AUGUST 12, 1974
Hunched over a picnic table near his house in Zephyrhills, Fla., hands folded on a cheap plastic tablecloth, Michael Grant Marshall, Ph.D., leaps at the chance to play professor. "For years I tried to explain Newton's laws to pitching coaches," he says. "Want to hear it?" Fifteen minutes later, after his discourse, The Mound According to Mike, has meandered from the principles of inertia to differential calculus, Marshall pauses, smirks and says, "You are now more educated than any pitching coach in major league baseball."
During his 14-year, nine-team big league career, Marshall's truculence frustrated managers—"I was totally uncoachable," he admits—journalists and the baseball establishment. While pursuing his doctorate in exercise physiology at Michigan State during the 1970s, Marshall applied the principles of his major to the art of pitching and came up with a unique training program (throwing hard every day) and a repertoire of pitches (he perfected four flavors of screwball) that, he maintains, allowed him to throw 100-plus innings every year from 1971 through '75. "I was dismissed as a physical freak," Marshall says. "Until I had success, people made light of everything I did."
In 1974, after setting the big league single-season records for appearances (106) and relief innings (208), and going 15-12 with 21 saves and a 2.42 ERA for the National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers, Marshall became the first reliever to earn the Cy Young Award. "They had to give the award to me," says Marshall, who finished his career with 188 saves and a 3.14 ERA. "I did things nobody had ever done. For me not to be considered the best relief pitcher in the history of baseball is silly, just plain silly."
Marshall, 58, who has three adult daughters and three grandsons, left a teaching and baseball head coaching job at West Texas A&M in 1994 and, at the urging of several of his former players, began running a baseball clinic out of his house. A dozen pitchers are now enrolled in the Marshall Plan, a Dickensian regimen with no off days that is conducted over 40 weeks at a facility two blocks from Marshall's place. While their guru expounds on physics, the pitchers grunt as they go through part of their training, winding up with 30-pound weights around each wrist and heaving 12-pound iron balls at a wooden backstop. "Nobody who's gone through this program has ever gotten hurt. These kids are now injury-proof," claims Marshall (and who's to refute him?).
In his Florida lab the doctor is building a new class of iron men.