SBJ/20090302/One-on-One

Marshall keeps pitching his plan for an injury-free motion

Mike Marshall broke into the major leagues in 1967 with the Detroit Tigers. Fourteen years and eight teams later, he retired, but not before making his mark as the game’s most durable relief pitcher. In 1974, he appeared in 13 straight games and won the Cy Young Award after he set single-season records for appearances (106), relief innings (208) and games finished (84).

Marshall, who earned a Ph.D. from Michigan State in kinesiology (the study of muscles and their movements), has devoted more than 40 years to researching the art and science of pitching. He has been an outspoken and tireless critic of the traditional pitching motion and an advocate for a training program he devised and a more straight-ahead motion that he contends puts no stress on a pitcher’s arm. Still, he said he cannot get an audience with a major league team to discuss his findings.

Marshall spoke with SportsBusiness Journal New York bureau chief Jerry Kavanagh before the reporting date for pitchers and catchers.

Favorite piece of music: I’m stuck in the ’60s and ’70s. I’m a Muddy Waters fan.
Favorite quote: Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Favorite movie: “Cadillac Records”
Best baseball movies: “Bull Durham” and “Field of Dreams”
Worst baseball movie: “The Babe Ruth Story”
Superstitions: No, I’m too scientific for superstitions.


What’s your assessment of the business health of baseball?
MARSHALL: Well, I’m not involved that closely. And when I was a player rep, the owners didn’t tell us too much about the business part of it. Of course, the big business that they’re in now, and one that I predicted back in the mid-’70s, is cable television. That’s a huge revenue source for them.

You saw the future in that in the ’70s?
MARSHALL: Oh, yes. I was sitting with Ted Turner there in the old ballpark, and we were talking about the different ideas that he had. He mentioned that he was going to put his team on cable television. I told him the thing I hate when I get on the radio is it’s all music. I want to hear news. I’d like an all-news station. He sort of took that idea pretty good.

Are you suggesting that you gave him the idea for a cable news network?
MARSHALL (laughing): I wish I had. I’m not going to say that that led directly to what he did, but certainly he thought well of the idea.

Were pitchers trained more effectively in the past?
MARSHALL: Who are the pitching coaches? Check their academic backgrounds. Pitching coaches are ex-pitchers. Do you think they are going to invent anything new? They’re going to do what the guy who won the first game 130 years ago did. Scientifically, it is absurd what they teach.

Your contention is that the traditional pitching motion is essentially flawed and leads to injury?
MARSHALL: If somebody wanted to invent a pitching motion that was inherently dangerous, that had all the elements of all injuries — you could ruin your hip, your knee, your lower back, the inside and outside of your elbow, and the front and back of your shoulder — use the traditional pitching motion.

And you support this from firsthand major league experience and from a career studying the subject?
MARSHALL: Oh, yeah. And on my Web site (www.drmikemarshall.com) I have a list of all the pitchers who were injured last year and on the disabled list. It averaged out to over six per team. That’s over half of your pitching staff. How in the world can you not understand that there’s something wrong with what you’re doing?

I saw a statistic that showed there were 271 different injuries to major league pitchers last year that put them on the disabled list. Even with a minimum 15-day stay on the DL, that amounts to several seasons of inactivity. Multiply that by the average MLB salary …
MARSHALL: That’s a lot of money they’re wasting with unemployable or unusable pitchers. They might want to get a little science in there as far as strategies and so on. With pitching injuries, there are resolutions, and they don’t want to deal with that. I think I would take a look at trying to find out how to prevent these injuries, and yet nobody is. Or let’s put it this way: They are, but they’re asking the wrong people.

Who are they asking?
MARSHALL: They’re asking orthopedic surgeons. Orthopedic surgeons are not the ones to ask about how to prevent injuries. They know nothing about biomechanics and how to fix them. And the biomechanists don’t know anything about anatomy. They’re just number crunchers, so they don’t understand what muscles get hurt and why.

Given the pitchers’ contracts and the loss of service to injuries, would it not be worth it to at least listen to an alternative plan, a plan that might conceivably keep the high-priced investments healthy?
MARSHALL: I’ve offered to show them for free everything that I do. I’m not doing it for me.

In 1974, Marshall pitched in
a record 106 games and won
the NL Cy Young Award.

You sent a letter to all 30 MLB teams in the mid-’90s offering your services. How many teams responded?
MARSHALL: Zero. In each letter I said I wanted to talk to them about the training program I had. I said that I can eliminate all kinds of pitching injuries, yaddayaddayadda, and I let them know that I had the doctoral degree and the playing experience, that I’ve done the research since 1967. I was the first one to biomechanically analyze the pitching motion. I think I know what I’m doing, and I’ll challenge anybody to demonstrate that anything I do is wrong. But I can’t even get anybody to say that.

You paint a bleak picture for the future of pitching.
MARSHALL: Yeah. It’s going to remain as bad as it is today as long as people continue to teach and believe in the traditional pitching motion. Back in 1976 or ’77, I got a telephone call from Bill Veeck. He said, “Hey, Marshall. I want to know what you know.” He showed up the next day, and we spent the whole day talking about pitching. I showed him my high-speed film studies and explained everything. He said he wanted me to become his pitching coach. I was a free agent and about to sign a rather large contract. I told him I’d love to do it as soon as I was done pitching. Of course, he sold the team before that.

Original thinkers like Veeck have been looked upon skeptically. You need another original thinker now.
MARSHALL: You don’t think the owners are going to let one in there, do you?

Can you concede that there might be an owner with some imagination?
MARSHALL: Mark Cuban [who pursued buying the Cubs] … is an original thinker. If he were to find out that I know how to train pitchers, he just might let me do it. Nobody else will.

You obviously have this passion for what you preach. You have offered to give away what you have learned. What is your motivation?
MARSHALL: Baseball is a great game, the most-skilled, the most-intelligent game there is. I love baseball and I don’t like injuries. There’s no reason for them. And it’s so simple to me. I can make just three or four suggestions and eliminate all pitching injuries.

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