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Card Corner–Juan Marichal


Every once in awhile I enjoy tweaking my father-in-law by making a reference to Juan Marichal. The mere mention of the “Dominican Dandy” brings out a few exclamation marks from my wife’s dad. You see, he’s a Dodger fan, going all the way back to the Brooklyn days, and he remembers all too well the time that Marichal decided to take a bat to the head of Dodgers catcher John Roseboro. I try to explain to my father-in-law that Marichal is really a pretty good guy, that he actually reconciled with Roseboro, but he won’t buy that line—not at all.

This 1974 card of Mr. Marichal is one of the last two regular cards that Topps issued for the Hall of Fame right-hander; the other one is part of the Topps Traded series for 1974, featuring Marichal in the colors of the Red Sox. Yes, it is strange to think of him in Beantown after all those years by the Bay, sort of like watching Elston Howard finish up his career in Boston after all those seasons in pinstripes.

Although it has no remarkable monetary value, the regular issue ’74 Marichal encapsulates the lasting image of the great right-hander’s most memorable attribute—not his onetime bat-wielding incident, but an extraordinarily high leg kick that counterbalanced a no-windup delivery. The photographer skillfully manages to catch Marichal’s left leg near its highest point, with the toes of his left foot practically even in height with the tip of his cap. (Don’t try this at home; it’s sure to cause a muscle pull or some other significant injury.) The photo on the card is particularly striking because few pitchers in today’s game use this kind of a motion, in part because of the modern-day emphasis on the slide step and in part because pitching coaches like to teach more compact motions, thereby lessening the possibility of bad mechanics. As distinctive as Marichal’s motion seems in contrast to today’s big league pitcher, it’s hardly the only one of its kind in baseball history. A number of great pitchers have used high leg kicks and—in contrast to Marichal—large, convoluted windups, including Hall of Famers Bob Feller and Warren Spahn. For years, the high leg kick was considered important for a variety of reasons; it added to a pitcher’s velocity, proved distracting to a hitter, and helped a pitcher hide the ball—and his pitching arm— behind his leg.

While one’s eyes naturally tend to gravitate toward Marichal’s front leg, his back leg is also worth a look. In the photo, he’s bending his right knee severely, almost unnaturally, as a way of absorbing all of the weight that the leg kick causes to shift to the back side. The more I look at that back knee, the more my own joints start to suffer.

Other attributes of this card bear exploring. The photograph for the ’74 Marichal was taken during a day game at Candlestick Park, at a time when the old stadium still featured artificial turf—and lots of empty seats beyond the left-field fence. Yeah, those were the really fun days in Frisco, when players not only had to deal with the howling wind and glaring sun at The Stick, but also the rock-hard turf that supplied a pounding to the legs of infielders and outfielders. Of course, the fans didn’t have much fun either while dealing with the Candlestick elements, which kept down the size of the crowds in 1973, the year that this Marichal photo was taken. (The Giants finished a more-than-respectable 88-74 that season, but drew fewer than 900,000 fans, the third-worst figure in the National League.) So even on a day when the popular Marichal pitched, fans showed their apathy in the form of their absence.

Still, for those who had a chance to watch Marichal, he usually entertained with a speckled assortment of breaking pitches and that gymnastically fashioned leg kick. And perhaps that helped him atone for that one incident—one that he probably regretted for years—at least until he finally made amends with Mr. Roseboro.

Categories:  Bronx Banter  Bruce Markusen

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1 Alex Belth   ~  Mar 4, 2009 1:06 pm

Man, I would have LOVED to seen this man pitch. Especially with all the slow mos and instant replays we've got today. Would have just LOVED it.

2 thelarmis   ~  Mar 4, 2009 1:13 pm

i was recently talking about him with my accountant. i believe he was at marichal's 200th victory in SF, or something like that... looks like there might be a can of chew in his back left pocket... i didn't realize he ended with the sawx...

3 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Mar 4, 2009 1:19 pm

great card, but it is disorienting to see that famous leg kick on turf with the inverted colors of the number on his back

I'm not so bothered by Marichal's back knee, however. The leg kick is an exaggerated way of getting a pitcher to load up on that back leg and use his lower body to power the ball to the plate. No one kicks like that anymore, but most of the good power pitchers still bend that back leg and push off for power. Besides which, it would be far more painful to try to stick your front leg in the air like that while keeping your back leg straight.

4 williamnyy23   ~  Mar 4, 2009 1:27 pm

[1] Same here...makes you appreciate getting to see El Duque.

5 thelarmis   ~  Mar 4, 2009 1:30 pm

IPK, not off to a good start - 2 doubles, walk...2-0 bravos. it's not on tv here, update via pete abe...

6 Diane Firstman   ~  Mar 4, 2009 1:34 pm

I think I have that card buried somewhere in my collection.

7 rbj   ~  Mar 4, 2009 2:01 pm

The way that leg is bent makes my hip hurt. Actually it hurts anyway.

I do think that using a bat in a basebrawl should merit a 1 year suspension. Doubleplus ungood. Still, nice to hear they reconciled.

900K fans for a year. Wow. I wonder if any sad sack team this year will approach a sub 1 million mark, what with the economy.

8 thelarmis   ~  Mar 4, 2009 2:45 pm

[7] "doubleplus ungood" = i LOVE that! sounds like a "wilker-ism"!!! : )

9 Dimelo   ~  Mar 4, 2009 3:00 pm

My mom's favorite baseball player of all-time, as a kid she'd always talk about Marichal and how players (pitchers) nowadays don't compare to the players back then.

My mom never understood taking a pitcher out because of pitch counts and she never understood why a manager left a pitcher in the game after he gave up 2 runs in the first inning. Watching a game with her was at times frustrating, but at the same time quite comical.

10 rbj   ~  Mar 4, 2009 3:29 pm

[8] Thanks. It's something I came across on the intertubes so I can't take credit for it.

11 thelarmis   ~  Mar 4, 2009 4:38 pm

[10] i appreciate your honesty! can i use the line then?! i loved wilker's "ingrown soulnail" - that RULED! i'm pretty sure that's definitely an original, so i can't use it... "doubleplus ungood", kicks some ass though!

12 rbj   ~  Mar 4, 2009 6:35 pm

[11] Absolutely go ahead and use it.

13 Bobtaco   ~  Mar 4, 2009 6:55 pm

[12] It's from 1984.

Strongly emphasized form of the adjective good in new-speak, the officially sanctioned language of Oceania from George Orwell's 1984.

Contrast with "Double-Plus Un Good"--
(another NewSpeak term from 1984). In NewSpeak, there is no word for bad or evil, there is only ungood.
Modifiers are also ambiguous. One uses the modifier plus for emphasis, so plus ungood means especially ungood. The most emphatic modifier is double-plus, so double-plus ungood is the worst thing you can say about something.

New Speak (NewSpeak): The central principle of NewSpeak is that it makes it impossible to contemplate rebellion against the state.
In NewSpeak, the word "peace" actually means 'time of war', the word "love" actually includes 'hate', and when you refer to "freedom," you are actually talking about slavery.

14 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Mar 4, 2009 7:43 pm

What a great card! I never knew Candlestick had artificial turf..
Marichal was one of my dad's favorties too, he still talks about watching him pitch a two-hit shutout at Shea in the 60s..(need to look up and find the game).

[13] 1984 reference on the Banter, that's brilliant. Amazing book, and all too relevant in the current media spin-world.

15 thelarmis   ~  Mar 4, 2009 11:29 pm

[13] that rules! so does: "double-plus un-good"!

new speak = kinda like when jazzers say a cat is "baaaad," which, of course, means he swings his ass off!

16 Diane Firstman   ~  Mar 5, 2009 2:19 am


There's nothing quite like the sight of tumbleweed rolling across the outfield. :-)

17 Eugene Juan   ~  Jul 15, 2009 6:47 pm

The last time I seen Juan Marichal I was nine years old and it was at Wrigley Field. As I see my father on the internet he seems in good health. That is good. I pray that he stays healthy. I believe I even have a picture or two when he played for the Michigan City White Caps.

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