Dr. Mike Marshall: Pitcher

Cy Young award, PhD. and out of baseball.

On May 31st, 2021, Mike Marshall passed away after 78 trips around the sun. His legacy intertwined with his personality that far too many people used as an excuse to ignore him. His start in baseball was as an infielder. His fielding moved him to the mound. During his baseball career, he earned a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a doctorate. He was a college baseball coach and developed a pitching method. 

People in baseball loathed him. 

 

Road to the Majors

 

After graduating from high school in Adrian, Michigan the Philadelphia Phillies signed Marshall. He excelled as both a hitter and a pitcher in high school. The Phillies invested four seasons in Marshall as a shortstop. His batting numbers were good enough for him to have made a few All-Star teams in the minors. Fielding was an issue. He was terrible. During his first three years, his fielding percentage was about .900. In 1964 playing for the Phillies AA club he committed only have 39 errors in 118 games. His protection as a shortstop was not good. 

In 1965, at 22, the Phillies converted Marshall to a pitcher. His main pitch was a screwball. Between A and AA ball, used mainly as a reliever, he had an 8-9 record, a 3.39 ERA, 84 SO, and 43 BB in 85.0 innings of work. Results were good enough to get Marshall traded to Detroit. Still used as a reliever, Marshall performed well in 1966. He pitched in 51 games, going 11-7 in 108.0 innings for Detroit’s AA ball club. He would only pitch 10 games for Detroit’s AAA team, the Toledo Mud Hens, in 1967 before being called up to the big leagues on May 31st. With the big league club in 1967 with the Tigers, he appeared in 37 games, accumulated a 1-3 record, a 1.98 ERA, and earned ten saves. The future was bright for the converted shortstop. 

With the big league club marching towards a World Series championship, Marshall was toiling away in Toledo. The Tigers sent him to the minors in 1968 to convert Marshall into a starter. Left unprotected in the 1969 expansion draft, Marshall played for the Seattle Pilots 1969. Houston got him in 1970 and quickly off-loaded him to Montreal. Marshall, as a starter, was a bust. 

 

Success In Relief

 

Expos manager Gene Mauch ended the starter experiment for Marshall, using him as a reliever again. For 14 games as a reliever in 1970, Marshall posted a 1.55 ERA. In 1971 Marshall had 66 relief appearances across 111 1/3 innings with a 4.28 ERA. He lowered the ERA to 1.78 in 1972, appearing in 65 games and pitching 116 innings. 

In 1973, still with the Expos, Marshall would finish second to Tom Seaver in the National League Cy Young voting. He appeared in 92 games, pitched 179 innings, won 14 games, and saved 31. The 92 games in relief set a major league record. 

So, after the season, the Expos traded him to the Dodgers for centerfield Willi Davis. 

 

Cy Young Season

 

Marshall was even better in 1974. He received 17 or 24 first-place votes and won the National League Cy Young award. Appearing in 106 games and finishing 83 of them, he topped his innings pitched record with 208 1/3. Won 15 games and saved 21. He was the first reliever to win a Cy Young award while finishing third in the National League MVP voting. 

Between June 18 and July 5, the Dodgers played 17 games. He pitched in 15 of them and 13 straight. He won 7 of those games and got the save in two. He threw two innings in the All-Star game without giving up a run. In the Dodgers postseason run, he appeared in seven games, logging 12 innings and a 0.75 ERA. He saved game two of the World Series, their only win against the A’s, but gave up a home run to take the loss in game five. 

Dodgers manager Walter Alson used Marshall when the game was close:

Mike Marshall Usage, Close Games, 1974

52 of his 106 games were when the game was within one run. Expand that to two runs and it goes up to 73 games. 

 

Post Cy Young Career

 

He made the All-Star game in 1975, a season where he appeared in 58 games and 109 innings but had a 9-14 record. The Dodgers traded him to the Braves in the middle of the 1976 season but still appeared in 54 games and pitched 99 1/3 innings. He pitched four games into the 1977 season for the Braves before they parted ways and was traded to Texas. He only appeared in 12 games for Texas before back injuries cost him the rest of the season. 

Despite some recent bad seasons and Marshall being 35, the Minnesota Twins signed Marshall as a free agent in 1978. Twins manager Gene Mauch managed Marshall with the Expos thought Marshall still could produce.

Marshall bounced back. He had a 2.45 ERA in 54 games and 99 innings. His record was 10-12 to go along with 21 saves. In 1979 he pitched 142 2/3 innings for 90 games. He has a 2.65 ERA, a 10-15 record, and 32 saves, finishing fifth in the American League Cy Young voting. The Twins released him after he appeared in 18 games to start the 1980 season. His slow start produced a 1-3 record and a 6.40 ERA. His last season in the bigs, at age 38, was in 1981. In the second half of the season caused by the player strike, he would appear in 20 games for the Mets, pitching 31 1/3 innings with a 2.61 ERA. 

In a 14-year major league career, Mike Marshall would appear in 724 games, 700 as a reliever. He finished 549 games, only three of which he started, logging 1386 2/3 innings. He sported a 97-112 record and a 3.14 ERA. He won a Cy Young award and holds the records for games appearing as a reliever in a season in both leagues. His 1974 is one of the top five seasons any reliever has ever had. 

 

Bad Reputation

 

But he had a reputation that could have been a factor when his results were less than Cy Young caliber. 

  • In his season with the Pilots, he was consistently arguing with the pitching coach Sal Maglie. Maglie wanted Marshall to throw a curveball and his screwball. 
  • After purchasing Marshall’s contract after the 1969 season, Houston soured on Marshall quickly. They quickly trade him to the Expos.
  • When he was with the Expos, he took himself out of a game once, resulting in a fine from Gene Mauch.
  • He once attempted to describe his screwball to reports using Bernoulli’s Principle. You know, the Law of Fluids. 
  • After being awarded a $10,000 car for being the Expos MVP in 1973, he demanded the sponsor, O’Keefe Brewery, pay for the taxes, registration, et.al. 
  • He refused to accept the award $5,000 award for being the Expos MVP in 1973. “I don’t think it’s right to have players on the same team campaigning, lobbying, and competing against one another for a significant award.”
  • The Braves put him on the disqualified list in 1977 because he missed a game and then requested a trade to a team that better suits his pitching philosophies. 
  • He reported every Twins violation of the player’s agreement to the union.
  • He accused Twins owner Calvin Griffith and Gene Mauch of sabotaging his pitching appearances. Yes, the coach that took a chance on him twice. 

 

“To pay my college expenses, I concurrently pursued a professional baseball career”

 

Marshall was also a student. He started going to Michigan State University while in the minors, majoring in Physical Education, earning his Bachelor of Science in 1965. Marshall focused on kinesiology, the study of mechanics in human anatomy. His graduate work focused on child growth and development, earning him a master of science in 1967. By 1978 he earned his doctorate of philosophy, writing his dissertation on, “A Comparison of an Estimate of Skeletal Age With Chronological Age When Classifying Adolescent Males for Motor Proficiency Norms.”

Also in 1967, he began to experience some shoulder problems. He used the high-speed cameras available at MSU to record his pitching motion and started working to improve his motion to reduce injury risk. By 1975 he was consulting for NFL quarterbacks. Yes, he was a professional baseball player, consulting with professional football players and while using state university resources. 

His educational achievements shadowed his improvement as a professional pitcher. Marshall was his own research subject with Cy Young caliber results. He was ready to pitch. Every. Day. Not gifted with a blazing fastball or a knockout-type pitch, he could be very effective and always available. 

Mashall never shied from informing teammates, managers, coaches, and front-office types about how he could improve pitchers and reduce injuries. While some people had an appreciation for Marshall, he was often ignored if not punished. Jim Bouton, a teammate of Marshall with the Pilots and author of Ball Four said, “When we were with the Pilots together, they dismissed Mike and he wound up in the minors because baseball couldn’t tolerate somebody like Mike Marshall, somebody who was different. They didn’t like his personality—and then he went on to become a Cy Young Award winner. He’s a guy who thinks outside of the box, and the guys in power are very much inside the box.”

 

Ahh, Dr. Marshall’s personality. 

 

He was, to be kind, just a tad arrogant. Certainly surly, with a very visible abrasive streak. Things were to be done his way and only his way, with very little patience for people that did not quickly accept his beliefs. It was this personality then left him an outsider to baseball. More than a few journalists have used the term blackballed about Dr. Marshall. While his strong support of the union did not help, his demeanor was a turn-off for professional clubs. 

 

An End To Pitching Injuries?

 

His cause was a simple one. Dr. Marshall never wanted another person—in particular, a child—to experience a pitching injury. His education focused on childhood growth and development. As he would say, “I have the solution, if nobody wants it that is their problem.” He was sincere about stopping pitching injuries. He had a standing offer on his website to examine X-rays and offer his evaluation of a child’s arm health and interpretation of their growth plates. 

He did develop a motion based on his research. A rather unconventional method, the pitcher stands with his toes facing the batter, does a pendulum swing with his pitching hand to rotate the ball over his head, and throws it towards home plate with strong pronation of the arm. Many people scoffed at the motion. Admittedly, it looks very strange after a lifetime of watching baseball. 

The philosophy of his motion is to use the best available parts of the anatomy to be involved in the pitching motion. His pitching motion uses the Latissimus Dorsi muscle, the Tricep Brachii muscle, and the Pronator Teres muscle. If you used his pitching and training techniques he demanded that you know those muscles, what they did, and how they work. 

The training included wrist weight exercises, throwing heaving balls, frisbee-like lid throwing, football drills, and pitching every day throwing each of his six different pitches. 

Dr. Marshall published a book and provided videos about his pitching motion on his website. For a while, he had a pitching camp that people could attend and working with him. He was not able to get any inroads into the big leagues. Sending letters to all thirty teams did not get him a single reply. Teams had no interest in sending him any prospects, struggling pitchers, or often-injured pitchers to determine the effectiveness of Marshall’s teaching. Younger pitchers hoping to make their high school squad or a smaller college team would show up to train with him. Baseball still kept its distance. 

Dr. Mike Marshall was a heck of a relief pitcher, one that should be in the discussion of the greatest of all times. Driveline includes him as an influencer.

There is merit to what Mike Marshall did. He approached the problem differently, thought differently. He brought a novel approach to a noble idea. He demonstrated that his ideas had some merit, winning a Cy Young Award while working on his research. Yes, it was unconventional. He could be difficult to work with. His goal was to eliminate pitching injuries. Why teams did not embrace that more is odd. A team needs to be lucky to find the next Tom Seaver or Nolan Ryan, gifted with the ability and a body to endure the abuse pitching does to the body. Perhaps, utilizing some of Dr. Marshall’s research, a team could develop a strong stable of effective, injury-free pitchers to complement the special pitchers in their pipeline.

 

Graphic by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)

Mat Kovach

Despite being an Indians fan in the late 70's I grew to love baseball. I started throwing spitballs when I was 10 and have been fascinated with competitive shenanigans in baseball ever since.

  • Avatar Greg Verbrugghe says:

    Thanks, Mat. I was unaware of Dr. Marshall before reading this. It’s really too bad his methods never got direct traction with MLB teams. I guess it goes to show, no matter how good your ideas are, if you don’t deal well with people your impact will be limited.

  • Account / Login
    >