David Briggs: Remembering a Mud Hens legend and the record that will never be broken

Jun. 7—What is the most unbreakable individual record in baseball history?

Is it Cal Ripken Jr.'s 2,632 consecutive games played? Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak? Cy Young's 511 career wins? Nolan Ryan's seven no-hitters? (Actually, get back to us in seven weeks on that one.)

Now, what about in all of sports?

Is it Tiger Woods making 142 straight cuts on the PGA Tour? (For perspective, Jason Kokrak holds the longest active streak with 13.) Jane Blalock making 299 in a row on the LPGA Tour? Byron Nelson — the legendary former head pro at Inverness — winning 11 straight tour events?

Is it Wilt Chamberlain scoring 100 points in an NBA game in 1962? The Big Dipper averaging 50.4 points per game that same season? Bill Russell winning 11 championships?

Is it Dick "Night Train" Lane's 14 interceptions in the 1952 NFL season? Jerry Rice's 22,895 career receiving yards? Derrick Thomas' seven sacks in a game?

Is it Wayne Gretzky finishing his unsurpassed NHL career with — quadruple checks notes — 2,857 points?!?!

All are worthy candidates.

But we'll save the debate for another column.

Today, I mention them only for context, because none of these records are more out of reach than the one famously set by Adrian, Mich., native and former Mud Hens pitcher Mike Marshall.

His death last week at age 78 led us to marvel anew at the remarkable height of an eccentrically remarkable career.

In 1974, Marshall, then a rubber-armed fireman for the Los Angeles Dodgers, became the first reliever to win the Cy Young Award after a season in which he was as durable as he was distinguished. The right-hander went 15-12 with a 2.42 ERA and 21 saves, and set major league marks for most appearances (106), relief innings (208 1/3), games finished (83), and consecutive games pitched (13).

All continue to stand today, a tribute to a one-of-a-kind man who charted a one-of-a-kind course.

A course that, in many respects, began in Toledo.

After successful stints as a reliever with the Hens and Tigers in 1967, Marshall was sent back to Toledo in 1968 to convert to a starter. He performed well enough in the role, firing seven no-hit innings in his first start and remaining on a roll. Marshall went 15-9 with a 2.94 ERA.

Yet his time in Toledo came with a lesson.

"I learned that I cannot stand to watch a baseball game in which I have no opportunity to pitch," Marshall once said.

In his mind, he had more to offer, and was uniquely suited to provide it.

By then, Marshall was well into his fascination with kinesiology, the study of the mechanics of body movements, and well on the way to his second of three degrees from Michigan State, where he studied in the offseasons and went on to earn his doctorate in 1978.

Long before pitching became a high-tech science — and young arms were handled with more care than a Faberge egg — Marshall was a mad scientist of sorts, developing his own ideas on how to throw (and throw and throw) a baseball, including his signature screwball. One core belief: To limit stress on the arm, a pitcher should follow through by turning his wrist outward, with the thumb pointing to the ground, not up, as most of us learn. (Try it. It feels weird, to say the least.)

Whether anyone else understood these ideas — and how in the world he could throw that devastating screwball without injury — he didn't care. When inquisitors marveled at his freakish endurance, he told the Los Angeles Times: "I said: 'Hey, it's simple. It's kinesiology, and all you have to understand is what the latissimus dorsi muscle can do for you. And then you get to use the triceps brachii and the inner teres. It's right there.' And they'd walk away."

The results were easier to understand.

After Marshall was nabbed by the Seattle Pilots in the expansion draft in 1969, he began a steady ascent in the big leagues, where he played 14 seasons for nine teams. Most prominently, he finished fourth and second in the Cy Young voting with the Expos in 1972 and '73, then took home the trophy in his season for the ages in LA the next year.

For perspective, five pitchers in big league history have appeared in 90 games. The most recent? Lefty specialist Pedro Feliciano pitched in 92 games for the Mets in 2010, but he only threw 62 2/3 innings, less than a third of Marshall's total in 1974.

After his retirement, Marshall hoped to catch on a a major league coach, but no club willing to shatter the orthodoxy ever called. He instead became a phys ed teacher and head baseball coach at West Texas A&M, then moved to Florida, where he opened a baseball clinic.

It was just as well, and perhaps fitting.

To the end, Marshall did things his own way, just as he will forever have his own place in history.

First Published June 6, 2021, 5:42pm