Marichal Was the Best
Not the most dominant. Sandy Koufax in that era, Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens in later years, were more overpowering with their fast balls But none of them had Marichalís feel for the game.
Marichal didnít so much pitch a game as orchestrate it, and he did that from his first game, when he was 22, a one-hit shutout of the Philadelphia Phillies. He had five basic pitches Ė fast ball, curve, slider, screwball (against left-handed hitters) and changeup Ė and he could throw them at different speeds and from different angles. Sometimes, when he had two strikes on a right-handed hitter, he would drop down and come in sidearm with a fast ball.
And, he could put those pitches where he wanted them. One measure of a pitcherís effectiveness is whether he gives up fewer hits than innings pitched. Marichal did that for his first 10 seasons with the Giants, and in four of those seasons, his combined total of hits and walks yielded didnít equal his innings pitched.
He had a very good fast ball, though not the equal of Koufax or Bob Gibson. There were no radar gun postings at the time, so we can only guess, but if Koufax threw 100 mph, not an unreasonable assumption, Marichal probably topped out around 95. More of a Tim Hudson type fast ball.
Still, he had good strikeout totals and could have had more, but he preferred to have hitters make contact and hit it to one of his infielders. When he threw a no-hit game against Houston, then the Colts 45s, in 1963, he threw only 89 pitches, which was his style.
He would save his best fast ball for the times he had a runner on third with less than two outs and needed a strikeout to keep the run from scoring. The rest of the time, he held something back, to conserve his energy so he could complete the game.
Managers didnít hold pitchers to strict pitch counts in those days and the number of pitches wasnít a statistic in the box score. In his historic 16-inning, 1-0 win over Warren Spahn and the Milwaukee Braves in 1963, Marichal is said to have thrown 227 pitches, but Iím not sure thatís an accurate figure because I donít remember anything about it at the time.
Alvin Dark, Marichalís manager for the 1961-64 period, had a basic philosophyabout starting pitchers: If he didnít have somebody in the bullpen who he thought would do a better job, he left the starter in. Dark and Giants managers who followed him usually felt it was better to leave Marichal in, and Juan ended his career with one more complete game than wins, 244-243. I regard that as one of the two most startling career statistics, the other being Joe DiMaggioís mark of only eight more strikeouts than home runs, 369-361.
FOR ALL HIS success, Marichal never won a Cy Young Award.
Why? Giants manager Felipe Alou, a lifelong friend of Marichalís as well as a teammate with the Giants, called it racism on Saturday. Iím inclined to think it was just bad luck because Marichalís best years coincided with two by Sandy Koufx and a record-setting 1.12 ERA by Bob Gibson in 1968. With only one Cy Young given, Dean Chance of the Angels won in 1964 when he went 20-9 with 11 shutouts and a 1.65 ERA.
Still, baseball historian Bill James has written that, if you combine Marichalís records for the 1963, í64, í66 and í68 seasons, when Koufax, Chance, Koufax again and Gibson won the Cy Young, he was 97-31, while the award winners in those years had a combined record of 94-32.
Marichal certainly did face racism in his early career, especially in the minors. When he came to San Francisco, it was more subtle, usually in the form of mocking his struggles with the English language, especially when he made a commercial for Saxon Apple Juice which sounded more like ďsex and apple juice.Ē I was among those who laughed at that, not thinking that, if Iíd had to rely on my high school Spanish, Iíd have been eating huevos rancheros three times a day.
There was also criticism of Marichal for a series of seemingly minor injuries that caused him to miss starts, the implication being that he wasnít mentally tough. But the man had three seasons in which he pitched at least 300 innings, with a high of 326, and a fourth when he missed that figure by one out. He had five seasons when he pitched at least 20 complete games, with a high of 30.
What were we thinking?
THE YEARS wash away the unpleasant memories and leave us with the pleasant ones, and I had the feeling that Marichal was thinking only of the good things that happened to him with the Giants at the statue-unveiling ceremony Saturday.
There was a tremendous feeling of pride, not just for Marichal but all the Latinos who were at the ceremony, including his good friend and former teammate, Orlando Cepeda. Juan and Orlando had gone through the problems of racism together in the minors, but they had both been strong enough to overcome them.
Marichal was surrounded by so many well-wishers, many of whom had come north from the Dominican Republic with him, that I never got a chance to tell him how much Iíd enjoyed seeing him pitch for the Giants, as had so many others.
It was a much different era, with the only televised games being the World Series and All-Star games, so thereís no video of his great games. But I have them recorded in my mindís eye forever.
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