The greatest pitcher in San Francisco Giants history never won a Cy Young Award or a World Series. His sure-fire election to the Hall of Fame was delayed for four years because the Baseball Writers Association of America was still incensed over his role in an ugly brawl with the Dodgers.
Nonetheless, Juan Marichal harbors no resentment or bitterness in discussing his career and new book, “The Greatest Game Ever Pitched: Juan Marichal, Warren Spahn and the Pitching Duel of the Century.”
Speaking from his home in the Dominican Republic in advance of book-signing appearances in The City tonight at 7 p.m. at Borders on Winston Drive at Stonestown Galleria and Thursday in Emeryville at Barnes and Noble on Bay Street, Marichal was as gracious on the phone as he was graceful on the mound.
The youngest of four children whose heavy-drinking dad died when he was 3, Marichal was raised by a very religious mother who never remarried. Living more comfortably than their impoverished neighbors, he grew strong working on the family goat farm idolizing his older brother, Gonzalvo, who passed along a love for baseball.
Interestingly, when signed by the Giants at 18 for $500, Juan threw mostly sidearm.
But after struggling with his control at Springfield, Mass., his minor league manager sent him to the bullpen suggesting he try throwing overhand. The legendary high-leg kick was born. Of course, comparisons to Tim Lincecum are understandable. Both are small-framed, right-handed Giants aces who generate enormous power from their uniquely leveraged deliveries.
“I love to watch him,” Marichal said of Lincecum. “He’s very tough on the mound. He’s always doing his best to dominate hitters. I love that style.”
Unlike Lincecum, who has only seven complete games in 131 career starts, Marichal pitched 244 complete games in 457 starts.
“You’re not going to see pitchers go nine innings nowadays,” Marichal said. “Pitchers are conditioned to go six, seven innings.”
On that memorable July 2, 1963 night at Candlestick Park, Marichal and Spahn each threw more than 200 pitches before Willie Mays ended the four-hour marathon with a walk-off homer in the 16th inning, giving the Giants a 1-0 win over the Milwaukee Braves.
Manager Alvin Dark tried to take Marichal out of the game in the 14th, but the Dominican Dandy told him, “See that 42-year-old man on the mound? If he’s not coming out, nobody’s going to take me out.”
Amazingly, Marichal was able to recover from a scandalous on-field incident that rocked the baseball world in 1965. After throwing a couple of brush-back pitches at Maury Wills, Marichal got so upset when he was next up at the plate with Dodgers catcher John Roseboro’s retaliatory buzzing of his ear on a throw back to the mound, he slammed his bat into Roseboro’s head, triggering a 14-minute, bench-clearing brawl. His attack drew an eight-game suspension and $1,750 fine.
“I don’t want to make any excuse,” he said. “I regret what happened that day. That was not my style. I am not the type of guy to hurt anybody. I am very happy Johnny accepted my apology and we became friends. I have a great relationship with his widow Barbara and I want to keep it that way.
KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.