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

Mike Marshall

It is rare for a Cy Young Award winner to earn a Ph.D. in exercise physiology while still an active big leaguer. “Iron Mike” Marshall, born in Adrian, Michigan, on January 15, 1943, became 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. 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 believe ballplayers should be heroes; and his pickoff move turned the wrong way. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/mike-marshall/ Marshall is the shortest Cy Young recipient ever at 5-8 and one-half inches. Part III concludes with Atlanta, Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, and New York Mets, 1976-1981.

Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers (1976-1977)

The author found out about Marshall’s June 23, 1976, trade to Atlanta, during his summer job as a Phillips 66 roustabout in Chatom, Alabama. Marshall joined the Braves team destined to finish 70-92, sixth in the NL East. Jimmy Wynn was their power hitter with a team-leading 17 homers and 66 RBIs. Atlanta only hit 82 team homers in the “Launching Pad.” Willie Montañez, a Cataño, Puerto Rico native, was Atlanta’s top hitter for average with a .321 BA. Marshall’s 2-1 record with six saves in 24 games was adequate but his season ended early due to knee injury surgery. He never got the chance to pitch to 20-year-old catcher Dale Murphy, promoted to Atlanta in September. Three of his teammates—Rick Camp, Frank LaCorte, and Rogelio Moret—went on to pitch for the 1976-77 Santurce Crabbers in the Puerto Rico Winter League (PRWL), as did 1976 California Angels rookie Paul Hartzell.

Early in the 1977 campaign, Atlanta skipper Dave Bristol asked Marshall for the baseball and summoned a new reliever. Marshall, per his SABR bio by Warren Corbett, “rolled the ball across the infield.” He left the team, was put on the disqualified list, and was sold to the Texas Rangers. Marshall went 2-2 with a 4.04 ERA for the 94-68 Rangers but his season ended in June after a knee injury to his right knee fielding a bunt. He had surgery on the knee. The 1977 Rangers rotation had two Cooperstown Hall of Famers—Gaylord Perry and Bert Blyleven—along with Doyle Alexander, Dock Ellis, and Nelson Briles. Rogelio Moret, Marshall’s 1976 Atlanta teammate, was a spot starter for Texas, a team featuring the 1977 AL Gold Glover center fielder, Juan José Beníquez, a future Puerto Rico Professional Baseball Hall of Famer. Dave May and Kurt Bevacqua, fine PRWL players, were reserves with the 1977 Texas Rangers.

Minnesota Twins (1978)  

Marshall endured back surgery in late 1977, before completing Ph.D. degree requirements at Michigan State in 1978. He was on the verge of retiring when his wife (Nancy) phoned Gene Mauch, Minnesota’s manager. Marshall got a tryout and joined the Twins in mid-May. His SABR bio noted a salary dispute when Twins owner Calvin Griffith said he “could not afford Marshall’s salary of well over $100,000.” Rod Carew weighed in: “How can Griffith expect anyone to have any interest in the team when he [Griffith] does something like that?” Marshall, now 35, signed for a prorated, lower rate. He more than earned that deal with a 2.45 ERA and 21 saves in 54 games. His 10-12 record (.455 PCT) mirrored the Twins 73-89 (.451) mark. Two of Marshall’s Twins teammates—DH José Manuel Morales and outfielder Bombo Rivera—had recently (February 1978) helped the Mayagüez Indios win the Caribbean Series.

“Mike Marshall Moments” in 1979

Paul Hartzell, Marshall’s 1979 Twins teammate, shared these insights, via e-mail, with the author, on March 8, 2024. Hartzell’s first-hand observations covered a one-year timeframe—spring training in 1979 to spring training in 1980.

1. I first met Mike about halfway through spring training before the 1979 season. Mike did not arrive until we started playing actual games and the first time I saw him throw was a batting practice session in Vero Beach before we played the Dodgers early in the Grapefruit League Season. I was shagging balls coming in from the outfield while standing behind a screen behind second base on the edge of the infield grass. As Mike trotted to the mound, someone said, “Watch this” and my first thoughts were: 

a. Mike is noticeably short. 5’9” with spikes. 

b. He is very stocky from top to bottom. 

c. He has exceptionally long arms relative to the rest of his body. 

So, he starts to throw, and I immediately watch how extended his arm is on the takeaway and follow through. He is maximizing his velocity by doing this. Every pitch is the same until he starts telling people he is going to throw the screwball. He is telling them, and they cannot hit it. I have never seen a pitch behave like that. I am standing sixty feet behind Mike, and I can see his delivery and he tells the batter he is going to throw it and they still cannot hit it! Gene Mauch is on the field, and I am sure he sees me looking at Mike and walks over to me and says, “You are going to like having him in the bullpen.” 

2. Mike approached me a few days later and told me he was impressed that I had an engineering degree from such a fine school as Lehigh. That started about 12 months of off-and-on discussions about pitching. What was most impressive to me during that season was not only that Mike appeared in ninety games and finished 84 but he never took the mound with anything less than full velocity and his good screwball. It appears his conditioning and pitching mechanics allowed him to be very consistent and pitch more frequently than anyone with whom I had ever played. Remarkable consistency. 

3. Mike showed me something a week or so later which I immediately started implementing. The situation was when there was a runner on first and second (often the situation when he came into pitch) and he got a ground ball which could potentially lead to a double play, the catcher cannot run down to back up first base. Mike backed up first base! He did it by crossing the first base line on the home plate side of the runner (so interference could never be called) and getting himself in position to be almost in front of the first base dugout as the throw was mostly coming from the shortstop (Roy Smalley) who had a great arm and it was coming very fast on his throw back to the first base bag. I recall this saving runs on a few occasions as the ball would get past our first baseman and there would be Mike, picking it up, throwing home to Butch Wynegar and we would still be getting two outs! The point was that for a short distance, Mike could really move quickly which surprised me because he never ran sprints with us. 

4. Mike had a series of interesting exercises that he taught me, and I have used them with young pitchers for 40 years. They involve his work on his PhD and use an eight-pound high school shotput and continuous motion for each exercise. At the endpoint of the movement, you release the ball with a flip of the wrist, thus adding to the value of the exercise which helps strengthen the grip. That, he said, allowed full blood flow into the hand as his studies with student groups indicated that if you hold on to a weight for a high number of repetitions (we were eventually doing about 50 of each of five movements) blood flow would slow down and muscle growth was reduced due to a lack of blood flow. Everything he did for conditioning was proven by his studies. When I would do the exercises, one of them involved flipping the ball from behind you back up over your shoulder and catching it with the same hand in front of you at about belt high. I realized years later that this was a particularly important movement for strength and flexibility for his screwball. But only Mike could really throw it! 

5. The Twins has a nice trip planned for our team charter flight to Baltimore. You could bring your wife and children and the Twins paid for everything. As we got on the plane, I noticed all the front office people were on board and they were sitting in the first dozen or so rows of the plane. My wife, daughter age 2+, and I headed toward the rear of the plane where it seemed like most of the players with children were sitting. As we got in the air, some genuinely nice food was being brought out, starting at the front of the plane. By the time the carts got to the middle of the plane, there was not much left and by the time the cart got to the last ten rows there might have been some crackers. As our player rep, Mike got upset. He berated every front office person on the plane, and he even took on Calvin Griffith for a few minutes of verbal exchanges. He stated for everyone to hear and then again on the bus to the Village at Cross Keys Hotel in Baltimore that the first thing he was going to do was file a grievance with Marvin Miller and Donald Fehr to the effect that we were deprived of food after our game in Minnesota. It was quite a scene and about an hour after we got to the hotel (the hotel restaurant was closed and we were a long distance away from any restaurants) we got a phone call in our room from Mike saying that a lavish spread had been prepared and was waiting for us in a private room downstairs. That food was good, I recall my daughter was particularly happy and everyone thanked Mike for sticking up for us! 

Record-Setting Relief Work—1979 Minnesota Twins—plus 1980 Twins and 1981 Mets

Marshall etched his name into AL history in 1979 with ninety games and 84 GF, after signing a three-year contract (1979-1981) for $850,000. He saved thirty-two games for the 1979 Twins, going 10-15 with a 2.65 ERA. In 1980, he regressed to a 1-3 mark and a 6.12 ERA, in eighteen games. Mauch became disillusioned with Marshall due to the latter’s role as Player Rep and Players Association’s negotiator in a new union contract. His big-league career ended with the 1981 New York Mets, managed by Joe Torre, an ex-union rep from his playing days. Marshall joined the Mets after the 1981 strike and recorded a 2.61 ERA. Table I depicts Marshall’s legacy in most NL games and innings pitched in relief (106 and 208.1) for the 1974 Los Angeles Dodgers; and most games by a reliever (90) in AL history, with the 1979 Minnesota Twins.

                                    Mike Marshall, 1979 Twins. Photo credit: www.twinstrivia.com

Table I: Most Single-Season Innings Pitched (IP), AL/NL Relievers, 1923-2023 (140+ IP)

PitcherTeamSeasonGIPW-LSVKBBERAWHIP
Mike MarshallLAD1974106!208.1!15-1221143<562.421.19
Mike MarshallMTL19739217914-1131124752.661.33
Bob StanleyBOS198248168.1^12-71483503.101.25
Bill CampbellMIN197678167.217-520115623.011.24
Eddie FisherCWS196582165.115-72490432.400.97
Andy KarlPHN194565+163.28-61551502.991.25
Hoyt WilhelmNYG195271159.115-311108572.431.16
Dick RadatzBOS19647915716-929181>582.291.03
Jim KonstantyPHN19507415216-72256502.661.04
John HillerDET19745915017-1413134622.641.26
Tom JohnsonMIN197771146.216-71587473.131.36
Garland BraxtonWSH192756+14610-71096332.951.14
Bob StanleyBOS198364145.18-103365382.851.26
Hoyt WilhelmNYG1953681457-81571773.041.41
Hoyt WilhelmCWS1965661457-721106321.810.83
Wilbur WoodCWS196886+14512-111674331.871.01
Wayne GrangerCIN196990144.29-62768402.801.27
Steve FoucaultTEX197469144.18-912106402.241.13
Allen RussellWSH192347&144.19-3967773.031.40
Jim KernTEX19797114313-529136621.571.13
Charlie HoughLAD197677142.212-81881772.211.26
Goose GossageCWS197562141.29-826130701.841.19
Mike Marshall<MIN197990^140.210-153281482.651.28
Willie HernándezDET198480140.19-332112361.920.94
Sammy StewartBAL198357#140.19-3795673.621.38
Bill CampbellBOS19776014013-931114602.961.23

#Excludes one start. +Excludes two starts. &Excludes five starts. ^Marshall AL record. !Marshall

NL/big league record. >Radatz AL/major league record. <One start. Source: StatMuse.

In 14 big-league seasons, Marshall was 97-112 with a 3.14 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. He pitched 724 games (700 relief appearances and 24 starts); with 549 GF, three CG, one SHO, and 188 SV. In 1,386.2 innings, he allowed 1,281 hits, fanned 880, and walked 514. His seven minor-league seasons reflected a 48-33 record, 2.84 ERA, and 1.22 WHIP. He started 48 of 173 games with 29 CG and five SHO. He saved seven. In 593.1 innings, he gave up 513 hits and recorded 496-211 strikeouts to walks for a 2.35 K/BB ratio. Marshall went 6-6 with a 3.06 ERA for the 1968 Mayagüez Indios, fanning sixty-three and walking 26 in 103.1 innings.

Postscript

Marshall went to spring training with 1982 Montreal but was cut, before pitching one game, at 40, for the 1983 Edmonton Trappers. He passed away in his Zephyrhills, Florida home, on June 1, 2021, at 78.

Special thanks to Paul Hartzell for recollections of Marshall in 1979. Jorge Colón Delgado did the editing and photo placements.

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