Mike Marshall's Curveball Opening Day May Be a Strike Called Against Team Owners
At the time, the owners claimed the agreement would destroy the game because it permitted players who had been six years with a club to become free agents, i.e., to sell themselves on the open market to the highest bidder. Despite the dire forecasts, attendance records were set in each of the next four seasons. What did throw the sport out of kilter was the owners' lust for stars. Because of bidding wars, player salaries increased 238 percent. Having failed to restrain themselves, the owners entered the 1980 contract talks hoping to impose a maximum salary structure on the players—specifically those with six years or less in the majors. As the average player lasts less than five seasons in the big leagues, the proposal infuriated the athletes. "It insulted us. It made us mad," says Marshall.
The owners gave up the idea of the scale last week, but are demanding compensation when a free agent bolts a club. This would surely reduce star salaries. For their part, the players insist on becoming free agents after only four seasons.
Marshall, 37, is personally content, having signed a three-year, $850,000 contract in 1979. But he's earned it. Born the son of a draftsman in Adrian, Mich., he suffered severe back injuries at 11 when a car he was in was hit by a train. Despite "constant pain," Marshall played football, basketball and baseball in high school. When he graduated in 1960 he signed with the Phillies' farm system and began his minor league odyssey the next year, appearing first as a shortstop and then, starting in 1965, as a pitcher. "I couldn't take the bending and twisting," he explains.
In the off-season, Marshall began studying kinesiology—the mechanics of movement and muscle physiology—at Michigan State. "I used myself as a kind of laboratory," he says. (In 1978 Marshall received his Ph.D. in exercise physiology and plans eventually to teach at college level.)
Marshall left the minors behind in 1970 to pitch for Montreal. In 1974 he was traded to the L.A. Dodgers, where he became the first relief pitcher to win the Cy Young Award as the National League's top pitcher. However, in 1977 his bad back gave out. A crushed disk was removed and he lost an inch in height, dropping to 5'8½". He was jogging five days after surgery and two months later returned to the mound. But three months later he was sidelined with a knee injury. In May 1978 Marshall made a comeback with the Twins.
A nonsmoker and nondrinker, he husbands his health and remained away from spring training as long as possible, working out at his home in snowy Lake Minnetonka, near Minneapolis, where he lives with wife Nancy and their three daughters, aged 12 to 16. But finally, last week, he took off for Orlando and the scrapping with the major league owners. He's ready for a battle. "If management were negotiating with Teamsters, they'd probably be out browing up cars," Marshall says.
Though he claims baseball is "mind-dulling and boring off the field," Marshall is not about to quit. It's quite simple, he says. "I can't make this sort of money anywhere else. I'm not stupid."