Dr. Mike Marshall's Pitching Coach Services

December 2003 Baseball Digest

Remembering the days of former pitcher Mike Marshall: setting major league records for relievers in games and innings worked in 1974 helped him win the National League Cy Young award

By Norman L Macht
December, 2003

LONG BEFORE FRANK SINATRA'S hit record, "My Way," Mike Marshall was doing things his way.  The only player who could put a Ph.D after his name while, still active (Exercise Physiology, Michigan State, 1978), Marshall alienated pitching coaches, managers, teammates and club owners for his insistence on following his own training methods and mechanics, and his outspoken union activities.  He didn't win many friends, but he won a Cy Young Award in 1974, posted 92 career wins in relief, and records for appearances in a season.

Sitting at his Pitching Research and Training Center in Zephyrhills, Florida, Marshall talked about the triumphs and travails of his 14-year major league career, and his conclusions after "40 years of thinking about it" on how a baseball should be thrown.  In short, he doesn't agree with anything that anybody has done in the past 100 years of teaching pitchers how to pitch.

Keeping an eye on the young men working out as part of his 280-day program on how to increase velocity, throw six different pitches, and especially avoid arm injuries, Marshall summarized what's wrong with what traditional pitching coaches teach.

"They use the balance position--stand on the rear leg and raise the front leg.  Then they start the body forward while they start the arm backward.  The body's moving forward, the arm's moving backward, laterally behind their body.  The arm goes behind a line through the tips of both shoulders.  The pitcher is reverse rotating his shoulder and that line now points behind a pitching-arm-side batter.  Now all the pitcher can do is pull the ball. which hurts the inside of the shoulder.

"The force they generate bringing the ball back to throw it pulls that arm out in a circle and they end up pulling the ball in a big circle toward home plate.  That stresses the front of the shoulder and inside of the elbow.

"Pitchers can throw harder and avoid injuries by bringing their arm straight back toward second base and throwing straight toward home plate.

"The only way to get in shape to throw a baseball is to throw a baseball.  Specific training of specific muscles, if you do it properly, by driving the arm straight forward instead of across your body."

Marshall paused to call out some encouragement and direction to one of his students.

"The traditional pitching motion is to stride out so far you can't move your body ahead of your front foot," he explained.  "Most pitchers release the ball right beside their ear.  My guys release the ball 12 to 18 inches in front of their head."

Marshall didn't start out believing all this.  In fact, he didn't even start out as a pitcher.  Signed out of high school in Adrian, Michigan by Phillies scout Tony Lucadello, Marshall was an aching-back, good-hit no-field shortstop.  A car accident when he was 11 affected two adjacent disc in his lower back causing chronic sciatica.  He couldn't lake the everyday bending the position requires.

After hitting .275 at AA Chattanooga in 1964, he informed the Phillies that he was going to become a pitcher.  They weren't pleased.  He started the season at Chattanooga, relieved a few times, and was given two days notice to report to Class A Eugene, Oregon.  Now 22, with a wife and two kids, and working on his Master's at MSU, he needed the money.  So he packed up and drove straight through, got an apartment, settled his family, showed up at the ballpark and pitched that night.

But the Phillies wanted a shortstop, not a pitcher.  They traded him to Detroit.  Assigned to Montgomery, he played short and pitched enough to compile an 11-7 record in 51 games.

The next year he was up with the Tigers; in 37 games he had a 1.98 ERA, 10 saves, and the first in a long line of run-ins with managers, coaches and catchers.

"I figured it's my life, my career.  I'm in charge of it.  Bill Freehan was the Tigers catcher.  I didn't always throw what he wanted; I threw what I wanted.  He got the manager, Mayo Smith, to order me to throw what the catcher called for.  I still threw what I wanted.

"As a right-hander, I was having trouble getting left-handed batters out.  The next spring, I began working on a screwball.  Smith told me to forget it.  'You don't need it,' Smith said.  'You're not even going to pitch to left-handers.'

"I said, That seems rather primitive.  I want to be able to pitch to lefties as well as righties.'  "Smith said, 'Stop throwing it.'  "I said, 'Sorry, sir, can't do that.'  "So he sent me down to Toledo.  I can't say what I told him."

After a 15-9 season, Marshall was plucked by the expansion Seattle Pilots.  He was mugged one night in Cleveland and suffered two separated shoulders.  He also added Pilots manager Joe Schultz and pitching coach Sal Maglie to his non-fan club.

"I had developed my own way of trying to pick a man oil second base.  Instead of spinning around, I lifted my front leg and turned 90 degrees facing second and threw.  It was a lot quicker.  Once I picked off Bert Campaneris and Rick Monday in the same inning, and cut off a lot of potential runs that way.  Joe Schultz had never seen it and he didn't want me to do it that way.  I did it anyhow.

"Maglie called me a smart-assed college kid, because I didn't listen to him.  I had decided not to listen to anybody.  I didn't have everything figured out yet, but I knew what they were telling me contrary to everything I'd learned about physics.

"From now on, there was only one pitching coach I'd listen to.  He never won a major league game, but he helped me set some major league records.  His name was Isaac Newton."

After a brief stop in Houston, Marshall came down, as the old Shaker hymn puts it, where he ought to be--Montreal.

"Expos manager Gene Mauch understood that I was working hard to become the best pitcher I could be and I cared a great deal about what I was doing.  I give him every credit for the success I had in baseball."

What did Mauch and coach Cal McLish do?  They left him alone.  He didn't sit in on pitchers' meetings.  He didn't run wind sprints with the other pitchers, using his bad back as an excuse.  That didn't set well with the rest of the pitchers, which didn't bother Marshall one bit.

But he was always in shape, doing it his way:  secretly running 2.5 miles in 20 minutes every morning year round.  On the road, he'd be up early, circling the city blocks and returning before anybody else was awake.

"Until one day I was up a little later and somebody was up a little earlier and saw me and told everybody.  Blew my alibi."

As a starter, he could make it through five or six innings, then he'd run into trouble.  But he could also throw every day with no stiffness or soreness.

Mauch took all that in and said to him, "I'm not sure I want to start you every five days if I can use you in relief three of those five days.  Do you mind?"

Marshall said, "That's fine with me." And that's how he became a reliever.

In those days, closers didn't pitch just one inning with a lead, at least not Marshall.

Beginning in 1971, he averaged almost two innings per appearance for the next 10 years.  In 1973, he worked 179 innings in a record 92 games, and led all relievers with 14 wins, 11 losses and 31 saves.  That's a workhorse performance.

The Dodgers had finished close to the top in the N.L. West in the four years before 1974.  They needed a workhorse in the bullpen, and traded longtime favorite Willie Davis for Marshall.  In Los Angeles, Marshall didn't have any trouble with manager, Walter Alston or pitching coach, Red Adams.  This time it was a catcher and a third base coach.

"Walter Alston was a beautiful human being.  He understood more about people and how to get the most out of them than any other manager I played for.  My first day, he came to me and said, 'How do you want me to use you this year?'

"I said, 'I'll let you know if I'm not able to pitch on a certain day.  Otherwise you can pitch me every day if you feel I can help you win a ball game.'

"Alston said, 'Sounds good to me,' and that was that."

Alston used him in a record 106 games, in close games and games with a lead, till the game ended.  Marshall finished 83 games, still the National League record.  He worked 208 innings, a year's work for a lot of starters these days, with 15 wins, 12 losses, 21 saves, and a Cy Young Award.

It took a while for Marshall to get catcher Steve Yeager to see things his way.  There were a few incidents like this:  Yeager puts down a fastball sign.  Marshall stares at him.  Yeager flashes it again.  Marshall keeps on staring at him.  Yeager calls time and goes to the mound and says, "What's the matter, can't you see the sign?"  Marshall says, "Yeah, I know exactly what you put down.  My question to you is, do you want to know what I'm going to throw?  I ain't throwing that.  But if you don't want to know, I'll just go ahead and throw."

While Marshall had figured out how to throw every day with no arm problems, he still had that aching back.  He couldn't fix that by himself.  "Every day I got in the whirlpool, then the assistant trainer, Jack Hommel, did adjustments on my lower back.  That's the only way I could pitch. I couldn't jog or run hard."

Oh, and that third base coach Marshall clashed with?

"I called my own pitches," he said, "so I had to set my own defense that differed from the starter's.  But I didn't want to look around and motion guys to move.  That's embarrassing to them.  It's also a tipoff to the hitters.  I spoke to Alston about it.  He told me to signal the third base coach on the bench and he'd relay it.  If I wanted an outfielder to move in or out or over, I'd give the coach a sign.

"One day there's a left-hander at the plate.  I want my left fielder shallow and near the foul line.  I give the sign and throw my pitch.  The batter reaches out and hits a little pop fly shallow near the left field line, I turn and look and my left fielder is way over in left center field.  The ball falls in for a triple.

"I come in after the inning and say to Alston, 'Remember us talking about defense and how I could get the guys to be where I wanted them?'  "He nods. I say, 'I just want to let you know I signaled the coach to move my left fielder over on the line and shallow, where that ball was hit.'  "Alston turns and asks the coach why he didn't move the left fielder.  The coach says, 'That guy never hits it down the, line.  I say, 'He did, didn't he.  I knew he was going to.  I threw the pitch that would make him do that.  You're not involved in the decision-making process.  If I want him over there, you move him, or I'll turn around and do it myself.'"

Mike Marshall is not an admirer of that coach--Tommy Lasorda.

Marshall pitched three scoreless innings in the 1974 League Championship Series, then finished all five games in the Dodger's World Series loss to Oakland.  Four of those games were 3-2.  (Rollie Fingers worked in four games, and was the MVP.)

The only run Marshall allowed in nine innings was the winning run in Game 5.  He relieved Don Sutton in the sixth inning with the score 2-2.  Joe Rudi led off in the bottom of the seventh.  A right-handed batter, "easily the best hitter Oakland had," Marshall said.

"I had tried pitching him away earlier in the series and he had reached out and hit a line drive to right field.  "So now I'm thinking I've got to back him off the plate, get him off the outside pitch.  I'm ready to pitch when time's called.  My left fielder, Bill Buckner, has a little problem with the fans out there throwing things at him.  I'm standing there waiting.  I don't want to throw any more than I have to, cause Alston has told me I'm going to start Game 6 and I'm already in my second inning of this one.

"Finally things are resolves and Rudi steps in.  I throw a fastball in under his hands a little off the plate inside, his opens up and--bam--hits it out of the park as though he knew what was coming.  Later Rudi said he was talking with Claudell Washington during the delay, and they decided the only reason I didn't continue throwing to warm up was because I was going to throw a fastball inside and I didn't have to throw that to warm up--whatever that means.

"But give them credit.  Their reasoning was wrong, but they reached the right conclusion."

Confronted with a problem Marshall looks for a way to solve.  Joe Rudi's home run got him thinking, "How can I back a right-hand batter off the plate without throwing a fastball inside, where the penalty is high if he guesses right?"

He developed a pitch he calls a maxline curveball that breaks down on the inside corner.  "If they guess right they end up hooking it foul.  It's the safest pitch to get the batter off the outside of the plate.  I worked very hard on that and seven years after I retired, I mastered it.  Now I teach it."

One day in 1975, Marshall threw a hard curve and popped a rib on the left side.  He was out for a month, came back and pulled it again near the end of the season.

Throughout his career, Marshall was active in the Players Association as a player and league representative, none of which endeared him to his employers.

In 1975, the celebrated Messersmith-McNally arbitration case started out to be the Messersmith-Marshall case.

During the 1974 season, Marshall noticed that Andy Messersmith couldn't use his pitching arm when he ate.  Marshall invited him to Michigan State that winter, where they got novocaine shots in their shoulders, then had X-rays taken while they tried to bend and extend their arms.

"The results showed us the destructive processes of the traditional pitching motion on our arms," Marshall said.  Even today, Marshall can touch his left shoulder with his left hand with ease, but can't come close to doing the same on the right side.

"While he was there, I said to him, This reserve clause in our contracts is open to interpretation.  The owners think it means they can renew it every year.  I think maybe they call renew it for only one year and then you'd be a free agent.  Suppose you and I don't sign 1975 contracts.  I'm the player rep:  I'll be the lead dog.'

"But I had overlooked that when I'd signed for '74, I had agreed to a minimum I would play for in '75.  The Players Association said in effect, I had signed a two-year contract.  So I couldn't join Andy.  McNally was an afterthought.  He had already decided to retire."

In 1977, Marshall finally had back surgery that left him pain free.  Between that and a knee injury he appeared in only 70 games with the Dodgers, Braves and Rangers in the next two years before becoming, a free agent.

By now Gene Mauch, who had set Marshall free on his own path to success, was managing the Minnesota Twins.  Both Mauch and Twins owner Calvin Griffith were strongly anti-union.  But they needed pitching help, bad.

Marshall didn't want to go there;  he had offers from other teams, and Griffith was not the most generous of owners.  Mauch kept after him until he gave in and joined them in mid-May 1978.  Marshall finished with a 10-12 record and 21 saves in 54 games.

The next year he set A.L. records, appearing in 90 games and finishing 84, and led the league with 32 saves.  "But he didn't pitch me the last two weeks of the season, so I fell two short of the Twins' saves record."

Marshall got a three-year contract out of Griffith.  Then came the player strike during the last week of spring training in 1980, with Marshall in the thick of the action.  The players decided we'll start the season, then go out again in late May.  Somebody told the owners it was my idea."

Calvin Griffith had enough of Mike Marshall and released him in June, although he had to pay him through 1981.

"I was out of baseball," Marshall said.  "I could have pitched another three or four years at that level.  I came back after the strike of 81 and finished the year with the Mets, whose manager, Joe Torre, had been a player rep with me.  I had a 2.61 ERA in 20 games, but they said I didn't have a good year and released me.

"And that," said Marshall, concluded the story of his contentious career, "is why no major, league team is asking me to teach their pitchers how to pitch."

Marshall didn't stop pitching, though.  He moved to Florida and became the iron man of amateur baseball, pitching at least 80 games a year in over-30, then over-40, then over-50 leagues and national championships.

"I just love to pitch.  I was undefeated for over 10 years."

At 60, he'd still be pitching if he hadn't torn up his shoulder in a home accident.

Today, in addition to his pitching academy, Marshall is an adjunct professor at St. Leo University, and is working on his second instructional video.  A book encompassing his theories on pitching may be read on his website, www.drmikemarshall.com.

At least one pitching coach has read his book and borrowed--"stolen" was the word Marshall used--some of what he teaches, without crediting Marshall.  "But I'm glad," he said, "because he's disavowing what he's been teaching for the last 22 years, and eliminating arm injuries.  I just wish he'd steal all, not just parts."

Likening most pitching coaches to "medicine men of the distant past."  Marshall blames arm injuries and wildness on throwing the ball the wrong way, not excessive pitch counts or overwork.

"I'd love to get my hands on Rick Ankiel.  He's a lot of talent going to waste, trying to do things wrong.  I'd fix him in no time.  If I had him here for two weeks.  I guarantee you he'd be throwing the ball straight over the plate.  Will he ever come to Zephyrhills?  Not unless they release him.  But as long as they're paying him, they'll tell him not to come here."

Marshall has gotten a few nibbles of interest, and some of his pupils have been signed, though most pitching coaches try to undo what he has taught.  Except the Braves, he said. "I've got one kid with them, and their minor league pitching instructor has been told not to mess with him, just let him alone.

They remember me, what I was like, and the success I had.  "I wish I knew 30 years ago when I was pitching what I know now.  I did what l did in spite of that.  But I was far less than the pitcher I could have been.  I'm confident that every pitcher today, no matter how successful he's been, could do better, if they did it my way."

Happy Pitching Everybody

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