Mike Marshall, who for the Dodgers was the first relief pitcher to win a Cy Young Award in 1974, died on Tuesday at age 78.
Marshall’s death was announced before the Dodgers’ game against the Cardinals on Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium, and a brief summary of his Los Angeles tenure was read by PA announcer Todd Leitz, before a moment of silence.
Workhorse doesn’t do justice to Marshall’s first year with the Dodgers. Acquired by trade from the Expos for longtime center fielder Willie Davis at the winter meetings in 1973, the then 31-year-old Marshall had a career year. He appeared in astonishing 106 games, while throwing an unfathomable 208⅓ innings, both relief records that still stand today. He also finished 83 games.
“I had a deal with (manager) Walter Alston,” Marshall said in a 2003 interview. “If I warmed up, I was getting into the game.”
Marshall led the league in saves that season with the Dodgers, one of three times in his career he would do so. His 143 strikeouts in 1974 remain a Dodgers relief record, and are tied for the eighth-most by a reliever in a season in major league history.
He led his league in games pitched four times and games finished five times. There have only been nine major league seasons in which a pitcher appeared in 90 or more games. Marshall has done so three times, and his record 106 games is 12 more than any other pitcher in a season.
“Though he was a pitcher, Mike Marshall practically became an everyday player for the Dodgers in 1974,” Jon Weisman aptly described in his 2009 book ‘100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die’ (which, coincidentally, has been updated after last year’s World Series win).
The everyday prevalence of Marshall was never more evident than from June 18 to July 3, 1974, when Marshall pitched in 13 games in a row, a record that still stands to this day. Amazingly, only five of Marshall’s 106 appearances that season came with more than two days rest. His longest time off in between outings was four days, but even then he only missed two Dodgers games as rain washed away two games in Montreal.
Marshall was busy in October as well, allowing one run in 12 innings in his seven games, including pitching in all five games of the World Series against the A’s. He famously picked off sprinter turned pinch-runner Herb Washington for the second out in the ninth inning of Game 2, preserving a one-run lead in the Dodgers only win of the series.
“Marshall, for a right-hander, is very quick in coming over to first base,” Vin Scully explained on the NBC broadcast of the World Series. “So if Herb Washington, representing the tying run, tries to take too much of a led, he would be susceptible”
Dodgers dominated the NL Cy Young Award balloting that season, with Marshall garnering 17 of 24 first-place votes, while teammates Andy Messersmith (five first-place votes) and Don Sutton (one first-place vote) finished second and fourth, respectively. But despite the award, the records, and what would be the only postseason berth of his career, and his only two All-Star appearances, Marshall was unhappy with his time in Los Angeles.
“That entire year was not a joy for me,” Marshall recalled to Ron Fimrite of Sports Illustrated in 1979, describing the 1974 Dodgers as a team of cliques, of which Fimrite said, “none of which he was invited to join.”
After his record-setting season, Marshall was limited by injuries over the next few years, but still averaged 87 innings per year from 1975-1978. Midseason in 1976, the Dodgers traded Marshall to the Braves for utility man Lee Lacy and pitcher Elias Sosa.
Two years later, Marshall completed his PhD in exercise physiology from Michigan State.
Marshall had one last excellent season in 1979 with the Twins, playing again for Gene Mauch, who was also his manager in Montreal. Marshall that year, at age 36, led the American League with 90 games pitched and 32 saves while posting a 2.65 ERA in 142⅔ innings. He also finished 84 games, breaking his own major league record, and tallied his fourth top-five finish in Cy Young Award voting.
Brash and bold were traits that described Marshall both during and after his playing days, including stating on his website a detailed and ambitious goal: “I know the injurious flaws in the ‘traditional’ baseball pitching motion that injure baseball pitchers and how to eliminate all pitching injuries.”
Marshall is survived by his wife, Erica, and daughters Rebekah, Deborah and Kerry Jo.
- Marshall was described by Danny Gallagher at the Montreal Gazette with this lede: “He was an eccentric screwball, but he possessed a mighty screwball.”
- Four days after signing with the Twins in 1978, Marshall was involved in an altercation at a rental car counter in Minnesota, as recalled by Jeff Day of the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “He attacked me,” Marshall said of his accuser. “He threw punches at me. I never threw punches at him. It was simple restraint on my part.”
- Weisman shared an excerpt on Marshall from his other seminal Dodgers book, ‘Brothers in Arms.’
- Marshall’s obituary from Beth Harris at Associated Press.