Dr. Mike Marshall's Pitching Coach Services

April 23, 1985 St. Petersburg Times

Marshall is Law at St. Leo: Ex-Big Leaguer Teaching a Unique Brand of Baseball at Pasco College
St. Petersburg Times
by Dave Dye
April 23, 1985

SAINT LEO, FL:  Technically, it is still baseball.  They exchange lineup cards at home plate.  Hot dogs with mustard is the entree.  There are brushbacks, chinkers, DP's and doubles into the gap.  Home to first is 90 feet.  Strike three, you're out.

We're talking baseball, that grand ole game.  Willie, Mickey and the Duke. Turn two, and root, root, root for the home team.  Baseball...so simple, so pure, so elegant.  And always with such little modification.

Then along came Mike Marshall.

Dr. Michael Grant Marshall, 42, winner of the 1974 Cy Young Award while appearing in a record 106 games as the relief ace of the Los Angeles Dodgers, has brought an out-of-this-world brand of baseball to obscure St. Leo College, a Division II school of 1,100 students located in the rolling hills on Pasco County's East Side.

After retiring from professional baseball four years ago and making a couple stops as an assistant coach, including one at the University of Tampa, the Doctor finally has his own laboratory.

Tiny St. Leo may never be the same. Perhaps neither will baseball.  With a doctorate degree from Michigan State University in kinesiology (or biomechanics) -- the physics of human movement and the anatomy involved in that movement -- Marshall teaches the bizarre, the abnormal, the nondescript.

He is a James T. Kirk, trying to boldly go where no man has ever been before.

Clone the hitters.  Place bat on shoulder.  Field grounders off to the side.  Have pitchers throw almost every day (what's a sore arm, anyway?).  None of this cheating toward second base to get the double play.  Swipe home as often as possible.  Steal third with two outs.  And so on and so on.

In other words, tear up The Book on the game's established and long-accepted theories.  At St. Leo, the same beliefs that drove baseball people to call Marshall a lunatic in his playing days are now spreading to the young.  And what's more, they like it.

"I guarantee there's no aspect of my program these guys have ever seen before," said Marshall, whose young Monarchs own a 20-21-2 record this spring.  "No one else teaches it.  It's my program.  I've got a doctor's degree; that says enough.  Describe me and you describe my program."

Okay, so describe this complex creature.

"He's unique," responded St. Leo senior pitcher Bobby Link, whose annual sore arm has been nonexistent under Marshall's guidance.  He has us do some crazy drills, like throwing off one foot.  But all I know is my arm feels great.  He knows how to train people.  I'm convinced that's why I'm healthy."

"He's his own person," added senior first baseman Phil Ross.  "He doesn't care what anybody else thinks of him."

When outsiders seek information about his New Wave techniques, Marshall politely informs them to hit the highway.  Complaining he once was plagiarized, The Doctor refuses to discuss specifics.

"I don't want to teach the world too much," said Marshall, known for having his fair share of ego.  "Let everyone else do it the other ways and they can say I'm nuts.  I take ideas from kinesiology and apply them to baseball.  We analyze high-speed film and try to get our players to put their muscles in the best position to apply force.  But listen, I get tired of giving out free information.  It's nobody's business."

But it is.  St. Leo's opponents are continuously amused, if not awed by it all.  Players from other teams stand around the batting cage before games, shaking their heads in disbelief at the oddities they see.

Following a recent victory over the Monarchs, Rolling College coach Boyd Coffie, a veteran of 13 years, was still trying to sort out exactly what he had witnessed.  With a befuddled expression, Coffie said, "They definitely do things a lot different than anybody I've ever seen.  Whether or not these techniques are going to hold up, only time will tell.  But Saint Leo obviously can score some runs.  I like that swing they use.  They keep the shoulder in and the bat stays on the same plane every swing.  They always hit line drives and ground balls.  They strike out very little.

"And they keep you off balance all the time.  For the first couple of innings, all they did was take pitches.  Then for the next few innings, all they did was go up there and swing.  It's always something different."

Added John Mayotte, coach of Eckard College:  "I don't know if the game is going to be changed by this or not, but Mike Marshall certainly is an intelligent man.  I think some of the things should be examined more closely.  The bottom line is performance, and we're just going to have to wait and see and judge it over a period of time.

Dr. Eugene Brown, an associate professor at Michigan State with a kinesiology background and an admitted baseball fan, said, "I agree that this type of application of physics to human movement -- understanding how the muscles can be applied and how the body moves -- could be very helpful for baseball, or all sports, for that matter.  But baseball has such a tradition -- as in, so and so hit a home run this way many, many years ago and that's how to do it -- that's going to be very difficult to break that line of thinking.  The traditional techniques have been established for too many years."

The Marshall-developed swing, one of his coaching trademarks, is designed to eliminate any looping, upward motion in the bat that results in pop-ups.  What's most interesting is that the Monarchs are near clones at the plate.  Whereas most coaches allow individuality among their hitters, Marshall demands that his use an identical stroke and stance.

"It's a short, very compact swing," explained Ross, who is hitting .478 with 18 home runs and 79 RBI this season after a .313 average and eight homers a year ago.  "The whole object is to hit line drives and ground balls.  You angle the bat evenly and rest it on your shoulder.  You keep the bottom-hand elbow in and the top hand you kind of punch out when you swing.  And you keep the shoulders pointed toward the opposite field.

"I'd never had anyone tell me or show me how to hit down on the ball like that before.  He says if you master his technique, school's out, you'll hit .600.  You'll break every record."

As a team, the Monarchs are hitting .313 and scoring 9.8 runs a game.  Two players, Ross and Cliff Champion, a sophomore outfielder from Dade City, each belted two grand slams in the same inning during separate games earlier this season -- rare feats to say the least.

"At first, I thought he was crazy when he came in here and changed all our swings," Ross said.  "But now I believe in it.  Mike Marshall has been the total difference in my hitting.  His techniques work."

Said Champion, who is hitting .390 with seven homers and 42 RBI after sitting on the bench most of last year.  "When you hit two grand slams in one inning, you can't help but like it.  He's developed a swing that would maximize oour muscles and all that stuff.  If nothing else, I can once say I played for Mike Marshall."

Despite a slight slump during the past week, the Marshall hitting technique has been receiving rave reviews all year long.  However, the problem for St. Leo, which has dropped 11 straight and is 2-15 and is in last place in the Sunshine State Conference going into Wednesday's game at the University of Tampa, has been poor defensive play.

With much of last year's 46-13 team graduated, Marshall was forced into a major rebuilding job in his first year.  Earlier in the season while they were beating up on Northern schools, St. Leo's freshmen and sophomores managed to get by with adequate glove work.

The substantive difficulties arose when sophomore shortstop Bobby White, who had botched only two of 66 chances, suffered a broken thumb on March 9.  Soon after, the defense began to fall apart.  During one 10-8 loss to Rollins, Saint Leo committed five errors in the 10th inning, allowing two-unearned, game-winning runs to score.

So shoddy has been the defense during much of the losing streak, Marshall blames the pitching staff's 7.19 earned run average on his fielders, who have made 124 errors in 43 games.  "Our pitchers are doing a good job," Marshall said.  "At one point, it got to where if we made five errors, it was a good game.  And a lot of the so-called hits wouldn't be hits if we could play defense."

Perhaps Marshall's peculiar fielding method is at fault here?  "No way," Marshall barked back. "It is not the technique.  These guys are young, inexperienced college players and they just don't have the talent to do it yet."

The coach teaches his defenders to field ground balls off to the side of the body with a backhand stab as opposed to the conventional style of moving directly in front of the ball, hoping to at least knock it down.

"There's an adjustment period to learning something so new like that," explained sophomore third baseman Brian Lucchesi.  "But after a while, you start to see results.  You have much better hand movement and reflexes this way.  You don't get your hands and arms tied up like you do fielding grounders the other way.  You're much quicker.  It just takes a while to get used to."

"I still think with the game on the line, you should get in front of it," Ross added.  "But as long as you're around here, you're going to do it his way."

That revelation has been confirmed from Day 1.  Anyone unwilling to carry out Marshall's philosophies was shown the door.  These weren't suggestions being offered by The Doctor.  They were orders.

"He laid down the rules from the start," Ross said.  "You do it his way or you don't play baseball.  It was tense at first.  I mean here was Mike Marshall, Cy Young, player rep.  We didn't know what to expect.  Now it's relaxed.  I even joke with him once in a while."

Despite the team's recent downslide, Marshall cliams he's loving life at Saint Leo.  Besides coaching, he also teaches several kinesiology classes.

"I'm having an absolute ball," Marshall said.  "I didn't get that doctorate degree to hang on the wall, you know.  I want to teach.

"Everybody assumes I here only temporarily.  But I want to build a quality baseball program out here.  My goals are long-range.  I see it as my job this year to teach the people around here how that's done."

Along the way, baseball's purists are closing their eyes.

Happy Pitching Everybody

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