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Monday, June 29, 2009

Reprise of an old blog: The Ugly, The Bad and The Good (July 25, 2005)

The Ugly
With the recent Kenny Rogers’ Incident involving tossing cameras and abuse of the news media, I thought back to one of the worst incidents in baseball history, involving two HOF pitchers, a lifetime .250 hitting catcher and two bitter rivals in the Dodgers and Giants. (Left)

From the HOF archives
Juan Antonio Marichal Sánchez (born October 20, 1937 in Laguna Verde, Dominican Republic), better known as Juan Marichal, was a Major League Baseball starting pitcher known for his high leg kick and dominating stuff, and his intimidation tactics, which included aiming pitches directly at the opposing batters' helmets.

The high-kicking Juan Marichal, AKA the 'Dominican Dandy' or 'Manito', already had pinpoint control of his curve, slider, screwball, and blinding fastball, all thrown with a variety of motions. Some commented he had 16 different pitches, throwing his 4 pitches from either an overhand, 3/4, sidearm or submarine deliveries. His lifetime stats:

Led League in wins 1963 and 1968
Led League in ERA 1969
All-Star in 1962-69, 71
Elected to Hall Of Fame in 1983

IP: 3507.1
W-L; 243-142
ERA: 2.89

But with all that success came the unfortunate incident most remembered in his elite career. It happened on August 22, 1965.

That day, Marichal faced Sandy Koufax at Candlestick Park in the heat of a tight pennant race. The Giants and Dodgers had come close to a brawl two days earlier over catcher's interference calls. Los Angeles's Maury Wills had allegedly tipped Tom Haller's mitt with his bat on purpose, and Marichal's best friend, Matty Alou, retaliated by tipping John Roseboro's face mask.

Roseboro nearly beaned Alou with his return throw to the mound. In the August 22 game, Marichal had flattened Maury Wills and Ron Fairly with pitches when Roseboro purportedly asked Koufax to hit Marichal. When Koufax refused, Roseboro's return throw came close to Marichal's head. Name-calling ensued, until Roseboro suddenly ripped off his mask and stood up. Marichal rapped the catcher on the head with his bat. What followed was one of the most violent brawls in major league history.

Willie Mays led away Roseboro, who had suffered a concussion, while Dodger Bob Miller tackled Marichal, Alou slugged Miller, and Tito Fuentes menaced the Dodgers with his bat. Roseboro sued Marichal, but eventually dropped the $110,000 suit.

NL president Warren Giles suspended Marichal for eight games and fined him $1,750. He also forbid Marichal from traveling to Los Angeles for the final Giants-Dodgers series of the season.
Marichal, not to be outdone, had another memorable game:

On July 2, 1963 , he went the distance beating the winningest HOF lefthander in Warren Spahn and the Braves 1-0 in 16 innings. Warren pitched only 15 1/3 innings in the loss!

The Bad
John Roseboro was a 'good' left-hand hitting catcher in an era that had the likes of Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, Joe Torre, Tim McCarver, Bill Freehan and Elston Howard around catching.

According to Bill James, he is considered the 27th best catcher in MLB history. Though his .249 BA is not considered HOF worthy, two points should be made:

1) The 1960's was the worst offensive era for ALL hitters due to the mound height and strike zone expansion in 1963
2) Dodger Stadium was not a friendly hitter's ballpark like the ones today in Denver, Arlington and Houston, among others. Dodger stadium has always been a negative park for hitting homeruns, especially at night.

So, to properly rate Roseboro, we could do it in a better time (the 1990's or present day), and his offensive numbers would be much, much better. Also, his 'real' numbers assisted quite a bit given the scarcity of runs in the 1960's.

His defensive skills and game calling probably rate him a top 10-15 catcher all-time. (Caught Drysdale, Koufax, Sutton, Osteen, and Podres which ranks up there among the best pitching staffs all-time.)

All and all, he could have been a HOF catcher with a little more pop at the plate and not playing in the most restrictive era for hitters.

The Good
Sandy (Sanford) Koufax. The name is synonymous with great pitching. His lifetime stats:
Led League in wins 1963, 65-66
Led League in era 1962-66
Led League in strikeouts 1961, 63, 65-66
All-Star in 1961-66
Most Valuable Player Award in 1963
Hall Of Fame in 1972
IP: 2324
W-L: 165-87
ERA: 2.76
In World Series play
IP: 57
W-L: 4-3
ERA: 0.95
Books and articles about Sandy Koufax

His first few seasons in the ‘Bigs’ were not successful, but showed enough promise, given his wildness (sometimes overstated, sometimes understated) and the fact he didn’t get much support from manager, Walter Alston, in pitching out of jams.

But for 6 years, 1961-1966, he pitched better than ANYONE ever dreamed imaginable. Yogi Berra said in 1963, "I can see how he won 25 games. What I don't understand is how he lost five."

His legacy was cut short by a circulatory ailment that caused swelling in his arm unlike anything you would hear of in modern sports. With the right medical (and managerial) advice given, he could have pitched many years more. And what would have been? As it turned out, he made the HOF in 1972, six years after retiring.

Not bad, Lefty. Not bad at all.
Sandy Pitching in splendor - watch those curves!

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