was knee high to a grasshopper.  Tell him that any man who cites Sir Isaac Newton and Daniel Bernoulli as the two greatest influences on pitching belongs in a straitjacket, not a baseball uniform.  Tell him he can’t transform the game of baseball.

Marshall won’t be listening.

He’ll hear you, of course.  He’s heard it all:  The skeptics who insisted he couldn’t convert himself from a minor league shortstop to an award-winning pitcher.  The doubters who thought he was crazy when he X-rayed his arm or took high-speed film of his pitching motion.  The disbelievers who thought he had lost his mind when he bought an obscure piece of Florida land in 1999 and turned it into his own “Pitching Research & Training Center.”

He’s heard 'traditional' baseball pitching coaches call him a quack, a Don Quixote spouting scientific mumbo-jumbo.  He’s heard academics call him a fluke, an outsider whose athletic pedigree shuts him out of their ivory towers.

He’s heard everything you don’t want to hear when you’re chasing a dream.  Yet, the man who pitched 14 years as one of the best relievers of his era will tell you that with all the grief he’s endured, he’s learned one invaluable lesson:  Don’t ever listen.

“If I didn’t know that what I was doing was right, I wouldn’t be doing it,” says Marshall, perhaps the only man on the planet able to list both Cy Young winner (1974, with the Los Angeles Dodgers) and Ph.D. (1978, from Michigan State) after his name.

“I’ve done my research.  And as a researcher, I have a responsibility to share what I’ve learned.  I’ve done that.”  He pauses.  “The fact that no one in baseball realizes that I know what I am doing is not my problem.”

On the surface, Marshall’s claims are unexpected, if not outlandish.  Over the course of a conversation, he repeatedly states that he knows how to eliminate all pitching injuries.

The unconventional windup he teaches at his pitching center in Zephyrhills, FL may look like a Little Leaguer struggling to throw his first fastball.  And, his training program, one where his trainees do everything from hurtling 15-pound lead balls to throwing with weights around their wrists, is nothing, if not bizarre, but the pitcher fans once called “Iron Mike” says he has ironclad evidence to prove his point.

“I’ve had guys come in here throwing 65 miles per hour,” Marshall says.  “I get them to 80.  I’ve had guys come in here who have had doctors give up on them, who have been told they’ll never pitch again.  I get them pitching better than they were before.”

To accomplish this, he imparts lessons that seem better suited for a laboratory than a baseball diamond, concepts centered around torque and driveline height and enough medical data to make Hippocrates faint.

For the man who proudly reminds people of his scientific training, it’s all in a day’s work.  “I call muscles by their real names,” Marshall says, “and I can tell you to what bone they attach, not approximately, but exactly.  Show me a professional pitching coach who does that.”

Putting these principles into practice, Marshall says, creates the perfect pitching technique.  Every pitcher at his Pitching Center is required to follow it.

They begin by rocking directly back toward second base while dropping their pitching arm straight down.  Then, in a motion Marshall terms a “pendulum swing”, the pitcher swings their pitching arm downward, backward and upward to driveline height from where they abruptly slingshots his arm up past his ear and toward the plate in one move, stepping toward the plate with his glove-side foot and releasing the ball by turning his wrist inward with the thumb pointed at the ground.

There is no leg kick whatsoever, a staple of the conventional motion that Marshall calls “an absolute waste of movement.”

Never do Marshall’s pitchers rotate their pitching hip beyond second base, which Marshall says causes hip injuries, nor do they pitch with their foot parallel to the rubber, a stance the doctor says “destroys your pitching hip, knee and ankle.”

Striding 70 to 90 percent of their standing height in releasing the ball toward home plate is another “no”, an action which, according to Marshall, leads to lower back problems.

“What part of the traditional pitching motion do we want to keep?” he asks rhetorically.  “None.  If you want a pitching motion guaranteed to injure your pitching arm and body, use the traditional motion.”

Yet baseball, with few exceptions, hasn’t listened.  Leg kicks are still in vogue, pendulum swings are not.

Ask Marshall why professional baseball hasn’t noticed the program he claims will eliminate all pitching injuries, and “Iron Mike” really brings the heat.  “For some reason, people are in denial on this,” he snaps.

“The ‘traditional’ baseball pitching coach never knows how to fix what’s wrong, so it must be the pitcher’s fault.  The other thing is that to understand what I’m saying, these coaches have to learn something.  And we aren’t talking about people that like to read science reports here.”

Only an open-minded owner, Marshall continues, could let him implement his knowledge in the big leagues.  And once, just once, Marshall says he had that chance.

In 1978, he says Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck, another man known for unconventional ideas, asked Marshall to become his pitching coach.

“I had just signed a four-year deal (with the Minnesota Twins) for what was pretty good money,” Marshall recalls.  “So I told Bill Veeck that I would fulfill my contract, and then I’d become his pitching coach.

Two years later, Veeck sold the team.  When Bill left major league baseball, my only chance at coaching in the major leagues went with him.”

It’s not that Marshall hasn’t trained big league ballplayers.  Rudy Seanez first came to Marshall in 1989, a September call-up with the Cleveland Indians.

The next year, Seanez was named to his first major league roster, the start of a 16-year career in the majors.  Today, the longtime reliever still credits the Marshall plan for his success, and wonders why other players won’t take Marshall seriously.

“Mike’s ideas bring the advantage back to the pitcher,” Seanez explains.

“I gained about 10 miles per hour on my fastball after one off-season training with him, and I don’t have the best genetics to be doing that stuff.  I can’t imagine how well his stuff would work with someone who had greater natural ability and better control than I did.

If teams started incorporating what Mike did, instead of having one Roy Halladay, you’d have four or five on your staff.”

Marshall’s most avid disciple is probably Jeff Sparks, who made the big leagues in 1999 with Tampa Bay, but, despite striking out 41 batters in 30 1/3 innings, was released following the 2000 season.

“Mike’s a genius,” Sparks says.  “I can’t thank the man enough.”  He goes on to describe his first meeting with Marshall, arriving at West Texas A&M University as a long-shot who barely touched 80 on the radar gun.

After adopting Marshall’s ways, Sparks says, he could consistently throw 91 to 93 miles per hour, topping out around 96.  “I wasn’t on anybody’s track to make it,” he states.  “Working with Dr. Marshall, there was just a night and day difference.”

Still, Sparks says, Marshall’s ideas will probably never succeed at the highest level.  “The people that matter aren’t listening to him,” he says.  “They’re living in some sort of delusion.  They want to take little bits and pieces of what he’s done and mess around with it, but you can’t do that.  It’s a whole package.  It takes time, and people in baseball won’t give him that time.”

Many people in baseball don’t even want to talk about him anymore.  Dr. Glenn Fleisig, the respected biomedical engineer who works with Dr. James Andrews at the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI), declined to comment on Marshall’s concepts for this story.

On the ASMI Web site, however, a thread titled “Does ASMI Know What They Are Doing?” reveals a back-and-forth exchange with a number of posters, including Fleisig, about Marshall’s ideas.

Fleisig’s apparent skepticism seems to stem from a biomechanical evaluation ASMI researchers performed on four Marshall trainees in 2008.  According to Fleisig’s posts, empirical data from that evaluation (also posted under this thread) do not justify Marshall’s claims about the superiority of his methods.

Marshall, who roundly criticizes the ASMI study on his Web site, says that such criticism is common among the baseball establishment, people whom he says “think Sir Isaac Newton is the guy who invented the Fig Newton.”

Yet, the unbelievers seem to be winning.  Over time, Marshall has seen the center become a magnet for ambitious, but athletically limited players, athletes who, he insists, lose whatever skills he teaches them when they return to coaches preaching the traditional baseball methods.

“I don’t get top quality guys yet,” Marshall explains.  “People don’t come in here throwing 95 miles per hour.  Those aren’t the kind of players I get to work with.  If I did, you’d really notice the results.”

Marshall says his best test case might be himself.  After a back injury playing shortstop in the minors, Marshall turned to pitching as an alternative career path.

By 1967, he was pitching for the Detroit Tigers.  That off-season, though, Marshall discovered he had lost 24 degrees in the range of motion of his pitching elbow.  At the urging of a professor at Michigan State, where Marshall had been taking classes every winter, he X-rayed both arms and took high-speed film of his windup.

Analysis of that research, Marshall says, taught him to eliminate future injuries to his pitching arm and cut wasted motions from his delivery.  “I was 5’8” with a bad back, and I became a Cy Young winner at a time when relievers were barely considered for the award,” Marshall states.  “And I was hardly a star prospect.  I’d give anything to work with baseball pitchers that have more raw talent.”

But, he probably won’t have the chance.  In the fall of 2009, after his final three trainees left, Marshall closed his pitching center.  The proprietor says he won’t be shedding any tears after they’re gone.  “The clinic is over,” he announces succinctly.  “I’m dismantling it as we speak.”

After a decade of 365 days a year of coaching baseball pitchers, the place where he charged pitchers $10 a day for lessons and another $10 for room and board, Marshall decided to turn out the lights.

Enough years have gone by, enough time being the ranting lunatic nobody in baseball wants to hear, that Marshall feels comfortable calling it quits at the age of 67.  “I haven’t seen France,” he responds when asked of his plans.  “I want to go to England.  I want to travel with my wife.  There hasn’t been a lot of time for vacations in my life.”

While the pitching clinic's days may be over, Marshall says he will always work with pitchers who chose to follow his methods.

As for the center?  “I learned what I built the center to learn,” Marshall says.  “I believe I helped every pitcher who came to me.  I’ve taken my knowledge and put it out there to help others.  I don’t believe I can gain anything from doing this anymore.”

So go ahead.  Tell Mike Marshall he’s finally struck out.  Tell him the baseball world will be glad to be rid of his schemes, the musings of an irritating flake or a repressed genius, we’ll never fully know, that defied tradition.

Yet before you do, remember that the man who holds baseball’s records for most appearances in a season (106), most relief innings pitched in a season (208), most consecutive games pitched (13) and most games finished in a season has a hard time closing the door.  Just when you think he’s struck out for good, Marshall gives the slightest hint that he might actually be striking out on a new idea.

“I don’t ever want to work with another traditional baseball pitcher,” Marshall states.  “But if someone comes to me who’s studied my program and learned what I have to offer, and wants me to help them train, then we’ll see.  That’s the only way I’m willing to do it now.”

“I want to teach people to throw a baseball to the best of their abilities.  Someday, I hope some owner will know enough to pay attention.”

What do you know about Mike Marshall's pitching technique?

The Marshall Method, in Brief:

For several years now, Mike Marshall has claimed he has found the elixir to cure all pitching ills:  a method that can improve performance and eliminate injuries to hurlers at all levels of the game.

Below is a simplified version of the Marshall Method, written out using the four phases Marshall uses to explain his basic ideas.  Lunatic or visionary?  You decide.

(1)  Preparation Phase

The pitcher moves the baseball from his glove into a particular “ready position” and prepares to throw the ball toward the plate.  Marshall’s method does not differ dramatically from what he calls “traditional baseball pitchers” in this phase.

This segment of a pitcher’s delivery, as Marshall explains it, ends when the pitcher starts to move the elbow of his pitching arm toward home plate.

(2)  Acceleration Phase

The pitcher applies force to his pitch, sending it toward home plate.  Marshall’s pitchers are taught to extend and inwardly rotate their upper pitching arm as they thrust the ball forward.

This, Marshall says, drives the pitching arm straight toward home plate.

“Traditional” pitchers, he continues, pull their pitching arm back to the pitching arm side of their body, toward home plate, and across the front of their body, a series of motions Marshall says are not only wasted, but can also cause significant injuries.

(3)  Deceleration Phase

Many people, Marshall says, refer to this part of the pitching motion as the “follow-through.”  Typically, after a pitcher releases the ball, his pitching arm continues across the front of his body.  Pitching coaches call this a “strong follow-through,” an element commonly seen as key to a successful pitching delivery.

Yet, Marshall defies this idea entirely.  After releasing the ball, the pitching arm of Marshall-trained pitchers continues to move straight toward home plate.  This, Marshall says, helps pitchers gain velocity on their pitchers and prevents them from injury.

The primary factor, according to Marshall:  “Traditional” pitchers rely heavily on the naturally weak Teres Minor muscle in their follow-through, while Marshall pitchers use the much larger Latissimus Dorsi muscle in their deceleration.

(4)  Recovery Phase

Having thrown his pitch toward home plate, the pitcher now moves into a stance where he can field batted balls.  During the release of the ball, Marshall instructs his trainees to rotate the entire pitching arm side of their body forward through release.  He also tells his pitchers to have the foot on their pitching arm side land in line with the foot on their glove arm side.

As a result, instead of finishing their motion by facing the plate, as “traditional” baseball pitchers always do, Marshall’s pitchers end up standing sideways in relation to the plate.  While Marshall does admit this looks odd to people accustomed to seeing pitchers facing home plate at the end of their rotation, he says his recovery phase gives the pitcher a greater fielding edge than the conventional method.

Standing sideways to home plate, Marshall says, gives his pitchers a better body position from which to field bunts and ground balls to their glove arm side.  Even more importantly, he says, this position gives pitchers a better chance at protecting their head from being hit by line drives than facing home plate ever will.

Happy Pitching Everybody

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