By Glen Sparks
The Los Angeles Dodgers did something so improbable, so outrageous and so unlikely on this date in 1975. They signed Juan Marichal.
The one-time San Francisco Giants ace, struggling to hang on in the majors, agreed to a deal with the Dodgers on March 14, 1975. Los Angeles Herald-Examiner columnist Mel Durslag, among many others, couldn’t believe it. He wrote in hyperbolic fashion that “The inmates at Dachau would have named Hitler Man of the Year before Los Angeles would hire Juan.”
L.A. had not simply asked a former rival to don Dodger blue. That would have been one thing. Assault and battery is something else.
The Dodger-Giant rivalry, always hot, boiled over once again on Aug. 22, 1965. That day, Marichal belted Dodgers catcher John Roseboro in the head with a baseball bat at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
Blood poured from above Roseboro’s eye. Marichal stood on the field and wielded the bat in a rage. He held the lumber above his head, ready to take on an entire opposing team.
The benches cleared. Players grabbed at one another, cursed one another and threw one another to the ground. Roseboro, his left eye battered, charged toward Marichal. Superstars Sandy Koufax and Willie Mays appealed for calm. The chaos continued for 15 minutes.
Finally, with order restored, Giants pitching coach Larry Jansen escorted Marichal off the field and into the clubhouse. Fans, maybe not entirely aware of what had just happened, cheered their ace and booed Roseboro, according to John Rosengren’s excellent book on the famous melee, The Fight of Their Lives. (For the record, the Giants won the game 4-3.)
Roseboro needed 14 stitches to close his wound. National League President Warren Giles opened another wound when he fined Marichal $1,750 and suspended him for eight games (basically, two starts). It wasn’t enough. Maury Wills, the Dodgers shortstop, called Giles’ decision “gutless,” according to the Rosengren book. L.A. outfielder Ron Fairly said Marichal should have been kicked out of baseball. For his part, Marichal apologized. He also said that Roseboro had thrown a ball that “ticked” him in the ear just a few minutes before the brawl began.
The Dodgers ended up winning the National League pennant and the World Series in 1965. The Giants finished in second place, two games behind the Dodgers. Did the suspension make the difference? Marichal went 22-13 in ’65 with a 2.13 ERA (169 ERA+). But, he had just a 1.78 ERA on Aug. 22. The right-hander from the Dominican Republic posted a 6.45 ERA in his four post-suspension starts.
Marichal, of course, enjoyed several big seasons in San Francisco. He won at least 25 games in a season three times, relying on a high leg kick that touched the sky and masterful control (1.8 BB/9 over his 16-year career) rather than a blazing fastball. His career with the Giants ended following the 1973 campaign and a disappointing 11-15 won-loss record on the heels of a 6-16 season in 1972.
The Boston Red Sox signed him in 1974. The former ace pitched in 11 games and went 5-1 but with a 4.87 ERA. With that, he retired. Until the Dodgers called. Los Angeles was coming off a pennant-winning season. Tommy John, though, had gone down with an arm injury, and the Dodgers were looking for a replacement, plain and simple. They contacted Marichal. Dodgers General Manager Al Campanis famously said: “No one hated him more than I did.” But, he needed someone to plug into the starting rotation alongside Don Sutton, Andy Messersmith, etc.
Marichal’s L.A. story didn’t last long. He hung around for just 3.2 innings and gave up five hits and five earned runs in his first start, April 12 against the Houston Astros. He took the loss in a 7-5 game. On April 16, against the Cincinnati Reds, Marichal made his second start. His club won 7-6, but he lasted only 2.1 innings and surrendered six hits and four earned runs. Juan Marichal quit for good.
The pitcher, a successful businessman, retired to his ranch in the Dominican. He left the game with a 243-142 career won-loss mark (.631 winning percentage) and a 2.89 ERA ( ERA+ 123). Marichal hurled 244 complete games (30 in 1968) and 52 shutouts (10 in 1965).
The Hall of Fame was waiting. But he garnered just 58.1 percent of the vote in 1981, his first year on the ballot, far short of the required 75 percent for induction. The next year, he got 73.5 percent, still not enough. Did voters still hold a grudge over his one bad day in San Francisco?
Marichal did what he thought he needed to do. He called John Roseboro in L.A. “Johnny, I need your help,” he said. Roseboro agreed. He would play in Marichal’s annual golf tournament in Santo Domingo. The two former ballplayers finally talked. A friendship was formed.
The Hall of Fame announced on Jan. 12, 1983, that Marichal had been inducted with 83.7 percent of the vote. Giants fans and Dominican citizens hailed their hero.
Marichal, like Roseboro, did some coaching following his playing days. Roseboro also ran a public relations firm with his wife. The former Dodger died of a heart attack in Los Angeles on Aug. 16, 2002, at the age of 69.
Koufax, Wills, Don Newcombe, Hank Aaron and Tommy Davis were among the mourners at Roseboro’s service on Aug. 24 at Forest Lawn Mortuary. Marichal served as an honorary pallbearer and delivered a eulogy. The Hall of Famer said he regretted those few terrible seconds at Candlestick Park. He said Roseboro forgave him. Roseboro also had asked Dodgers fans to do the same.
“It takes special people to forgive,” Marichal said.