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by Editor Rick Cabral

JUAN MARICHAL RECALLS ORIGIN OF HIS HIGH KICK DELIVERY
AND BREAKING THE LATIN RACIAL BARRIER IN US

For Cuno Barragan, the Hispanic All-Star game in 1963 represented his final professional baseball contest. Meanwhile, Juan Marichal, the star pitcher of the San Francisco Giants, was beginning his climb toward a 16-year Hall of Fame career.

Marichal may be most famous for his high leg kick delivery, closely followed by the Roseboro incident at Candlestick Park in 1965. Some would argue the order should be reversed.

The story of how he learned the high leg kick is interesting.

As a 15-year-old, Marichal played shortstop on the sandlots of Laguna Verde, Domincan Republic. A friend took him to an amateur game at the nearby town of Monte Christi, where Juan was dazzled by "Bombo" Ramos, a pitcher with a sidearm delivery. Marichal immediately switched to pitcher and began imitating the style of his idol, Ramos. It earned him a spot on the same Monte Christi team, where he was seen and later drafted to pitch for the Domincan Air Force team.

The Giants signed Marichal in 1957 and the following season sent him to their Class "D" team in Michigan City (Midwest League). Juan had a great year, pitching 245 innings with a 21-8 record and 1.87 ERA, all with his sidearm delivery.

The following year he was promoted to Single A Springfield, Mass. (Eastern League). Early on, manager Andy Gilbert pulled him aside and asked, "Why do you throw sidearm?" Juan told him that's what he learned in youth leagues, not admitting he was mimicking a favorite player.

The manager asked, "Never had a sore arm?" Marichal shook his head.

 Juan_Marichal
Gifford asked, "Do you want to learn to throw overhand?" Marichal thought it odd the Giants would question his delivery after winning 20 games the previous year. Yet he prudently asked what would be the benefit. Gifford told him, "You'd be a much better pitcher against left handed hitters." Juan agreed and the manager took him down to the bullpen.

Marichal had never tried the overhand delivery before and found the new motion awkward. "It seemed impossible for me to do it without kicking my leg," he remembers. He concedes he had to work hard to maintain his balance on the rubber. Experimenting with the new motion, he was still able to maintain good control and eventually it improved his velocity. Marichal soon fell in love with the style, and continued working on it even as he competed at the major league level.

Marichal now had in his arsenal the overhand, three-quarters and sidearm deliveries, which he used to throw five pitches: fastball, curveball, slider, screwball and change. Marichal credits Andy Gifford for instigating the addition to his repertoire. Without it, he couldn't have thrown the screwball.

"I did real well at the minor league level. But I knew I would have to work hard to stay in the major leagues," Juan remembers. "I knew you had to work real hard, be well disciplined. That's what I did and it worked for me."

Ironically, Marichal pitched his final minor league game at Edmonds Field in Sacramento. The Giants called him up in July 1960.

In the early 60s, Latin ballplayer were still just beginning to crack the list of baseball's elite players. Along with Latin teammates Orlando Cepeda and Felipe Alou, Marichal played in the vanguard of a new movement. Like the Negroes of the previous decade, the Latins learned to deal with racial prejudice in the Land of Liberty. Asked if he found it difficult in breaking the barrier, Marichal admits,"Very, very difficult. I remember all the things I went through at the minor league level. And also at the major league (level)."

He recalled the time when Giants Manager Alvin Dark tried to impose a ban on Latin players speaking Spanish by posting a sign that read "Speak English."

"We had seven Latins with the Giants, and one day they said to us, 'You can't speak Spanish over here. You have to speak English.' That was bad," Juan recalls. "At that time, I didn't know any English. I (felt) funny talking to Orlando and Matty (Alou) in English."

Marichal also recalls an incident that occurred in Houston, which had just joined the ranks of major league cities. During the day, Cepeda invited Juan to go see the movie Cleopatra with him. Marichal was reluctant to go. "I said to Orlando, 'Remember, we're in Houston, Texas.'"

C
epeda chided his teammate, "Juan you have that thing (fear of racial prejudice) on your mind all the time."

Marichal said, "Orlando, that's a reality. We're not welcome here."

Cependa went alone to the theatre. About 45 minutes later, there was a knock on the hotel room door. Marichal got up, thinking it was the maid. Instead, it was Cepeda, standing there with tears in his eyes. "I couldn't help myself for laughing," Marichal remembers. " I said, 'Orlando, I told you not to go.'"

Marichal has another connection to Sacramento: In his first major league start against the Phillies on July 19, 1960, he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning. It was broken up by catcher Clay Dalrymple, of Chico, who caught for the Solons. 

 Marichal_ATT_CABRAL

Juan Marichal statue at AT&T Park
Photo © Rick Cabral 2011 

The Roseboro incident and the Capital City are linked by one other bit of trivia. Sacramento scout Ron King was sitting in the stands at Candlestick Park with his wife and two friends that afternoon in San Francisco when Marichal struck Roseboro over the head with his bat. King, a former minor league catcher, had just turned to his wife  to remark that the Dodgers' backstop had "soft hands." His wife's eyes suddenly grew large, and King realized he was missing something on the field. He turned back and saw the Marichal/Roseboro melee in motion.

Marichal and Roseboro, of course, later became great friends. To hear Marichal's observations of that fateful day, and what precipitated the incident, listen to Bob Costas' interview conducted in 2009.

During a stretch in the 1960s, no National League pitcher won more games than the Dominican Dandy, including the Dodgers' illustrious Sandy Koufax. In what is considered one of the greatest five-year stretches by any pitcher, Koufax won 111 games from 1962 to 1966, throwing four no-hitters and claiming the Cy Young Award three times. During that same period, Marichal equaled Koufax in victories, but sadly never won a Cy Young Award.

Marichal finished his career with a 243-142 record and 2.89 ERA. The nine-time All-Star was voted to the Major League Hall of Fame in 1973.

 

Uploaded 02/08/2011
updated 08/29/12

All contents © Rick Cabral, 2011-12

 

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