Mike Marshall fashions himself a baseball pariah. The 63-year-old former ironman pitcher -- who in 1974 pitched in 208 innings over 106 games to set records for a major-league reliever -- now coaches amateur pitchers at his facility in Zephyrhills, Fla., using such unconventional methods and criticizing other pitching experts so vehemently that he claims his students are blackballed by major-league organizations.
Few dispute that Marshall, who owns a doctorate in exercise physiology from Michigan State and has done tremendous other research on pitching arms and injuries, has some interesting ideas. I spoke with Marshall about those ideas, the contentiousness with which he shares them, and his vow to change pitching forever.
ALAN SCHWARZ: What is the greatest threat to a young pitcher today?
Using the traditional pitching motion. It is destroying their arms, pitch by pitch until it will finally explode on them. It can be stopped and I know how to do it.
AS: What specifically do you consider so dangerous, that can be corrected?
They teach pitchers to take the hand back with the palm facing downward. They teach them to take it laterally behind their body, which makes no sense at all. You can't raise your arm when you're doing that, it comes to a stop and now you can't throw the ball because you've got it over on the first-base side of your body, and the palm is facing towards first base. So now you've got to lift that arm up, and as you're lifting it up, it's coming up and coming up and then you get to where your forearm is almost vertical, and all of a sudden now your elbow is moving forward but your hand's moving backward and the hand is going back, the ball is going back, forearm is going back. The elbow is going forward and it gets to a point where it bounces, it slams -- that's what ruptures your ulnar collateral ligament, that reverse pitching forearm bounce.
It's an atrocious motion, it's been destroying pitching arms for 130 years and we're still using it? Why? Because we're still using the same pitching coaches. They don't have a clue what they're doing. They have done nothing to take care of the problem, absolutely nothing. If I destroyed one pitching arm, I'd stop. I'd be mortified for the rest of my life.
AS: Roughly how many pitchers have you worked with?
It's in the neighborhood of 120-140 pitchers.
AS: Have none of those pitchers gotten injured?
AS: Not one?
The only time any of my guys have had any difficulties is when a traditional pitching coach gets a hold of them and forces them to change -- reverse rotate and unnecessarily stress their arm. Until those meatheads can get that through their mind and stop making these kids reverse rotate so far, they're going to continue to destroy pitching arms. Let me remind you of a guy pitching 106 games, 208 closing innings, never was stiff or tired and threw batting practice when he didn't pitch the night before.
AS: Well, citing yourself isn't exactly a large sample.
That was just me, but I can tell you that everybody that I've trained, they can't all pitch major league baseball, but they can throw every single day without any stiffness or soreness.
AS: Who are some pitchers who you've worked with? Have any reached the major leagues?
We have a little privacy issue here that I think I should adhere to, so I'm only going to mention those that I have already asked and clarified that with. (Former Devil Ray) Jeff Sparks came to me with an injured elbow -- 79 mph was his very top when I met him. He's played major league ball and he has reached a high of 96 mph and he throws every single day as hard as he possibly can. He still does. And is a high quality major league pitcher. What happened to him was he got on a team where they found out that I was coaching him and the meathead manager released him with a 3.5 ERA because I coached him.
AS: Sparks walked almost a batter per inning during his short time in Tampa Bay -- and I find it hard to believe that a team as desperate as the Devil Rays would release a so-called "high-quality major-league pitcher."
He played the end of (1999) and the next year, the first 12 games he's in, he's got a 1.5 ERA. Then a reporter does an article in which Sparks says that I trained him. He didn't pitch but three times in the next three weeks, they warmed him up time after time, and finally put him in a game and just forced it until they got his earned run average up to 3.5, then they released him. It wasn't because of Jeff Sparks, it was because they couldn't tolerate the fact that I had trained him. Who releases someone with a 3.5 ERA?
AS: You are very wary of kids pitching at too young an age. Can you describe your approach?
Sure. There is a difference between chronological age and biological age. Ten-year-olds not only have open growth plates, they don't even have an ossification center for the olecranon process -- which is the tip of the elbow -- for the lateral epicondyle. They don't even have bones where they need bones to have muscles to attach to them.
I recommend that they don't pitch competitively until they're biologically 13 years old. And then I say don't have them pitch more than one inning a game twice a week -- so that they don't overstress the medial epicondyle growth plate or the radial head growth plate.
AS: Other pitching experts have spent a great deal of time studying these issues as well. Isn't it possible that they know what they're talking about, too?
No. They have no idea. No clue. Ask them to cite Newton's three laws to you and how it pertains to applying force to a baseball. They think he invented the Fig Newton. They couldn't name a single muscle of the arm -- for example, what muscle in the arm has 30 percent more fast-twitch muscle fibers than any other? You think they have a clue?
AS: Now wait a minute. I know of several who are intellectual enough to talk about muscles and ligaments and what-not.
How does pronation protect the elbow? What muscles are involved in it and why does it protect the elbow? They haven't a clue, so how can they even talk about pitching? They don't understand anything. Get me in a room with every damn one of them and let's go after it. I would love it. Let's have a real debate, not this sniping crap.
AS: Given that your goal is to help young pitchers, wouldn't you have more effect on them if you were less aggressive in how you market your ideas?
No. I'm not going to soft-sell it. I'm not going to say, "Oh, well, he's a nice guy and I'm sure he's trying to do really well." No, he's destroying pitching arms. Now if that's aggressive, I'm sorry. That's the truth.
AS: One major league pitching coach told me, "A lot of what Mike is doing might be right, but no one will ever do it. I would be fired instantaneously." What's your reaction to that?
The general manager is a moron. If the general manager fires somebody who is trying to find a way to prevent destroying the arms of his pitchers, then the general manager needs to be fired.
Let me get into one major-league organization, and it'll be over for everybody else because my pitchers will never injure themselves. My pitchers will throw harder than they did before. They'll get closer to their genetic release velocity, whatever that is. They'll throw higher quality pitches and they'll do the same thing I did, be able to pitch every single day. We'll have a four-man rotation, we'll have relievers who can relieve every other day without any stiffness or soreness, we'll have an eight-man pitching staff, and we'll just kick your butt.