The latest word out of the Twin Cities is that Mike Marshall, once the brooding intellectual of the bullpen, has undergone a dramatic personality transformation, has cast off, as it were, his mantle of Kierkegaardian gloom and donned the motley of a candidate for local office in Rotary International. Indeed, a scene in the Minnesota Twins clubhouse following a game with Kansas City last month in which Marshall, brought in to protect a 3-2 Twins lead in the seventh inning, had given up the tying run in the eighth and the winning run in the ninth, would suggest that reports of this astonishing metamorphosis are not unfounded.
Marshall stood before his locker sipping from a large cup of milk as members of the press encircled him. Where, he was asked, had he gone wrong? "I deserved what I got," he said matter-of-factly. "I underestimated a major league baseball player." He made reference here to Royal Outfielder Willie Wilson, whose leadoff triple in the ninth had led to Marshall's undoing. "I threw him a fastball down the middle," Marshall continued, warming to the unpleasant subject. "It was as if I said, 'Here, hit it,' and he did." Marshall smiled. Now that he is showing it more often, it can be seen that he has an engaging smile that shines brightly beneath the ribbon of hair—sideburns curving into mustache—that bisects his round face. He elaborated on his own folly: "I got him out too easily the first time [ Wilson had struck out on three pitches in the seventh], and I didn't learn anything from him. Now I know he is a bona fide major league hitter who will make a few people in this league respect him."
The reporters moved away from him, apparently satisfied with this analysis from the busiest and brainiest relief pitcher in baseball. Marshall's face took on a look of alarm. "Is that all?" he inquired anxiously. "Where's the innuendo? Where's the double-edged question that can get me either way?" Then he laughed.
So it was all there: civility, humility, a generous tribute to an opponent, a sense of irony and, finally and most conclusively, humor. A man who in the not-too-distant past had greeted his interrogators with, at best, a stony silence or, at worst, a diatribe on their myriad inadequacies had appeared before them this time as an urbane and self-effacing wit.
Two men Marshall respects highly, Twins Manager Gene Mauch and Michigan State University physical education Professor William Heusner, have also observed a change in the Marshall manner.
"A different person? Yes, I think so," said Mauch one sunny afternoon as he hit grounders to his infielders. "He's not quite as angry a man. He fought his way through all those years in the minor leagues, and he fought to establish himself in the big leagues. He fought with his teeth clenched and with all the combativeness within him. All of this, in his mind, necessitated being uncooperative. He thought he'd been rushed around a lot early in his career, so he was just—what's the word?—a little strident. I think I understand the man. That doesn't mean I can read his mind, but I think I understand him."
"Mike is like a bulldog in many ways," said Heusner from his office in Michigan State's department of health, physical education and recreation. "He grabs and hangs on to things...sometimes too long. He can be harsh on people—students, the press, even friends—and he is quick to think people are against him. It is an uncompromising approach, one he developed as he went on. But look at it this way: he's out there on the mound attempting to effectively destroy an opposing team. You have to have a pretty strong ego to do that. But in Mike these feelings have peaked, and now he is arriving at a more equitable approach. He is mellowing."
At 36, Marshall has reason to mellow. After years of struggle and wandering, he has security in the form of a four-year contract worth an estimated $1.2 million, the most lucrative ever signed by an employee of the renownedly impecunious Calvin Griffith. A part-time student at Michigan State for 18 years, he now has a doctorate in exercise physiology and the prospect of a post-baseball career as a college professor. He is playing for the only manager he says could have coaxed him into returning to baseball—Mauch. He is fully recovered from a back injury that had plagued him since he was 11 years old and that threatened to terminate his career until it was corrected by disk surgery two years ago. He is having another brilliant season—one that, barring misfortune, projects to about 100 appearances and nearly 40 saves, awesome figures that only Marshall has regularly approached. And he, his wife Nancy, whom he married when he was 20, and daughters Deborah, 15, Becky, 14, and Kerry Jo, 11, will move next month into a house on Minnesota's Lake Minnetonka, there to "sail and swim, that sort of thing." Marshall, the devoted family man, has been obliged to live apart from his "four women" for much of his 18 years in professional baseball. Now, with the doctorate achieved and with the secure knowledge that he will finish his career in Minnesota, he will move his women from East Lansing, Mich. to the new home. This alone has done much for his peace of mind.
"They've paid a high price," Marshall says of his family. "I want to diminish the cost now. The Lord knew I needed a lot of loving, so he gave me three daughters."
Marshall listens politely to those who describe his conversion from Mr. Hyde to Dr. Jekyll. Then, his voice taking on some of the old edge, he replies, "The only thing that's changed about me is that I can sit here talking like this without feeling pain. People mistook my physical discomfort for impatience. I will still tell somebody if a question is inappropriate or aimed at ridicule, and I still reserve the right to conclude an interview in order to get a job done." And, because he thinks youngsters should have better heroes than ballplayers, he still refuses to sign autographs. He also remains an implacable foe of those he thinks have done him wrong, most prominently his former team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the physical education and intramural administrators at Michigan State. Marshall tends to hold a grudge, and his antagonism toward the Dodgers and his alma mater's athletic officials has been exacerbated by the fact that for the first time in many years he is having trouble finding new enemies. In the meantime, the old ones will have to do.