JUAN MARICHAL…AND JOHN ROSEBORO
To those even mildly acquainted on a personal level with Juan Marichal, there is no finer gentleman.
With an upbeat and inspiring personality paired with a ready smile and frequent laughter, he has forever made friends easily and exhibited an uncanny ability to motivate others.
The 83-year-old native of Laguna Verde, Monte Cristi in the Dominican Republic, aptly nicknamed, “The Dominican Dandy” in celebration of his grandiose exploits on the baseball diamond, enjoyed a Hall-of-Fame career.
But it was not free of controversy.
John Roseboro was a big league catcher from 1957–1970, most notably plying his trade with the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers.
(He played out the string with the Minnesota Twins — 1968-’69, and the Washington Senators — 1970).
A four-time All-Star player who won two Gold Glove Awards, his hitting was rather pedestrian: .249 BA; 104 HRs; 548 RBI.
It was his work behind the plate that was stellar; he was considered one of the best defensive catchers in the game during the 1960s.
He had a .989 career fielding percentage and was the receiver of 112 shutouts, ranking him 19th all-time among major league catchers.
He caught two of Sandy Koufax’s four no-hitters and strapped on the tools of ignorance for more than 100 games, in 11 of his 14 major league campaigns.
Baseball historian Bill James, pegged Roseboro 27th all-time among major league catchers, all-around.
And of course, he could throw.
Accurately, with pinpoint control.
Just ask Marichal, who knew something about that himself.
Both also knew a little about intimidation tactics.
Roseboro died in 2002 but in the 1980s he and Marichal became fast friends, a bit of a minor miracle in that during the ’60s, they wanted to kill each other.
And almost did.
Juan Marichal, he of the full windup (concealing the pitch beautifully) and the renowned high kick of his left leg — nearly vertical — had exceptional control.
He struck out 2,303 with only 709 walks, a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.25 to 1.
This ranked among the top 20 pitchers of all-time, ahead of such luminaries as Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Walter Johnson and Roger Clemens, all of whom had ratios of less than 3:1.
Over his career, Marichal led the league in fewest walks allowed per nine innings, four times and finished second, three times.
He finished in the top 10 in this category 11 times and found himself in the top 10 in strikeouts on 6 occasions.
Marichal’s Hall-of-Fame resume (1960–1975) bursts at the seams, but one regular-season game stands alone, perhaps above all others.
It was the night of July 2, 1963.
San Francisco Giants and Milwaukee Braves.
Juan Marichal vs. Warren Spahn.
Candlestick Park was the setting and almost 16,000 fans were in attendance to witness what some have called, “The Greatest Game Ever Pitched.”
Marichal and Spahn went mano-a-mano, matching scoreless frames until Giants center fielder Willie Mays took matters into his own hands and homered off Spahn, to win the game 1–0 in the 16th inning.
Both Spahn and Marichal had tossed 15-plus inning complete games — something that had never been accomplished in the big leagues before, or since.
Marichal allowed 8 hits in the 16 innings, all singles, save for a double swatted by pitcher Spahn, of all seemingly unlikely suspects.
(Actually Spahn was a good hitter, finishing with an NL career record for pitchers of 35 HRs, and he belted at least one HR in 17 straight seasons. His 35 dingers ranks #3 today, on the MLB dance card behind Wes Ferrell — 38; and Bob Lemon — 37).
Marichal struck out 10 and hung an o’-fer on none other than Hank Aaron who went 0-for-6.
Spahn permitted nine hits in 15 ⅓ innings, struck out 2, and walked one — Mays intentionally in the 14th, after Harvey Kuenn’s leadoff double.
Somehow he got out of that jam.
Not surprisingly, the game — nearly the equivalent of two — lasted only 4 hours and 10 minutes.
(And, apropos of nothing, future Major League Baseball commish, Bud Selig, was in attendance that evening as a fan).
If that regular-season game stood alone, then the one which was played — again at Candlestick — on August 22, 1965 was right behind it.
But for all the wrong reasons.
The Giants were hosting the Dodgers; another chapter to be written in what then, was the fiercest rivalry in baseball, one which began when both teams played in New York.
As the ’65 season neared its climax, the Giants were involved in a tight pennant race; they trailed the first-place Dodgers by a game and a half and the Braves were right in between at one game back.
During the second game of the series, played the day before, a Dodger batter was awarded first base when the home plate umpire ruled that Giants catcher Tom Haller had interfered with his swing.
Haller’s protestations to the contrary fell on deaf ears; it was his contention that the Dodgers were purposefully and intentionally holding their bats farther back than usual.
When Matty Alou later came to the plate, he did the same thing, earning a stern rebuke from Dodger catcher Roseboro after Alou’s bat made contact with him.
The next day Maury Wills led off the game against Marichal with a bunt single and scored on Ron Fairly’s double.
The ultra-competitive “Dominican Dandy” was not happy.
He was not happy with Wills, as he viewed the bunt, nothing more than a cheap ticket to first base.
(Never mind that this was a Wills hallmark, along with his speed and acumen on the basepaths).
When Wills came to the plate in the second inning, Marichal — he of the superb control — threw directly at him, sending Wills sprawling to the ground with a faceful of dirt.
Mays led off the bottom of the second and Dodgers southpaw Sandy Koufax, whose control was also pretty fair — as in impeccable — threw a pitch over his head, as a token form of retaliation.
In the top of the third with two outs, Marichal unloaded a fastball that nearly hit Fairly, sending him to the ground like a spinning teacup.
This enraged the Dodgers and prompted home plate umpire Shag Crawford to finally issue an official warning to both teams, that further retaliations would not be tolerated and would be grounds for expulsion.
Gasoline dousing the flame came in the form of Marichal’s plate appearance in the bottom of the third.
Marichal strode to the dish expecting Koufax to throw at him.
He did not.
But after the second pitch, Roseboro’s return throw to Koufax either brushed Marichal’s ear or was so close to it, that he felt the whir and the breeze from the ball.
Then all hell broke loose.
“Why did you do that?” (or something to that effect, undoubtedly saltier) Marichal bellowed at Roseboro, who rose from his crouch with clenched fists.
Marichal’s take was that he was about to be attacked and Giants captain Mays said Roseboro “brushed [Marichal]. Maybe it was a swing.”
Marichal was still holding his bat.
Then he used it.
He struck Roseboro at least twice on the head, opening a two-inch gash that sent blood cascading down his face and would later require 14 stitches to close the wound.
Koufax raced in from the mound in an attempt to separate the two and was immediately joined by the umpires, players and coaches from both teams.
A fourteen minute brawl erupted on the field before Koufax, Mays and assorted other peacemakers restored order.
Marichal was ejected from the game, subsequently suspended for eight games (two starts) by NL President Warren Giles and fined a then-NL record $1,750 USD — the equivalent to $14,200 in 2019 dollars.
He was also forbidden to travel to Dodger Stadium for the final, crucial two-game series of the season.
Roseboro filed a $110,000 damage suit against Marichal one week after the incident, which was eventually settled out of court for $7,500.
Two starts for Marichal to lose was a slap on the wrist.
The Giants were embroiled in an even more heated pennant race than had been; the Dodgers, Braves, Pirates and Reds were all in the mix, and it was decided with two games to play.
The Giants, who ended up winning that August 22 debacle, then trailed the Dodgers by only a half-game.
They eventually lost the pennant to the Dodgers, finishing 2 games in arrears.
Ironically, the Giants went on a 14-game tear which started during Marichal’s absence, effectively dashing the hopes of the Pirates, Reds and Braves, who fell further behind.
But the Dodgers roared along almost in tandem, winning 15 of their final 16 contests after Marichal returned, to claim the NL crown.
Marichal won his first game back on September 9 against the Astros 2–1; on the same day Koufax spun a perfect game against the Cubs.
Unfortunately, he was not so ‘dandy’ beyond that, losing his final three decisions as the Giants slumped in the season’s last week, prompting Mays to speculate that, “Marichal’s actions might have cost us the pennant.”
A bit uncharacteristic of Mays to hang a teammate out to dry that way; his rationale was that the bullpen was overworked in the absence of Marichal, who usually completed his starts.
Marichal did not face the Dodgers again until spring training on April 3, 1966 and in his first at-bat against him, Roseboro hit a three-run home run.
When Giants GM Chub Feeney approached his Dodgers counterpart, Buzzy Bavasi, to try and arrange a handshake between Marichal and Roseboro, the LA backstop declined the offer.
Years later, Roseboro explained that he was retaliating for Marichal knocking down Wills, “standard operating procedure,” as he described it.
He noted that Koufax, generally speaking, would not throw at hitters for fear of hurting them with the great velocity of his pitches.
Hence, the buzz next to Marichal’s ear.
After years of bitterness and ruffled feathers which proved difficult to smooth, Roseboro and Marichal became close friends in the 1980s, pal-ing around at old-timers’ games, golf tournaments and charity events.
Interestingly, in 1975 when the Dodgers signed Marichal as a free agent at the end of his storied career, it was a personal appeal by Roseboro to the still-irate Dodger fans — who had not forgiven him for the incident ten years earlier — to calm down, and let bygones be bygones.
That was never forgotten.
Roseboro was as fine a gentleman as Marichal is.
[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in November 2020.]