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Going the Distance
Keith Olbermann
May 11, 1998
Juan Marichal's car wreck stirred memories of a bygone era
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May 11, 1998

Going The Distance

Juan Marichal's car wreck stirred memories of a bygone era

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Nothing underscores the deterioration of pitching over the past three decades more than the news that during the same 48-hour period last week when Orioles manager Ray Miller publicly ruminated about keeping 12 pitchers active for the foreseeable future, Juan Marichal (right) was injured in a car accident in the Dominican Republic.

Marichal, the Giants great and the newest member of the Hall of Fame veterans' committee, epitomizes pitching in the '60s. The Orioles—who have a Cy Young winner ( Doug Drabek), a no-hit pitcher ( Scott Erickson), a league leader in wins ( Jimmy Key), three current or former closers ( Armando Benitez, Norm Charlton, Jesse Orosco), plus Mike Mussina, and still think they need five other guys to get by—represent pitching in the '90s.

Marichal was not seriously hurt, but his juxtaposition in the news with Miller's cheaper-by-the-dozen staff brought up the subject of pitching toughness and how it has changed. On July 2,1963, the then 25-year-old righthander locked up with Warren Spahn of the Braves at Candlestick. Marichal won 1-0 on a Willie Mays homer. In the bottom of the 16th. Both starters went the distance; Marichal later told Mays that as long as Spahn was going to stay out there, so was he. Spahn just happened to be 42 at the time.

Marichal's intransigence was probably a bit defensive. A foot injury had hampered him the year before, and he'd been taken out of Game 4 of the '62 Series when he hurt his thumb trying to bunt. In that era, susceptibility to injury often led to murmurs about being soft. The Giants finished second five seasons in a row ending in 1969—that had to be somebody's fault. Marichal was also derided for deciding to crease John Roseboro's skull with a bat, after Roseboro whizzed his return throw to Sandy Koufax just past Marichal's head.

Most of all, though, Marichal fought comparisons with Bob Gibson. Gibby shined on the Series stage three times. Marichal and his banged-up thumb lasted just four innings in his only Series start. Gibson had an ERA of 1.12 in 1968. Marichal had all those second-place finishes. They both became eligible for Cooperstown in 1981: Gibson went in on the first ballot, Marichal had to wait until 1983.

The irony, of course, is that of the two, Marichal was clearly the more "clutch" pitcher. His teams were in 11 pennant races, and in those seasons Marichal beat the teams ahead of him or runners-up to his champions 34 times, and lost to them only 20 times. In similar circumstances over eight seasons, Gibson was only 12-14. Marichal also didn't deserve blame for those second-place finishes. During that frustrating five-year stretch, he went 13-4 against the pennant winners.

Only eight righthanded pitchers have finished their careers 100 or more games over 500. Besides Mordecai (Three Finger) Brown, another Hall of Famer, Marichal required the fewest wins to reach that plateau. In the bottom-line, retro stat of "how many more games did you win than you lost" the difference between Marichal (243-142) and Gibson (251-174) is one 24-0 season, for Marichal.

Thirty years ago Marichal, incorrectly, was considered a little soft. These days Mussina, whose trip to the disabled list, thanks to a wart, set in motion Ray Miller's contemplation of a 12-man staff, is considered tough.