Going The Distance Juan Marichal's car wreck stirred memories of a bygone era

May 10, 1998

Nothing underscores the deterioration of pitching over the past
three decades more than the news that during the same 48-hour
period last week when Orioles manager Ray Miller publicly
ruminated about keeping 12 pitchers active for the foreseeable
future, Juan Marichal (right) was injured in a car accident in
the Dominican Republic.

Marichal, the Giants great and the newest member of the Hall of
Fame veterans' committee, epitomizes pitching in the '60s. The
Orioles--who have a Cy Young winner (Doug Drabek), a no-hit
pitcher (Scott Erickson), a league leader in wins (Jimmy Key),
three current or former closers (Armando Benitez, Norm Charlton,
Jesse Orosco), plus Mike Mussina, and still think they need five
other guys to get by--represent pitching in the '90s.

Marichal was not seriously hurt, but his juxtaposition in the
news with Miller's cheaper-by-the-dozen staff brought up the
subject of pitching toughness and how it has changed. On July 2,
1963, the then 25-year-old righthander locked up with Warren
Spahn of the Braves at Candlestick. Marichal won 1-0 on a Willie
Mays homer. In the bottom of the 16th. Both starters went the
distance; Marichal later told Mays that as long as Spahn was
going to stay out there, so was he. Spahn just happened to be 42
at the time.

Marichal's intransigence was probably a bit defensive. A foot
injury had hampered him the year before, and he'd been taken out
of Game 4 of the '62 Series when he hurt his thumb trying to
bunt. In that era, susceptibility to injury often led to murmurs
about being soft. The Giants finished second five seasons in a
row ending in 1969--that had to be somebody's fault. Marichal
was also derided for deciding to crease John Roseboro's skull
with a bat, after Roseboro whizzed his return throw to Sandy
Koufax just past Marichal's head.

Most of all, though, Marichal fought comparisons with Bob
Gibson. Gibby shined on the Series stage three times. Marichal
and his banged-up thumb lasted just four innings in his only
Series start. Gibson had an ERA of 1.12 in 1968. Marichal had
all those second-place finishes. They both became eligible for
Cooperstown in 1981: Gibson went in on the first ballot,
Marichal had to wait until 1983.

The irony, of course, is that of the two, Marichal was clearly
the more "clutch" pitcher. His teams were in 11 pennant races,
and in those seasons Marichal beat the teams ahead of him or
runners-up to his champions 34 times, and lost to them only 20
times. In similar circumstances over eight seasons, Gibson was
only 12-14. Marichal also didn't deserve blame for those
second-place finishes. During that frustrating five-year
stretch, he went 13-4 against the pennant winners.

Only eight righthanded pitchers have finished their careers 100
or more games over .500. Besides Mordecai (Three Finger) Brown,
another Hall of Famer, Marichal required the fewest wins to
reach that plateau. In the bottom-line, retro stat of "how many
more games did you win than you lost" the difference between
Marichal (243-142) and Gibson (251-174) is one 24-0 season, for
Marichal.

Thirty years ago Marichal, incorrectly, was considered a little
soft. These days Mussina, whose trip to the disabled list,
thanks to a wart, set in motion Ray Miller's contemplation of a
12-man staff, is considered tough.

COLOR PHOTO: NEIL LEIFER [Juan Marichal in game]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)