Mike Marshall: 1968-69 Mayagüez Indios to Record-Setting AL and NL Reliever (Part II)

It is rare for a Cy Young Award winner to earn a Ph.D. in exercise physiology while still an active big leaguer. Mike Marshall did that, becoming the first reliever in big league history to win the Cy Young—with the 1974 Los Angeles Dodgers—four years before obtaining his 1978 Ph.D. from Michigan State University, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Per his SABR bio by Warren Corbett, Marshall worked out with weights and ran long distances instead of sprints; believed in pitching more, not less; threw a screwball; refused to sign autographs for most of his career since he didn’t think ballplayers should be heroes; and, his pickoff move turned the wrong way. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/mike-marshall/ Marshall was the shortest Cy Young recipient ever at 5-8 and one-half inches. Part II focuses on Marshall’s career from 1970 until the Dodgers traded him to Atlanta for Lee Lacy and Elías Sosa on June 23, 1976. Part III concludes with Atlanta, Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, and New York Mets, 1976-1981, with input by Paul Hartzell, Marshall’s Twins teammate, from spring training 1979 to spring training 1980.

A New Beginning with Houston (1970) and Montreal (1970-73)

The Milwaukee Brewers, formerly the Seattle Mariners, sold Marshall to the Houston Astros on November 21, 1969. Marshall pitched better at Triple-A Oklahoma City (4-3 W-L, 1.60 ERA) in 16 games, including three starts and three saves. With Houston, he was 0-1, 8.44 ERA in four relief appearances. On June 23, 1970, Marshall was dealt to Montreal for outfielder Don Bosch, who once starred in the Dominican Winter League (LIDOM). He split time with the Triple-A Winnipeg Whips—who moved there from Buffalo on June 11, 1970—and the Expos. Marshall re-connected with Joe Sparma, his former 1967 Detroit teammate—with the Whips. He saved four games with Winnipeg and started five contests, posting a 2-1 mark and 2.20 ERA in 41 innings. Gene Mauch, his only Montreal manager from 1970-1973, mainly used him in relief since Marshall’s 24 games included five starts. His 3-7 Expos record was misleading—in 64.2 innings, he allowed 56 hits, with 38 strikeouts and 29 walks. Marshall’s 3.48 ERA was the second-lowest of Montreal’s 17 hurlers, only surpassed by 33-year-old reliever Howie Reed’s 3.13 ERA. Claude «Frenchy» Raymond, 33-year-old Expos «fireman» with 23 saves in 59 games, once pitched for the expansion 1961-62 Arecibo Wolves in Puerto Rico’s Winter League (PRWL). A fan favorite in Montreal, he recalled that Marshall was «a different breed» but who had «confidence in his ability to get hitters out.»

Mauch installed Marshall as his Expos fireman (the term «closer» came into being later on) for the next three seasons. At age 28 in 1971, Marshall recorded 23 saves in 66 games and 52 games finished (GF). Raymond was demoted to a lesser bullpen role, and Reed continued to see action in the pen. Marshall’s 66 games included 111.1 innings, 85 strikeouts, 50 walks, and a 4.28 ERA. José «Cocó» Laboy, Montreal’s backup third baseman to Bob Bailey, noted that Marshall was on «the eccentric side,» but that skipper Mauch «showed confidence in him (Marshall) and let him do his unique preparation and exercises,» adding: «Marshall was a starter in the PRWL with Mayagüez (1968-69) and he was durable with a very good screwball.» (Laboy played third base for Sparky Anderson’s 1968-69 San Juan Senators.) Montreal finished fifth in the NL East (71-90-1) after their sixth-place finish in 1970. Rusty Staub (.311 BA, 19 homers, and 97 RBIs) was Montreal’s best hitter. Mauch used 12 hurlers all season, including Mike Torrez, who pitched three innings in one late-season game. Per his SABR bio, Marshall had seven blown saves in 1971, and after years of «butting heads with managers and coaches,» he had found heaven. «I don’t argue with Marshall,» Mauch said. «He’s extremely intelligent, and he’s thinking all the time. He knows what he is doing better than anyone else.» Some years later, Marshall said, «I give Gene Mauch every credit for the success I had in baseball.»

In 1972, Marshall had a career-best 1.78 ERA and played in most NL games (65). He went 14-8 with 18 saves. In 1973, he set then major-league records by pitching 92 games and 179 innings in relief. «I had figured out how to pitch every day without stiffness or soreness,» he explained. His 31 saves led the N, but his saves (SV) rate was only 72.1 percent, with 12 blown SV. He went 14-11, .560. Mauch would bring him in the seventh or eighth innings many times. The 1972 Expos (70-86) finished fifth in a week-long delayed season due to an April players’ strike. Tim McCarver and 22-year-old Terry Humphrey platooned at catcher. Ken Singleton played for Roberto Clemente’s 1970-71 San Juan Senators in the PRWL and was the Expo’s most consistent hitter. Mauch, again, relied on ten pitchers most of the season, with two others contributing 20.1 combined innings. John Strohmayer, a star hurler for the Caguas Criollos, another PRWL club, in the early 1970s, witnessed Marshall’s preparation up close in spring training and the regular season. «He (Marshall) was a character,» noted Strohmayer. «This was pre-Players Union.» (Marshall made $13,500 in his 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots.) Hard-throwing lefty Balor Moore was Mauch’s fifth starter (9-9 W-L, 22 starts and 147.2 innings). Moore’s 2.7 strikeout-to-walk ratio (161/59) was superior to Marshall’s 95/47—about two-to-one. «Marshall certainly was different,» said Moore. «It was another era.»

A clean-shaven Marshall with Montreal. Photo credit: 1973 O-Pee-Chee #355.

Montreal improved to 79-83 in 1973, fourth in the NL East, 3.5 games behind the Mets (82-79). St. Louis (81-81), Pittsburgh (80-82) and the Cubs (77-84) were in contention throughout the season. Steve Renko (15-11) had one more win than teammate Marshall (14-11). Steve Rogers (10-5, 1.54 ERA in 17 starts) helped Mauch’s team stay close in the second half. Rogers also pitched well for Caguas (1972-73). Mauch, coincidentally, was Caguas’s 1952-53 second baseman and a believer in winter ball for younger players needing extra seasoning. Montreal and the Philadelphia Phillies developed an informal working agreement with Caguas in the early-to-mid 1970s, resulting in Gary Carter catching for the Criollos, 1973-75, and Mike Schmidt fine-tuning his skills with Caguas, 1972-74. Montreal 1973 starter Balor Moore pitched the only nine-inning perfect game in PRWL history for San Juan, managed by Junior Gilliam, versus Ponce, on November 25, 1973, just ten days before Montreal traded Marshall to the Los Angeles Dodgers for outfielder Willie Davis.

The Author Sees a March 1974 Dodgers-Expos Spring Training Game in Daytona Beach, Florida

In mid-March 1974, the author—a Freshman at Berry College in Rome, Georgia, and 11 other students—traveled in three cars to Daytona Beach, a distance of 500 miles, for spring break. One afternoon, the author made it to City Island Park to catch an Expos-Dodgers spring training contest. Before the game, he conversed with three Dodgers—Ron Cey, Iván de Jesús, and Henry Cruz. Cey, the «Penguin,» had starred for the 1972-73 Santurce Crabbers, managed by Frank Robinson, whereas de Jesús and Cruz wintered as Arecibo Wolves, then. In those days, players were more approachable than they are today. Cey had played for Santurce in the February 1973 Caribbean Series hosted by Caracas, Venezuela, and remembered chatting with Tom Lasorda, then-manager of the Licey Tigers, who won that event. «Tom Lasorda would talk to me the whole game while I was playing third base. He was coaching from the third base coaching box telling jokes and trying to distract me the entire game. We had a good laugh.» Cey was kind enough to get De Jesús and Henry Cruz to meet and chat with the author near the first base side seats.

The author recalls that Lasorda and Junior Gilliam were Walter Alston’s coaches, and Marshall pitched several innings. Before the game, Tommie Agee took batting practice with other Dodgers 10 days before he was released. Agee had been traded to the Dodgers from St. Louis on December 5, 1973, for lefty Pete Richert, the same day Marshall was traded from Montreal to Los Angeles. The author hoped to see Jimmy Wynn—whom he met at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, Hato Rey, Puerto Rico, in December 1967—play center for the Dodgers versus the Expos, but Alston penciled in Agee. Of interest to the author was that Agee played two winter seasons, 1963-64 and 1964-65, with the Ponce Lions in the PRWL. Van Hyning began following the PRWL in 1963-64 at age nine, the same season that LHP Tommy John pitched several games for Ponce. Pete Richert traded for Agee, pitched for the 1961-62 Caguas Criollos, who had a working agreement with the Dodgers, then, due to Caribbean scout Ramón Monchile Concepción’s influence. Back then, Tommy Davis, Frank Howard, and Ron Perranoski played for Caguas.

Marshall, First Reliever to Win the Cy Young 50 Years Ago

Marshall won the 1974 NL Cy Young Award. He pitched 208.1 innings in 106 games, won 15, saved 21, and was held in high regard by Tommy John (13-3 W-L), who used many Marshall suggestions and techniques after his «Tommy John» surgery. Andy Messersmith and Don Sutton sang Marshall’s praises. Alston carried nine pitchers much of 1974, instead of 10, due to Marshall, who relieved in 114 total games in 192 days, including the AL-NL All-Star Game, two NLCS contests, and all five Los Angeles-Oakland World Series games. In 1974, the SV rule was modified to make it harder to earn one—a pitcher needed to enter a game with the tying or go-ahead run on base or at the plate or pitch three «effective innings.» Under 2024 rules, Marshall would have 30 saves, not 21. Marshall blew 12 SV chances in 1974 for a 64.3 percent success rate. Table I includes the most single-season games pitched by relievers in NL and AL history.

Table I: Most NL and AL Single-Season Games by Relievers (1964-2021)

NL PitcherTeamSeasonGAL PitcherTeamSeasonG
Mike MarshallLAD1974106Mike MarshallMIN197990
Kent TekulvePIT197994Mark EichhornTOR198789
Salomón TorresPIT200694Wilbur WoodCWS196888
Mike MarshallMTL197392Mike MyersDET199788
Pedro FelicianoNYM201092Sean RunyanDET199888
Kent TekulvePIT197891Paul QuantrillTOR200286
Wayne GrangerCIN196990Paul QuantrillNYY200486
Kent TekulvePHI198790Mitch WilliamsTEX198785
Julián TavárezSFG199789Randy ChoateTBR201085
Steve ClineSLC200189Billy KochOAK198484
Paul QuantrillLAD200389Dan QuisenberryKCR198584
Jim BrowerSFG200489Ken SandersMLW197183
Jon RauchWSH200788Eddie GuardadoMIN199683
Pedro FelicianoNYM200988Mike MyersDET199683
Rob MurphyCIN198787Kelly WunschCWS200083
Peter MoylanATL200987Scott ProctorNYY200683
Paul QuantrillLAD200286Eddie FisherCWS196582
Oscar VillarealARI200386Paul QuantrillTOR199882
Ray KingSLC200486Ray KingMLW200182
Scott EyreSFG200586John WyattKCA196481
Pedro FelicianoNYM200886Duane WardTOR199181
Kent TekulvePIT198285Kenny RogersTEX199281
Frank WilliamsCIN198785Mike Stanton BOSTEX199681
Matt CappsPIT200685Greg Swindell BOSMIN199881
Jon RauchWSN200685J.C. RomeroMIN200281
Saúl RiveraWSN200785Mike TimlinBOS200581
Peter MoylanATL201085Scott DownsTOR200781
Johnny VentersATL201185Jamie WalkerBAL200781
Nine pitchers tied  84Bryan ShawCLE202181

Source: Baseball-Reference.

On June 10, 1974, the author saw a St. Louis-Los Angeles game at Chavez Ravine, home of the Dodgers. The Cardinals won it, 4-2, in 11 innings. Highlights included a solo homer by Jimmy Wynn; Lou Brock’s 39th stolen base and third caught stealing; Luis «Torito» Meléndez and José «Cheo» Cruz playing for St. Louis; Marshall pitching a scoreless eighth; Orlando Peña’s two scoreless innings and win; followed by Pete Richert’s scoreless 11th. (Richert didn’t get an SV, but would have one by today’s standards.) Paid attendance was 22,985. The 102-60 Dodgers lost the Fall Classic to Oakland, four games to one. Marshall relieved Sutton in a tie (2-2) game in the sixth of Game Five. When Joe Rudi stepped in to lead off the home seventh, someone in the Oakland Coliseum crowd threw a whiskey bottle at Dodgers left fielder Bill Buckner. Per Marshall’s SABR bio, the game was stopped for six minutes. During the delay, he took no additional warmup pitches even though catcher Steve Yeager and others urged him to stay loose. When play resumed, Rudi hit the first pitch into the left-field seats for a Series-winning homer. Rudi doubted that Marshall would throw a screwball after standing around for a while. «When you have a delay that long, you gotta throw a few pitches,» Yeager insisted. Rudi’s homer was the only run he allowed in the Series.

In 1975, Marshall was 9-14 in 58 games, with 13 SV and eight blown SV. He sustained a torn rib cartilage early that season. Los Angeles (88-74) finished 20 games behind the «Big Red Machine,» 108-54 Cincinnati Reds. Then, he was late for spring training in 1976 because of court appearances about legal matters at Michigan State University Athletic Facilities. Marshall, the 1976 Dodgers player representative, annoyed team management by airing grievances about hotel accommodations in several cities and demanding that sportswriters be banned from the team bus. Charlie Hough was pitching well in relief, and Alston went to the knuckleballer more often instead of the screwball artist. The «straw that broke the camel’s back» was when Marshall left Los Angeles for another court appearance early in the 1976 season. Peter O’Malley, team president, decided to trade Marshall. On June 23, 1976, six years after Houston traded him to Montreal, Marshall was dealt to Atlanta for infielder Lee Lacy and hurler Elías Sosa.   

Thanks to Ron Cey, SABR’s Warren Corbett, Cocó Laboy, Balor Moore, Claude Raymond, and John Strohmayer. Jorge Colón Delgado did the editing and photo placements.

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