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The Forgotten Dodgers Relief Ace

April 18th, 2017 · No Comments · Baseball, Dodgers

Mike Marshall.

No, not that Mike Marshall, underachieving Dodgers outfielder of the 1980s, perhaps best known for the club’s explanation why he was sitting out another game: “General soreness.”

The other Mike Marshall. Or the original Mike Marshall. “Iron Mike” Marshall. Who was, pretty much, an original, in that what he did for the Dodgers in 1974 may never be replicated as long as baseball is played.

Marshall set MLB records (which still stand) for most games pitched (106) and most games finished (83) and threw 208.1 innings — yes, out of the bullpen.

He probably was the most valuable player on the winningest Dodgers team since the franchise moved to Los Angeles; that 1974 team went 102-60, and to beat that we have to go back to the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers, who were 105-49.

He certainly got the attention of journalists of the era: He was the easy winner of the National League’s 1974 Cy Young Award, the first relief pitcher so honored. He was third in MVP voting, behind Steve Garvey and Lou Brock.

And yet … we don’t think much about Mike Marshall. Mention “Dodgers, 1974” and even many older fans, who lived through that season, will say: “Garvey, Lopes, Russell, Cey …”

Say “Dodgers reliever” and you might get Perranoski, Brewer, Worrell, Gagne …

Why, then, does the Mike Marshall of Dodgers bullpen fame seem nearly forgotten?

For several reasons:

–He pitched only 2.5 seasons with the club. The four position players named, above, played together in the infield far longer (8.5 years) than Marshall was with the club.

–He pitched for nine teams in 14 big-league seasons, in part because he never had amazing stuff. He lived off his screwball and didn’t have another effective pitch: His strikeouts-per-nine-inning stat, 5.7, would identify him as a “soft-tosser” in the modern era.

–He was difficult to handle. Marshall was a college guy during an era when baseball was often dismissive of players who went to school past the 12th grade. He eventually earned a Ph.D in kinesiology (the study of mechanics and anatomy in relation to human movement), and he was not shy in giving his opinions on how to throw a baseball — and where fielders should be positioned. In short, he was an outsider, more than a bit abrasive — and what made it worse was he was usually right about everything.

–His durability, which seems astonishing, 40-plus years later, was not as amazing at the time. Baseball historian Bill James notes that many relievers in the 1960s and 1970s pitched 125 innings, even 150 innings in a season. Marshall’s 208.1 in 1974 are an outlier, but he threw 179 with Montreal in 1973 and threw 142.2 innings with Minnesota in 1979, when he set American League records with 90 appearances and 84 games finished.

Some suggest that Marshall’s prickly personality led him to reach a point where many clubs just wanted to be rid of him as soon as he was at anything short of his peak. (The Dodgers got him from Montreal in a trade that sent the Expos the 34-year-old Willie Davis. The Dodgers tired of Marshall in the 1978 season, trading him for middling infielder Lee Lacy.)

Some suggest his being overlooked for the Hall of Fame also is about personality issues, and not his achievements. Also noted: His unwillingness to accede quietly to team officials, as well as his activities in the players union, and the fact that he has never had a job in baseball, since the end of his playing career.

To get a sense of what Marshall is like, this 2012 piece on the pitcher talking about his career conveys a lot. It gives a sense of what it was like to have him around, and his laser focus on issues that bother him — and a lot of people in baseball had issues with him, too, by Marshall’s own admission.

(Interestingly, two managers who had long careers in greater Los Angeles, Walter Alston and Gene Mauch, are credited by Marshall as giving him the freedom to succeed. Mauch, according to Marshall, allowed the pitcher to arrange his fielders. Which is unthinkable now.)

Does Marshall belong in the Hall?

Probably not. Though people of good will can disagree over this.

He had the two monster seasons, 1974 and 1979. He was competent for most of the 1970s.

But he lost more games (112) than he won (97), and his career ERA (3.14) does not jump out, considering he pitched at a time when offense was still often overpowered by pitching. He also appeared in the All-Star Game only twice. And there is this: The all-important Wins Above Replacement statistic is not kind to him: His 1974 season? Worth 3.1 wins, according to, and his career WAR of 17.1 does not say “Cooperstown”.

And these are smaller things, but he took the loss in the concluding Game 5 of the 1974 World Series, when Oakland’s Joe Rudi took him deep. That was the only year Marshall played in the postseason.

He is 74 now, and from the limited media reports of recent years he remains a very interesting guy, one who apparently could teach us something about pitchers and healthy arms — but I do not see a biography on him.

He will be remembered, from time to time, for some eye-popping seasons, which is immortality of a sort.

How well we can ever know him … that is open to question.



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