The e-mails wouldn't stop. Major-league scouts, minor-league pitching coaches, parents of professional players and hundreds of aspiring ballplayers wanted to know whether Mike Marshall is really a magician or just full of hocus pocus.
I think it's somewhere in between. I am neither a biomechanist nor a pitching coach, so I leave the intricacies – in musculature and motion – up to them and instead interpret the results. And with Marshall, they are a mixed bag.
His students swear by him and his program. They throw every day without pain, which is remarkable. At the same time, Marshall's greatest success, Jeff Sparks, flamed out of organized baseball, and none of his other full-time students have so much as made a dent in the independent leagues.
To hear Marshall speak, though, is to hear a true believer. Marshall is certain he can stop pitching injuries, and for the hundreds who asked about his contact information, he welcomes e-mails and phone calls (888-658-8850).
For an insightful look into Marshall, check out the ongoing Q&A on his Web site, which also shows his 37-chapter opus on pitching for free. In the Q&A, Marshall is at times helpful, ornery, indecipherable, arrogant, supportive and caring. And that, as much as anything, personifies who he is.
Onto your letters about Marshall and a host of other subjects, with my responses in italics.
MARSHALL ("Outside pitch," May 10, 2007)
I trained with Dr. Marshall for two years and know all the kids down there now. I throw every day without pain. I have my own iron ball wall, I do my wrist weights in my driveway and throw baseballs in my back yard into a net I constructed – and even sometimes to my dad, who I bought catcher's equipment to save his shins. The point I am trying to make is that Doc is a genius and his teachings need to be known everywhere.
I have been to Doc's certification seminar. I have a 7-year-old son that will never experience the pain of a pitching-arm injury. I have. Please keep the message going.
I am a certified Dr. Mike Marshall pitching instructor. I probably have been banned from more Web sites for talking about Dr. Marshall than anyone in history. How parents can let all these injuries to these kids happen is a mystery to me. Dr. Marshall's facility is about 40 minutes from Tampa and an hour or so from Orlando. That's a pretty rich baseball area. Where are all the local high school and college coaches? There should be lines waiting to go in and see his guys. Yet no one goes. Because parents don't want to know. I gave a seminar recently here in the Atlanta area, and the coaches told me that kids don't mind Tommy John surgery because it will make them faster. It would be funny if these weren't real human beings that are getting screwed.
People from across the country who have worked with Marshall wrote in support of what he teaches. And I didn't receive a single e-mail from a former student denouncing him. That, to me, said a lot.
Does Doc work with young pitchers 14, 15 and 16 years old? My son has had an MRI and it was determined that he may have a partial tear in his labrum. We are in therapy with bands and range-of-motion exercises. They seem to think with three months of therapy this will help. I don't want this happening again. My son wants to keep pitching. Can Doc help?
He does do summer sessions for high school students, though, to me, they're not nearly as interesting as his thoughts of youth pitching. Essentially, Marshall doesn't believe kids should not start pitching competitively until they turn 15 or 16. He believes that putting undue pressure on their arm before their growth plates have fully formed is dangerous. I think it's a bit excessive, but in an age where it's commonplace for teens to get Tommy John surgery, anything to help is welcome.
One thing that makes me as a reader skeptical: Over 100 pitchers have gone though his program and the best you can say is that some added 5-10 mph to their fastball? If this is so effective, where are the stories of guys playing in independent leagues, Japanese leagues or Korean leagues that are dominating? And the only real game experience is that of a journeyman middle reliever who has never pitched more than 60 1/3 innings and walks 4½ batters per nine innings? Call me skeptical, but if this does work, there has to be at least one success story.
Your skepticism is warranted. Though if I were to ask any big-league pitcher about a realistic post-high school velocity spike, he would say 2, maybe 3 mph. Five to 10 mph is incredible.
This is pretty much the craziest pitching technique I have ever seen. I played college baseball and now coach high school baseball, and this philosophy – which is all it is – goes against every method of teaching there is. Arm injuries happen just like hamstring injuries happen or knee injuries happen. Look at the players with the longest careers in baseball and they are usually pitchers. Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, David Wells, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and on and on. This philosophy is crazy because his motion uses all arm and no body. There is going to be no movement on the fastball because of the arm angle and the off-speed stuff will be a 12-6 breaking ball that will be hard to throw for a strike. I think this guy is nuts and there is a reason you don't see it in baseball anywhere.
You might want to check parallels with rowing. There was a guy called Karl Adam in the '60s who was a physicist and boxing coach. He revolutionized the sport of rowing, which he got into because a rower asked his advice about training. Adam's ideas were proven over and over by his winning crews. Sometimes doing things just because that's the way it's always been done is quite stupid.
West Chester, Pa.
In Marshall's world, John is enlightened and Brandon is everyone else. That's why Marshall's story is so compelling: Most of the baseball world is made up of Brandons. They believe they know what's right and are so sure of it, they're unwilling to hear anything that goes against their theory.
And I'm not sure if it's funny or hypocritical, but when I offered that Marshall consider other ideas to make his motion more friendly to those in organized baseball, he absolutely refused.
(Complete non-sequitur here, but I was fascinated, when reading about Karl Adam, to learn of something related to rowing called fartlek. How does anyone say that with a straight face?)
After reading your story on Mike Marshall and the accompanying video of the maxline delivery, there's only one thing missing – a live game situation. Looking at the video, it's pretty evident from the finish of the delivery if a curve or screwball is being thrown, and something tells me that a skilled or patient hitter might be able to turn some pitches inside out when the unorthodox becomes a bit more familiar. The other thing that can't be replicated in practice is the pressure of a game situation. It's one thing to throw strikes in camp, but when the game's on the line, it's about the mental makeup of the player (and the history of some of Marshall's students indicates a lot of 5-cent heads with potentially million-dollar arms).
La Mirada, Calif.
Actually, it's quite the opposite. Joe Williams majored in biology and was considering med school before the Mets drafted him. Sam Buchanan, as I mentioned, was valedictorian of his high school class. The pitchers who train with Marshall in Zephyrhills, Fla., do so because they are willing to sacrifice to better their craft. I don't know if it's smart, but I do think it's noble, and it says a lot about his students' courage.
Anytime I read something on pitching mechanics, it seems that baseball is reluctant to give anything new a chance. Is Marshall being met with a similar resistance as the Japanese gyroball physicists? How does Marshall's technique stack up with the gyroball theory? Aren't there some similarities in the pronated wrist?
From the Marshall outtakes: "The gyroball is crap."
Has "Doc" ever thought about asking the Japanese baseball leagues if they're interested in training their pitchers with his technique?
It would probably end in disaster. First, Marshall doesn't want to leave his home in Zephyrhills. He's in his mid-60s, and he said he lacks the energy for full-time travel. And even then, the Japanese baseball system is so rigid in its methods and training, the idea of a foreigner coming in and changing mechanics is a little too much for a place that was loath to accept Bobby Valentine initially.
Jason Neighborgall: Time to page crazy Doc Marshall.
I'm no kinesiologist, but Tim Lincecum seems to throw at least a bit like the Mike Marshall disciples. Am I wrong about that?
I thought so, too, Neil. So on the morning of Lincecum's debut, I e-mailed Marshall the same question.
He sent back a 14-bullet point answer as to problems with Lincecum's delivery.
Shows you what I know.
He is not wanted in Panama. I'm Panamanian, and I can tell you that he really messed up with the way he handled his non-participation at the World Baseball Classic. The reasons he gave for not playing were classless and very hurtful to people of Panama. Before that point he was like a god in Panama. Now, we compare him to his cousin, the glove-stealing Ruben Rivera.
People here in Panama remember Mariano because he said no to our country in the WBC. No matter how many toys or how much money he gives away, we don't like him anymore. In our games against Puerto Rico, but more importantly Cuba, we needed him there in the eighth and ninth innings, and where was he? And this is not just me. Most of the baseball fans down here don't really care about him considering that big stars like Pujols, Papi, Santana, A-Rod, Jeter and others said yes to their countries. Our soccer players, who regularly play in different international tournaments, never say no to represent our country. They see it as an honor. An example of a Panamanian that gives everything for his country is Carlos Lee. In fact, I believe he has helped our country in more ways than Mariano. I wish you could write about him, because that's the kind of people that are going to save our country. Mariano Rivera? He can stay in the U.S.
Panama City, Panama
If these two are telling the truth – that a majority of Panamanians hold a grudge against a true philanthropist because he declined to play in a baseball tournament – then Panama does not deserve him. We'll happily take Rivera here.
You make it hard for a Red Sox fan to feel good about rooting against him. I was particularly impressed by the way he not only gives away many toys, but also acknowledges that more important is finding a more permanent way to reduce the gap between rich and poor. Building churches and schools, institutions that build up communities and create access instead of isolation, is a great way to start.
Not to quibble, but I take exception with the comment regarding Dennis Eckersley's durability. You wrote that Eckersley's "longevity lagged," suggesting that he was either out of baseball or ineffective by the time he was Rivera's age. This comment seems to disregard the facts that Eckersley pitched until he was 43 years old and was a better-than-average closer during most of that time. Although Eck was past his prime, he put together solid seasons in 1995, 1996, 1997 at the ages of 40, 41, and 42, compiling a total of 95 saves during this period. It is my belief that Rivera would be more than happy to post similar numbers during his early 40s. In fact, such a late career kick would probably propel Rivera to No. 1 on the all-time saves list and would further his reputation as one of the all-time greats. I take your point that Rivera is an elite closer and a good human being, but I believe that it is unfair to Eckersley to suggest that he was anything but durable.
Here was my point: While Eckersley's longevity as a pitcher was exceptional, as a closer he had four incredible years – including 1990, the greatest single season for a modern closer – before age got to him and left his ERA over his final six seasons at 4.15. Had Eckersley closed his entire Hall-of-Fame career, he might have ended up with 750 saves.
It is just frustrating time after time that somehow Trevor Hoffman is lacking compared to Rivera. Sure, I'm a homer, but if you look at all the stats, the percentages, the saves, Hoffman pretty much leads every category. If there was no East Coast bias, or Hoffman was doing what he does with a big-market team, he would be exalted as you exalt Rivera. So please give Trevor his props. He is due.
Ah, the good-old East Coast bias excuse. The fallback for every person outside of the Eastern Time Zone with an inability to make a salient argument.
Whether you're in New York or San Diego, Trevor Hoffman is still the all-time saves leader and undeniably great. Much of Rivera's legacy, though, stems from his dominance in the postseason (which, admittedly, has waned in recent years, but still). Hoffman's playoff resume is ITT Tech to Rivera's Harvard.
What happened to Derrek Lee's daughter has been devastating, and he's worked tirelessly to increase LCA awareness. I thought you could include some links to Web sites that are also trying to raise awareness of LCA: carverlab.org and 1st Touch Foundation.
Glad to do my part.
Back when Clemens signed with the Astros last season, you said something along these lines: Always remember Roger Clemens is a mercenary. I came down on you hard. I now apologize. He indeed defines mercenary by his very existence. Believe me: Real Texans have more class in their little finger than that boy has in his body.
Of the 300 or so Texans who crushed me last year for this story, Gary was the only one to offer a mea culpa. I'd say something, but last time I did that, a few folks threatened to strangle me, and I'd prefer to avoid that if humanly possible.
BRAVES ("Once again, Braves getting it done," May 7, 2007)
I think you hit on an important point: Keeping a front office management team together is a big key. Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz are a great example. Too many coaches are fired as a quick fix after one down year.
In some cases, managers and coaches do deserve to get fired after one year. To see the type of partnership Cox and Schuerholz have cultivated is remarkable. It's easy to see why they've stuck this long: 14 consecutive division titles buys some serious capital.
INTERLEAGUE ("Jekyll and Hyde," May 18, 2007)
I usually enjoy reading your articles for your occasional wit and mostly good insight. However, the recent article in which you compare interleague "rivals" exposes a moronic comment that implies a fascination with the long ball. You say my beloved Dodgers "hit like Little Leaguers" because they've pounded out (ahem) 272 singles amid 372 hits. You're not a complete idiot, right? I'm 43, I have been watching Dodger baseball since 1969, and I know that with the exception of a few years, Dodger baseball typically features stellar pitching, sound defense and mostly light hitting. You didn't mention that they're in first place with all those singles. They've got enough speed on the bases to live with the "small ball" approach (as long as the pitching doesn't collapse, which it rarely does). Why not mention that after eight innings and at least a one-run lead, the Dodgers are 20-0? Your article implies that the Dodgers need power. And those kind of subtle reminders from columnists like you that then send ripples through the otherwise calm waters: trade some outrageously great Dodger-bred young talent for a heavy bat. We don't need a big bat. Why is everyone fascinated by the home run?
I am not fascinated with home runs. I am with runs scored. A home run scores a run. A single does not. A home run with runners on second and third scores three runs. A single scores one, maybe two. Trying to argue the virtue of singles over home runs is a fool's errand.
That the Dodgers are 20-0 after eight innings has nothing at all to do with their hitting. Their pitching, for the most part, has been magnificent, and it's why they're in first place and should be there at the end of the season.
So long as they get another bat from somewhere, whether within the organization or via trade.
A quick note on your Jekyll and Hyde column. You have the Indians at 14-3 at Jacobs Field. While you are correct that the Tribe was 14-3 in home games, they were only 12-2 at Jacobs Field, and are also 2-1 in "home" games played in Milwaukee.
See, A. Nelson forgot to mention that I am also occasionally absent-minded. I was at the Indians' first home game at Miller Park, and I'll be surprised if I see anything cooler this year. That includes No. 756.
Oh, and now the Indians are 17-4 at home, the best in baseball.
Remember Aubrey Huff, Julio Lugo and Toby Hall? Three major-league hitters traded by the Devil Rays last summer. So far those deals, plus the Danys Baez one in January, netted the Rays a so-so starting catcher, a Triple-A shortstop and Jae Seo and Edwin Jackson, possibly the two worst starting pitchers in baseball. Your remark, "We could go on, but it would only reinforce the lunacy of the Devil Rays never trading offensive surplus for an arm or two," conveniently forgets those trades. Yes, the pitching sucks. So draft and develop some! Crawford, Young, Baldelli, Dukes and Upton do not need to be traded to acquire mediocre major-league arms. Been there, done that.
Mira Loma, Calif.
Huff, Lugo and Hall were free agents to be, which depressed their trade value, and none has the talent of any of the five young players you named. Not only is that quintet signed to reasonable deals – Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli long-term at ridiculously low rates and Delmon Young, Elijah Dukes and B.J. Upton at pre-arbitration levels – all five are all potential All-Stars. Crawford, right now the most accomplished of them all, might bring the most in return, and with Baldelli, Dukes and Young patrolling the outfield, it wouldn't be a huge downgrade.
In other words, watch out Yankees.
(Wait. The Devil Rays are only two games behind the Yankees right now? Nevermind.)