It is best thatMike Marshall never learn that his peers—if it can be said he has any—tend tothink of him as a luxury item. As an academician and a libertarian, Marshallhas little tolerance for those who would confuse a person with a commodity. Thedignity of man is one of his enduring passions, a subject to be taken no morelightly than, say, physiological psychology, his field of scholarship atMichigan State University.
This is an article from the Aug. 12, 1974 issue
Nevertheless,when Walter Alston was asked last week to describe what the addition of thisindefatigable relief pitcher had meant to his team, the Dodger manager said,"Mike Marshall gives us the luxury to do things we could not dobefore." He cited as a perfect example the events of that very night whenAndy Messersmith, the Los Angeles starter, mysteriously departed a game againstSan Diego after seven innings of nearly flawless, seven-zip pitching.Naturally, his replacement was Marshall, making his 70th appearance of theseason. With the bristling efficiency that characterizes his every movement onand off the diamond, Marshall mixed his favorite screwball with a good fastballand a hard slider to retire the next six Padres and preserve the victory.
"Why wasMessersmith removed?" Alston was asked.
"We talked itover and decided to rest Andy for the important games coming up with Houstonand Cincinnati," he replied. "And we had a pretty good man out there inthe bullpen."
Was Messersmith,whose record is 13-2, miffed at being deprived of both a complete game and apossible shutout?
"So what if Igo nine and get a shutout?" he said. "That's personal baseball, and Idon't believe in it. Besides, Mike had a day off yesterday and we were afraidhe'd get rusty."
Two nights laterMarshall relieved starter Al Downing after that worthy walked the first SanDiego batter in the seventh inning. Downing was leading 3-1 despite occasionalfits of inaccuracy and seemed to be pitching effectively enough. No matter. Incame the ubiquitous Marshall for the 71st time. Did the Padres score anotherrun? Is a betting man a good credit risk? Marshall not only shut them out inthe remaining three innings, he singled in two of the five runs the Dodgersscored after he appeared on the scene.
But why wasDowning taken out of the game so abruptly?
"He keptgetting in trouble with his control," said Alston.
"We only hada two-run lead," said Downing, a gracious man. "And we've got a prettygood man out there in the bullpen."
In bothinstances, Marshall was a luxury. He can work so often and with no appreciablediminution of skill that a manager can rest a Messersmith or remove a slightlyshaky Downing with no fear of the consequences. Because of Marshall, Alstoncarries only nine pitchers on his roster, although he ordinarily prefers 10. Hecould just as well limit himself to five—four starters and that "prettygood man out there in the bullpen."
"If he wasn'twinning, I might complain about not pitching," said fellow reliever CharlesHough of Marshall. "What can you do when you're playing behind the bestthere is?"
Not much. Afterrelieving Don Sutton last Friday, Marshall had appeared in 73 of the Dodgers'first 109 games, including a record-breaking 13 in succession from June 18through July 3. During that period he won six, lost none and saved two. In onesix-game stretch, the Dodgers won five times by one run and Marshall was thewinning pitcher in all of those narrow victories. Dodger pitchers have not hadtwo complete games in a row since mid-May and have had only 26 this year.
Complete gamesare indeed rare when Marshall is within hailing distance. Last year when he waswith Montreal, which traded him during the off-season to the Dodgers for WillieDavis, he set a major league record by appearing in 92 games, a total he iscertain to exceed this season. His record is already 11 and 6 and he has 16saves. He could become the first pitcher to appear in 100 games in a season andthe first reliever to win 20. He is, as Hough says, "fantastic."
Marshall rejectssuch hyperbole. He is able to do what he does, he says, because he has spent 10years studying both pitching technique and the workings of the human body.Despite the objections of several major and minor league managers, he developedthe screwball to a fine art. But Marshall is not merely a student of the game.Sometime this year he should receive his doctorate in physiology from MichiganState as the result of a five-year program of study that he describespedantically: "I am in the College of Education, Department of PhysicalEducation, majoring in physiology with a cognate degree in physiologicalpsychology. My specialty is child growth. The topic of my dissertation isMaturation at Adolescence in Males. No one ever seems to get all thatstraight."
Marshall insistsit is scholarship, not unusual physical prowess, that is the source of hisdurability. He can pitch more often than anyone else because he knows moreabout his body. He trains his own way, stubbornly ignoring baseballconditioning rules that were developed, if that is the word for it, in the daysof the brothers Delahanty.
"He'sinventive in a game that hasn't had much inventiveness in the last 103years," says Steve Garvey, the Dodgers' first baseman who was a student ofMarshall's in a kinesiology class at MSU.
"Mikebelieves in long-distance running, not sprints, in weight work and in a lot ofmuscle stretching," says Messersmith. "He knows more about what goesinto the pitching motion than anybody in the world. He has lectured to me a lotabout the functions of the body."
Marshall's31-year-old body is unremarkable. He is short for a pitcher—only 5'10"—andhe weighs 180 pounds. He has big shoulders and a weight-lifter's arms, but hebulges at the middle. He has long sideburns and an impressive mustache, but hiscurly brown hair has thinned on top. Standing one sunny day last week in thedoorway of the Lanai Coffee Shop at San Diego's Town & Country Hotelpensively chewing on a toothpick, he could have passed for a life-insurancesalesman.
What isremarkable about Marshall is his mind. Baseball may never have known one quitelike it. "I am an educator," he explained from the improbable vantagepoint of the Dodgers' dugout. His teammates busied themselves with battingpractice and shagging fly balls, activities that seemed increasingly trivial asMarshall ventured random opinions on the human condition. "Baseball is ahobby I pursue. Other than the actual playing of the game, I find the whole ofprofessional baseball extremely boring and mind-dulling. Oh, certainly, thereare some fellows here I enjoy, but it's not the same as in the academiccommunity. Fortunately, I'm able to see some of my friends in education duringthe summer. They seem to recharge me."
Marshall's ideaof a night on the town scarcely coincides with the notions of the majority ofhis associates on the diamond. "I don't drink or smoke, so that lets me outof a lot," he says. "And I'm not interested in the idle chatter ofgroupies. I mean groupies of all ages, sizes and sexes, not just the youngfemales but anyone who tries to sap some self-respect out of having us in hisproximity."
On the road,Marshall lets his teammates revel in the presence of "live ones." Heprefers the company of corpses. During a recent trip, Messersmith accompaniedMarshall to the Michigan State anatomy laboratory, where the scholar showed hisfellow pitcher what it means to have a really dead arm. "I spent a coupleof hours in the lab—cadavers, the whole bit," recalls Messersmith, whodidn't take physiology during his undergraduate days at the University ofCalifornia. "It was one of the most amazing and enjoyable things I've everdone. What impressed me was that the whole trip was totally devoted to me. Mikeis a very blunt, very honest person. Some people can't handle that. I know alot of people think he's some kind of a bad dude because he doesn't giveautographs or talk to fans. Really he's a considerate and warm person."
Autograph seekersmight incline more toward the bad-dude conclusion. Once, refusing autographs toa group of youngsters, Marshall explained that he would willingly sign if theboys could show him that their autograph books also contained the signatures oftheir teachers and others who "were really meaningful in their lives."The kids were understandably stunned by such a preposterous notion, and sincenone could produce the requisite signatures, Marshall strolled pedagogicallypast them.
"As anathlete, I am no one to be idolized," he explained in the dugout, urgingteammate Jim Wynn's young son to take his bat and ball farther away. "Iwill not perpetuate that hoax. They say I don't like kids. I think that byrefusing to sign autographs, I am giving the strongest demonstration that Ireally do like them. I am looking beyond mere expediency to what is trulyvaluable in life."
All around him inthe ball park, Marshall sees evidence of distorted values. He thinks that thefans who enthusiastically cheer his every appearance are probably doing so forall the wrong reasons. They should applaud his performance, not his person. Andthe fan foolish enough to approach this very private person in public had bestbe prepared for a cold pitching shoulder.
"Justwatching me perform does not give someone the right to steal my time off thefield and thrust himself upon me," Marshall says. "To maintain that Ihave a responsibility to the fans is absurd. In my view, the fan either likesthe quality of my craft or not. Either way he has no right to impose on myrights of privacy. A lot of people get upset because I won't talk to them in apublic place where I'm eating. That doesn't bother me at all. There's somethingsadly missing in these people. I feel sorry for someone so shallow. Actually,if a person walks away from me saying, 'Those damn pro athletes,' I feel I'vesucceeded in convincing him that the professional athlete is not soimportant."
The rabid,dog-loyal fan that team owners and most athletes feed off is to Marshall awoefully misguided, possibly even dangerous person.
"The fanshould enjoy the high skill level of the performer and not build anything moreinto it than that. For a fan to feel momentary elation or depression is acomplete misapplication of values. He should enjoy the quality of performance,not the result. Our whole society is deluged with the concept that winning isall that's important. That is bull. All that's important is that the individualdoes the best he can. Victory does not elate me, nor does defeat depress me.The only victory for me is in the quality of the competition, not in the finalscore."
Marshall poundedhis glove. He was anxious to take a pregame turn at shortstop, a position heplayed with indifferent skill in the minor leagues. For a man so ferociouslycerebral, he seems uncomfortable in repose. On the field before a game, he iseverywhere, exercising in the outfield, playing all the infield positions, histireless arm constantly in motion. It was time to get on with the day'sworkout, yet he felt compelled to assail one more philosophy he considersfraudulent.
"OurConstitution is based on the integrity of the individual, but you hear coachesand managers preach that no individual should be more important than the team.Why, every individual is more important than the team. Every individual has anintegrity that cannot be stolen by a team or any majority. What was it Franklinsaid?"
He could notthink of it. Maybe it was: "They that can give up essential liberty toobtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."Anyway, Marshall was off and running, looking strangely like a small boy atplay.
That night hewould jog in from the bullpen, carefully tamp down the mound, rescue Downingand, as a true team player, help achieve victory with his bat. Afterward, hewould dress quickly, steer clear of journalists imposing on his privacy andretreat out of sight.
Marshall has awife and three daughters, but he refuses to discuss anything so private asfamily life. He is equally reluctant to reveal what plans he might have afterhe achieves his doctorate. He has said before that he is fully prepared toabandon the ball park for the groves of academe, although he cannot expect aneducational institution, even one as affluent as Michigan State, to reward himwith a salary comparable to the $87,500 the Dodgers reportedly pay him. Theinordinate amounts paid big leaguers is merely an added incongruity in the lifeof an intellectual who plays a child's game so well that he keeps winning, evenwhile deploring the concept of victory.
Messersmith, alsoa speedy dresser, was happy with the victory that kept the Dodgers 5½ gamesahead of the Reds, their opponents in a key three-game series this week. "Iknow what Mike says about winning, and how performance is all that reallymatters," he said. "But there's one thing: his kind of performanceleads to winning."