When high-kicking pitcher Juan Marichal arrived in the major leagues, he seemed destined for greatness. On July 19, 1960, the twenty-two-year-old righty, who was in Class D ball just two years earlier, made his big league debut by tossing a one-hitter—only the third player to pitch a one-hit game in his major league debut—and striking out twelve batters, as the San Francisco Giants defeated the Philadelphia Phillies, 2–0. He not only retired the first nineteen batters but had a no-hitter going with two outs in the eighth inning.
After the game, Marichal was asked if he was worried about winning. Teammate Orlando Cepeda, translating for the Spanish-speaking rookie, just smiled, not even asking Marichal for the answer to that question. “Juan said he expected to win,” Cepeda said. “He always expects to win.”
Win he did, finishing with six 20-victory seasons and a 243–142 record over sixteen years. Along the way he had a no-hitter against Houston in 1963, was named to ten All-Star teams, tossed 52 shutouts, and completed 244 starts. The ultimate honor came with his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.
“The symbol of his artistry . . . was the windup, with the high, graceful kick that left the San Francisco Giants hurler poised precariously on one leg like a bronzed Nureyev before he swept smoothly forward and propelled the baseball toward the plate,” was how sportswriter Ron Bellamy described Marichal in 1973.
Marichal, who began playing baseball on the dusty sandlots of the Dominican Republic, mesmerized hitters with his changeups, off-speed curves, sliders, and his famous kick-to-the-sky delivery.
While most pitchers are lucky to have two effective pitches—curveball and fastball—Marichal had eighteen, maybe twenty, according to fellow Hall of Famer Cepeda. “He throws a fastball from here [gesturing overhand], here [gesturing sidearm], here [underhand]. He throws the curveball from here [overhand], here [sidearm], and here [underhand],” Cepeda said. “He has eight different speeds on his fastball. He can throw his curve so it will take a week. He can throw a screwball so it will do a tango if he wants.”
Longtime opponent Hank Aaron once explained, “He can throw all day within a two-inch space, in, out, up, or down. I’ve never seen anyone as good as that.”
Hoping to capture Marichal’s signature pitching motion, columnist Jim Murray, who was honored with the 1987 J. G. Taylor Spink Award for excellence in baseball writing, wrote in 1968: “Every hitter in the league can tell you what size shoe he wears, what color it is, what the label is and how many spikes it has on it. The first thing Juan Marichal does on the mound is put his foot up in the batter’s eyes. He kicks his leg so high in the air some batters can’t recognize him when he has both feet on the ground.”
Marichal, nicknamed the “Dominican Dandy,” understood pressure when at age seventeen he was ordered to pitch for his country’s air force team. The squad soon found itself in jail for ten days after losing a doubleheader, Marichal dropping one of the games 1–0. Perhaps it was experiences like that that helped Marichal become one of the greatest pitchers of his era.
I started playing baseball when I was seven years old and playing with the kids. I loved the game and right from the beginning I wanted to be a baseball player. My older brother, Gonzalo, he used to help me with balls and bats. When we started, we used to make our own ball and bat. We used to climb a tree and cut a branch, let it dry, and make a bat.
Baseball in that town, Manzanillo, was played on a small golf course, with the people from the Grenada Company—that was the name of the company; it was owned by American people.
They used to play golf there, and we used to go and find golf balls. So we used that golf ball, enlarged it with stockings and thread, and we kept rolling it there. It would get bigger and then when we got it to the size of a baseball, we took it to a shoemaker for a cover if we had a peso or two to pay him to put the cover on; otherwise, we put a nylon on it. We called it a gangora. And we’d tie them up real tight, and that’s how we played. That’s how we played in those days.
I remember leaving my house for school, and if I found somebody playing baseball on my way to school, I never got to school because I stopped and played baseball with those kids. When my teacher told my mother, ah, she was—well, I shouldn’t say mad but she was—she didn’t like what I did and I did that so many times. And she used to ask me, what are you going to do when you grow up? And I said, I’m going to be a baseball player. But I didn’t know about Major League Baseball. I didn’t know that you can make money playing baseball.
I just wanted to be a baseball player because in my country there was a team, the national team, that played all over the world representing the Dominican Republic and I—at that age, I wanted to be one of those players. And when I was nine years old my brother-in-law took me to see that team, and on that team was a guy named Bombo Ramos, a right-handed pitcher, that threw sidearm. He pitched the afternoon game and when I saw that man, I went back home and told my friends that I wanted to be a pitcher like Bombo Ramos. At that time I used to play shortstop because I wanted to play every day, you know, with the kids, and I loved to hit.
So after that day I went back home and started throwing the ball all over the place. Yes, I wanted to be a pitcher. So, in 1955, I played my first organized championship at age seventeen, or sixteen going on seventeen. So we won the whole thing. You know, over there you got different places that you had to play against, like, my team was on the west side of the island. We won the whole thing there, then we had to play the central part of the island. So we beat every team there, then we had to face the capital and south, east, and north. We won the whole thing. The following year, 1956, I played for a team, the city of Manzanillo, and that team was owned by the United Fruit Company, a big company that spent lots of years in my country.
They used to have a real good baseball team. They recruited a lot of kids from the country to play on their team and I was one of them. So the same thing happened. We won our zone, then we went to the central part, we beat everybody. Then we were playing in the capital. For the first time in my life I pitched in the capital, against the university named USA, Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo. So I faced that team, and I was lucky enough, I pitched a shutout against that team. Then we faced the south and we faced the east—and the east was a city that everybody knows, because it produces so many major league players today, San Pedro de Macorís. So we played San Pedro, and the last team we had to face was the Dominican air force.
They used to call it Aviación Militar Dominicana. They came to Manzanillo to play against my team. I played the first game in the morning and I beat them 2–1. The next day about eight o’clock in the morning somebody knocked on my door. I went out and opened the door, and there was a lieutenant, with the uniform and everything, with a telegram. I was—for a minute I was a little bit shaky, you know. I said, what did I do wrong, you know, to have this guy here looking for me? He handed me a telegram saying be at the Dominican air force immediately. Now I was shaking. I ran, took a bath, put my clothes on, and went home to see my mother.
I say my mother, and don’t mention my father, because I never, never met my father. I was three years old when he passed away. So I never met him. So I went to my home. I showed the telegram to my mother. She didn’t know what to do. She was upset about the whole thing. She claimed later that the reason she was acting that way was that she considered that I was a kid and did not belong in the air force. But I waited and I waited and I waited for her decision, and about four o’clock in the afternoon the same lieutenant came back with another telegram. When she saw the second telegram she said, son, you can’t say no to those people. When she said those people she meant the big dictator of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina.
And his son was chief of the air force at the rank of general. When she said you can’t say no to those people, I think I was waiting for that answer. So right away, I packed a little bit of clothes and I took a bus to Santo Domingo. I got to the base, they welcomed me to the team, and I spent fourteen months in the air force. Now, we are talking about 1957. We had to do the same thing that we did when I was with Manzanillo. I considered the Dominican air force the best team in the country. In fourteen months I lost three games. Now we had to face Manzanillo, which had been my team a year before, in 1956. We got there; we lost a doubleheader. I pitched one of those games and I lost—we lost both games on Sunday. When we came back to the base the general, Ramfis Trujillo, formed a commission to investigate why we had lost two games.
In the meantime they put everybody in jail: manager, players, and coaches. They were in Manzanillo investigating. I don’t know what they found out, but we spent ten days in jail until they came back.
During that time I played for the air force there were about three or four scouts. I remember one from the Yankees, I remember one from the Dodgers, I remember one from the Pirates, and a man who wasn’t a scout, who was what they call a bird dog. He used to work for Alex Pompez, the Giants scout then in the United States and the Dominican Republic. So, this man’s name was Horacio Martinez, he used to be a shortstop and then he played in the Negro Leagues, a good shortstop, couldn’t hit, but they say that he was the best glove ever. So he talked to my brother. Everywhere I went, I pitched good most of the time.
He told my brother that he was interested in signing me. So my brother told him, well, I don’t think he’s ready but I can make an agreement with you that when he’s ready you would be the one signing. So I was in the country playing all over the place, and one day he told my brother or my brother told him that I was ready, so the Giants sent him to see me at the base and they wanted to sign me and my brother said, what type of money is he going to get? Well, we can offer him $500. I was so happy, not because of the $500 but because I was going to be a professional baseball player, something that I dreamed of since I was seven years old.
I wanted to be a baseball player. So Horacio Martinez and the president of the Escogido Baseball Club came to the base, they got me out, and that day, September 16, 1957, I signed my contract, my first contract to become a professional baseball player. There was a team for the United States, Las Estrellas de Willie Mays, and they promised me on the signing that they were going to take me to see that team at Santo Domingo.
So I went to see Las Estrellas de Willie Mays on the same day that I signed my contract and I saw Willie Mays for the first time step up to home plate. He faced a left-handed pitcher and I think that the pitcher wanted to throw the ball before he was ready, so he called time, he dug a little bit in the dirt, and the next pitch was over the left-field fence. I can never forget that, that night. That was beautiful. The following year, 1958, they send me to Sanford, Florida, where the Giants have the minor league camp. They used to have major league camp in Phoenix, Arizona, and minor league camp in Sanford, Florida. For the first time I left my country, with a group of players—Manny Mota, Danny Rivas, Fred Velazquez. We belonged to the same team in Santo Domingo, to the Escogido Baseball Club.
We got to Sanford and I was shocked. I can tell you that I was shocked when I saw that the Latin and the Negro couldn’t be together with the white players, because we never saw that in my country. But it didn’t bother me, because I wanted to concentrate on being a baseball player. I got to a Class C team, and I don’t think the manager liked me too much, because he had more experienced baseball players. They moved me from Class C to Class D. I don’t know if you remember this man, Buddy Kerr, used to play shortstop way back for the New York Giants. He was my manager, and what that man did for us was unbelievable, he was like a father to us.
We broke camp in Sanford and we had to ride in a Greyhound bus all the way to Michigan City, Indiana, and they have places where you stop to refuel and places where you can eat. But, in those places we couldn’t go through the front door. So this man Buddy Kerr always all the time was with us when we had to go through the back door or through the kitchen, and I really, really, really have some respect for that man. I love him. He passed away some time ago, but let me tell you I never met such a wonderful person as Buddy Kerr. In Michigan City, we couldn’t stay in the hotel with the white players. So they had to rent rooms for us to stay with black families. One of the things that really got me was the cold weather.
In early March you can see the trees, like, no leaves, you know, and I thought, oh, my God, how can that happen to those beautiful trees? I didn’t know at that time that the seasons change from winter to spring to summer, and that later on those trees were going to get leaves, they were going to get green, and it really, it really surprised me. In the Dominican, the trees never lose their leaves because we don’t have any winter, we don’t have spring—maybe a little bit, but not winter, it’s summer most of the time. So we were there, we had three or four Latinos on the team, and one of them was a Cuban guy from Key West, and he was our interpreter because we could hardly say, “Give me a glass of water,” in English.
When we were on the field and the manager wanted me to do something he always was there with the manager to be sure that I understood what the manager was telling me. At that time there was no pitch count, no limit. So, at the beginning I won 21 games in the regular season and 2 in the playoffs. Altogether I went 23–8 with a 1.87 ERA. I pitched 245 innings and I struck out 246, my first year at Class D. When the season was over I went back home. Some announcer in the Dominican called me Juan Veintitrés—I don’t know if you remember Pope John XXIII—because of the 23 games that I won. I had a pretty good year in the Dominican playing for Escogido. We became a champion in that year. We won the Winter League championship.
The following year, 1959, I was assigned to Class A, Springfield, Massachusetts. We got to Springfield, the season started, I was pitching pretty good and at that time I pitched exactly like Bombo Ramos, nothing but sidearm. So, right before the season was over my manager, Andy Gilbert, came up to me one day and said, why do you throw like that? You know, the question really surprised me because this guy had seen me for two years already and he never asked me that question. I didn’t want to go through the story about Bombo Ramos, so I told him, well, that’s how I learned, and then he said, You never have any arm problems?
When he asked me that I said to myself, well, I’d better tell this guy the whole story. So I said, listen, when I was a little kid I went to see this guy named Bombo Ramos in my country and after I saw him I wanted to become a pitcher like him. So I started throwing like him. So he said, do you want to learn how to throw overhand? I said to him, what would be the benefit if I learn? He said, well you would be a much, much better pitcher against left-handed hitters. So when I heard that, I right away said yes, I want to learn. So he took me to the bullpen, with two baseballs and a catcher. I started to throw overhand but it seemed to me it was impossible to do it without kicking my leg, and that was the day that I started to kick my leg so high. I felt like I was throwing a little bit hard with good control, and I fell in love with the style.
And I end up winning 20 games in Class A and I lost 10, I think. When the season was over, they assigned me to Tacoma, Washington. But before I got to Tacoma, they invited me to Phoenix with the big club, with no contract, just invited to spring training. I was so happy when I got to Phoenix and saw all those guys, all major leaguers, and all that, and the manager was Alvin Dark. He told me you’re going to pitch batting practice, so almost every day, I was pitching batting practice. In those days they didn’t have that protection, the screen in front of you, so that you can throw from the mound with the screen and to protect you. One day, a week later, they told me, “You’re not going to pitch today, so you can take a day off.”
I went to the outfield and shagged balls, and all of a sudden the pitching coach came up, Larry Jansen, and said, Juan, Alvin changed his mind, he wants you to pitch batting practice. At that time, from pitching batting practice every day I got a real, real, real bad rash from my supporter—you could see blood on both of my legs in there—so I hadn’t put on a supporter or cup that day. I was afraid to tell him that I had to go to the clubhouse and put my supporter on, so I went to the mound to try to pitch batting practice, and I remember the first pitch I threw, the hitter hit a line drive and hit my right testicle. Let me tell you I said so many things—I said, how can this happen to me, how can you have such bad luck?
They sent me to the hospital in Phoenix for about five days. Then they decided to send me to Sanford, Florida. The only thing that I was doing every day was putting a bag of ice in there because it got swollen and I could hardly move. I never forgot that trip from Phoenix to Sanford. I didn’t know one word of English, so I was afraid I’d get lost in the airplane. But luckily enough I got there, I got to Miami. From Miami it was a bus ride to Sanford. I got there, and I spent the whole spring training seeing a doctor every day. Couldn’t throw, couldn’t practice, couldn’t do anything, but they kept me in there on the Triple-A roster.
When we broke camp, we went to Tacoma, Washington. That was the first year that the Giants Triple-A team was in Tacoma. Before it was in Phoenix, where McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Felipe Alou, Andre Rodgers, and Willie Kirkland, all those guys came from there. But now they had moved the franchise to Tacoma. When we got there it was raining every day. We had to wait like eight days before we played the first game. People used to say that the president of that team was very tight with money. If you asked him for a raise, you never got it. So I was there and I was pitching pretty good, I got 11 wins, and I told people that the reason the Giants called me up was that I had asked Tacoma’s president for a raise.
I was pitching in Sacramento in 1960, two days before they were going to play the Triple-A All-Star game. They told me every member of that team was going to get a beautiful watch, and I was happy because I was picked to be the starting pitcher in that game. So I was pitching against the Sacramento Bees—I beat them 2–1—and about twelve o’clock, maybe eleven-thirty at night in the clubhouse, I was taking a shower, happy because we won, this and that. The trainer came up to me and said, Juan, the Giants just called you up. Now I was happy because I was going to San Francisco, but I was sad because I wasn’t going to get my watch.
But let me tell you, the next day, the same trainer drove me in a bus to San Francisco. When we got to Candlestick Park I walked through that door and Orlando and Felipe Alou were there. They seemed happy and proud to have another Latin on the team, so they grabbed me and introduced me to every player in the clubhouse, and I’ll never forget when I shook Willie Mays’s hand. I said, oh, my God, now I know why he is so great. So good a hitter, so good a player, and when I went in and shook Willie McCovey’s hand and saw his body I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I was in heaven, you know, and I started thinking about when I was seven years old and I used to argue with my mother: She wanted me to go to school and I say, no, I’m going to be a baseball player.
She said, when you grow up and you get married and create a family, how are you going to support your family? I said, don’t worry, Mama, you’re going to be so proud when you hear my name on the radio. That was the only thing I said to her because I could not talk about money because I didn’t know about that.
I was happy when I got there. At that time the manager was Tom Sheehan, because they just had released Bill Rigney. He told me, he said, listen, you’re going to throw batting practice to keep in shape. But you’re going to watch every team that comes by. You watch them and you’re going to pitch on July 19. I got there July 10, so that kept me nine days just throwing batting practice and watching all the teams. So, that day came and I remember going to the mound in the bullpen to warm up. I felt great, I felt good, and when they were announcing the lineup and they came up to my name, I felt something that I never, never felt before, some chill in my body, and I said to myself, I hope this will go away because there is no way I can pitch with this kind of feeling. So, now they played the national anthem. I walked from the bullpen to the mound with the batboy at my side and when I got to the mound, I gave him my jacket and the towel.
I started throwing to the plate, you know, the seven pitches you are allowed, and I got that feeling, I felt the same way, and when I saw the leadoff man and the umpire called, “Play ball,” the whole thing went away, and thank God that feeling went away, because there was no way I could have thrown a ball feeling that way. I got lucky, I pitched a one-hitter, and that one hit was by Clay Dalrymple, the Philadelphia Phillies’ catcher, in the eighth inning. I didn’t mind that he broke up my no-hitter, I was so happy that I won the game and pitched nine innings. So that’s how my professional baseball career at the major league level started, with a one-hitter against the Phillies.
I always told my mother, you got to come and see me pitch in the major leagues. She said, I’m sorry, son, I don’t fly in those planes—she used to say, those “aparato” (apparatus). I could never convince her to come to San Francisco, but she used to come to see me in the Winter League in the Dominican Republic.
Today I tell every youngster that wants to be a baseball player that you can do both. You can go to school and you can play ball. I never finished school, though. It was baseball, baseball day and night, and I dedicated myself to my profession. I think that when you want to be somebody, you have to try hard. You have to work hard, and the more time you put into something that you want and you like, the quicker you can be better. I didn’t want to be just a baseball player. When I heard the names Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Warren Spahn, all those big names, I wanted to be the same level as those guys, and to do that you have to work hard. You have to be dedicated to your profession. I never was a person that loved to go to a disco.
I think that I did well enough to win at least one Cy Young Award. Up until 1967, there was only one for both leagues. I remember when Dean Chance won it in ’64. I remember when Mike McCormick won it in ’67. At the All-Star break in 1967, I had a record of 14–4, and running in Shea Stadium I pulled a hamstring and after that I couldn’t pitch, so they sent me to a doctor in Los Angeles. He said, well, if you don’t want to lose him stop using him. That year I could have won another 20 games, but if you put that year with ’68—I only won 14 in ’67 and 26 in ’68—combined that is 40 games. So that year broke my streak of over five straight years with 20 or more wins. Some of those 20-win years I didn’t get one vote for the Cy Young Award. So I have to say there was something wrong with the system.
I faced a lot of good hitters. The guys you didn’t want to see come to home plate were Roberto Clemente, Pete Rose, Billy Williams, Willie Stargell, Tony Davis—I don’t know if you remember Tony Davis before he broke his ankle. Man, he was awesome, what a hitter.
I’m very happy that Andy Gilbert taught me how to throw overhand because by learning that, I was able to throw a slider. The only way you could throw sliders was overhand. I learned my overhand curve. I learned the pitch that I think kept me sixteen years at the major league level, the screwball.
When Ruben Gomez, a Puerto Rican pitcher, was with the Giants, I used to read a lot about Ruben Gomez’s screwball. So, after I learned how to throw overhand, one day I went to Andy, I said, Andy, how do you throw a screwball? He said, Juan, I don’t know. Don’t ask me because I don’t know. He said, but you throw a fastball this way, you throw a slider that way, you throw a curve that way, I think the screwball is backward. You have to turn your arm this way. He moved his arm and showed me what he thought was the way to throw it.
So, after that day, every time I was on the field and I was able to play catch with somebody, the only thing that I used to do was that. And two years later, I had one of the best screwballs in the major leagues. And that pitch was the one that kept me in the major leagues for sixteen years. I remember facing the Dodgers and Philadelphia, I used to face—one time I faced nine left-handed batters when I pitched against the Dodgers . . . and eight when I pitched against Philadelphia. And the only reason I could survive was the screwball.
The screwball is like a left-hander’s curve to left-handed hitters. When you throw a screwball, the ball rotates from left to right. And it seemed to be a fastball but then, at the last minute, the ball started rotating away from the left-handed hitter. So it was very effective against left-hand hitters because they can’t hit the ball with too much power unless they know how to go to the opposite field. But, when you have to change your swing, once you’ve identified the pitch as being not a fastball, but a screwball, sometimes it’s too late to change and go to the opposite field.
Using the screwball, I think, can damage your arm. At that time I remember seeing Carl Hubbell. He was one of the best screwball pitchers of his time, and his arm got so bad that he used to carry his hand in his pocket because his arm got like this [demonstrates with his elbow]. And they used to tell me, look at Carl Hubbell, your arm is going to be the same way. Both my arms stayed the same.
I used to turn my body and throw from that position. When you throw overhand and kick your leg, you have to push hard to bring that leg down quick enough to be ready to release the ball. If you’re not powerful with your right leg, the left leg is going to be floating in the air and you won’t have good mechanics to finish. And I think that really helped my career, my high leg kick.
I remember, in the 1962 World Series, pitching in New York, I struck out Mickey Mantle twice and the next day there was a picture of him at home plate breaking his bat. And somebody asked him, you know, what was wrong with Juan Marichal? And I remember exactly what he said. He said, well, the thing about that guy is that he kicks his leg, then he looks like he’s going to throw his glove in your face, and the last thing you see is the ball, and it’s too late. You know, that made me feel great, when I heard that from Mickey Mantle, one of the best in baseball.
It made me feel good. I was proud of that game. The only thing was that I only went four innings because I hurt my index finger. Whitey Ford was pitching, I was trying to bunt the ball, the ball hit me, and I had to come out of the game. We ended up winning that game 7–3, but I was pitching the best game of my life that day. And I was winning 2–0 in the fourth inning. I didn’t get credit for the win.
Something very funny happened in that 1962 World Series. We played the first two games in San Francisco. Then we moved back to New York and the Series was tied. When we got back to San Francisco, it’s such bad weather we had a three-day rain delay. They used to send one team to work out in Modesto and the other team worked out in Stockton. And for us to play the last game, they brought into the field three helicopters to dry all the water out of the outfield grass.
And the infield, they raked the dirt. They raked it and put gasoline on it and burned it. And that’s how we played the last game. Because there was so much water. As a matter of fact, that rainout helped the Yankees win, because there was a ball that Willie Mays hit to right field, and Roger Maris was playing right field, and Matty Alou couldn’t score, because the ball stopped right where it hit the ground and stuck there. So Roger Maris grabbed the ball and threw to Bobby Richardson and kept Matty from scoring.
And everybody knows what happened next, that famous line drive that McCovey hit and the famous catch that Bobby Richardson made to end the Series and win that game, 1–0.
McCovey’s line drive—you can’t hit a ball harder than that. And when Bobby Richardson caught it, he went to the ground with both hands because the ball really hit his glove so hard and he was running to the left, so he went down and he came up—last out of the Series.
* * *
Every year, at that time, I used to go back home, and a lot of writers asked me what would be my goal, my next goal at the major league level, and the only thing I said to them was, be healthy, because I knew if I was healthy I would be able to pitch every four days. When I see writers in the playoffs and World Series talking about a pitcher that is going to come up with three days’ rest, they’ll blow that up so big, talking about a pitcher with three days’ rest. I pitched all my life with three days’ rest. Every four days, I was on the mound.
Today you got so many relievers. Yeah, you got the setup man, and then you have the closer. I think the managers are waiting to get that far with their starting pitching and to start making all those moves, you know, with that reliever, and the closer, and all that. I guess they think that they don’t need a pitcher to go nine innings anymore.
I used to admire Clemente because of the way he played. He played to win. And every time he came to the plate, he wanted to get you. And you could see it. You could tell just by the way he walked to the plate. He used to hit a ground ball to the pitcher, to the mound. And if you didn’t hurry up, he could beat you to first. He never gave up. And I think that’s the way the game should be played.
I remember one time, there were like seven Latin guys on the Pirates, and we had Gil Garrido from Panama, Orlando Cepeda, myself, and Jose Cardenal. When we had a night game at eight o’clock, we used to go to the park at two o’clock in the afternoon and sit on the bench. The whole bunch talked baseball. And I remember, one day, they sat all together and talked about how this guy got me out, how I hit this guy. I sat outside the group, but I was listening. I heard Clemente say to Orlando and all, the pitch that gave me more problems was the fastball outside. And, you know, when I heard that, I said, my God, I was wrong. I thought he liked to hit that pitch to right field, but I was wrong, because the pitch that went to right field was the inside pitch. He was an inside-out hitter. And that was the ball he hit to right field like a bullet. So, I was pitching the next day, and I struck him out three times with a fastball. I threw like nothing but fastballs outside.
Hank Aaron—what a wrist. He would break the wrist and all of a sudden you’d see a ball leaving the park. And he wasn’t the type of hitter who hit long balls. He used to hit it enough to go over the wall. He was a great hitter. And he never changed, whether the count was 1-2 or 2-0. He was the same type of hitter—tough, tough hitter.
I used to pitch him like, I would show him my fastball inside. And I was trying to get him out with the slider, outside corner. But you cannot pitch a good hitter just one way. You have to pitch him in and out, in and out, because if he knows you’re going to pitch one way, he’s going to get you. So, I used to throw him my whole variety of pitches, you know, slider, and even changeup. I used to get him out with the changeup.
Not too many people know Tony Gonzalez, who played for Philadelphia, but he was somebody that, no matter what I threw, he was able to put the bat on the ball. He sprayed the ball all over the field. I remember playing a game in Miami, what they’re calling now the Legends Game. I was with one of the two Cuban teams, Marianao, and he was playing for Havana. I faced him, and I got him out. I told him, listen, it took me twenty-five years, but I did it. I really did it.
Gaylord Perry was a good buddy on the Giants, and I think the reason that he and I were doing so well was that we competed against each other. Our friendship was so great, so great, that we helped each other by doing that. I’ve got a lot of respect for Gaylord Perry.
We used to go to the infield every day, except the days we were pitching, to catch ground balls, and we’d bet a dollar. Every time you missed one was a dollar. And by the end of the season, we would end up maybe losing one or two dollars, no more than that. Sometimes we were even. And that’s why we were in great shape to be able to pitch every four days, because of the conditioning.
You know, when Felipe got traded, after the ’63 season, he got traded to Milwaukee for a pitcher named Bob Shaw. Bob Shaw used to throw a spitter; he’d keep a tablet underneath his tongue. When he came to the team, I remember we were in Pittsburgh, and he took Gaylord and me to the bullpen to teach us how to throw that pitch. So I went, and I don’t know how many pitches I threw, but the next day, my elbow hurt for the first time in my life. And that was the only time I tried it in the bullpen. Never, never again. But Gaylord kept it up, and most of the time writers came out to me and said, is it true that Gaylord threw Vaseline and he threw this and threw that? And I said, no, he threw nothing like that. He was just good, that’s why he got so many guys out. What happened, he wrote a book. In that book he admitted that he was throwing Vaseline, and I said to him one day, oh, my God, you made a liar out of me, because I always said you never threw that, and now you admit it. Gaylord is a great guy. Great guy.
Willie McCovey—a gentleman, a gentleman. He won so many games for me, with his bat, with his plays at first base. Great man. Good man. Willie Mays—my job was easy with a guy like him in center field, directing everybody, knowing how to play every hitter. When Gaylord and I were supposed to pitch, we would have a meeting to go over the opposing hitters, and most of the time it was only four guys: Mays, a catcher, Gaylord, and me. Four guys. And it was Willie who knew how to pitch to the guy, how he was going to play him, and if you made a mistake, if you didn’t throw the pitch you were supposed to be throwing, Mays might charge a little bit to the left or to the right, so if you threw the wrong pitch, he’d let you know right away. Oh, yes. He let you know. He’d say, hey, what did we talk about in the meeting? You didn’t do what I said. I guess, because of his experience, you know, his knowing baseball so well and being such a good hitter, he could anticipate the other guys. And that was good, when you could see what would happen next. That really helped you.
When somebody asks me about baseball players that I played with or I saw playing in my era, I always say that Willie Mays was number one in center field, and Roberto Clemente was number one in right field. And let me tell you, I don’t care how much baseball you watch in your life, I don’t think you’re going to see two players like those two. And the way they played, the way they came out to the field to beat you. Clemente was that type of guy. He came out to beat you. And you had to try hard to get him. Willie Mays, same way, had so much talent. When you talk about five tools, those two guys had the five tools; complete ballplayers.
I saw so many good ballplayers. But for left fielder I have to say Barry Bonds, you know. With the bat he carried, I think everybody wanted to see him on the team.
The best catcher I saw was Johnny Bench. I hope that by saying this, I don’t make my teammates that caught for me feel bad, but let me tell you, in those years that I won 25, 26 games, if I could’ve had a guy like Johnny Bench, I could have won over 30 games. That man was awesome. His arm, his glove, his bat, everything, everything. I pitched a few times with him behind home plate, in the All-Star game, and it was so easy for me. I was seeing like a wall behind home plate. I just threw the ball. And he was, like, doing nothing.
I used to throw five different pitches. And I used to work fast—maybe because of the wind and the dust in Candlestick Park. When I got to the mound I got my job done and went back to the bench right away, so I used to work fast for somebody who threw five pitches. And if you’re waiting for the sign and the catcher puts up one and you want to throw number five, you have to wait until he gets to that number.
Another thing that I invented was running from the bench to the mound. People would say, why are you running? I would say, because I want to get there before my players. That way, instead of seven pitches, I can throw ten, especially in bad weather, like in Candlestick. It’s good to warm up well before you face the hitter.
My favorite parks to pitch in were Dodger Stadium and Shea. I used to love to pitch where the park was full of people. Loved that.
When you faced a pitcher like Sandy Koufax, the only thing that came up in your mind was, don’t give up more than one run, because many times, he didn’t give up more than one, or maybe none. So, when you go to the mound you’re thinking about how good you have to do to beat that guy or you’re going to end up second. When you face a guy like Sandy, man, he was awesome and beautiful to watch.
You know, I used to get outside the dugout, when he was pitching, just to watch him. I enjoyed watching him. The command, you know. Johnny Roseboro behind the plate, good catcher. And, they used to combine perfectly, the command against the hitters and the pitch they were supposed to throw. Sandy only used to have two pitches, but the best two pitches you ever saw. Yeah. I mean, great, fastball that was, what do they call them, a rising fastball.
That pitch is hard to hit, because the ball rises. You know, when the ball comes straight, you can adjust. But when the ball rises, man, you see the ball coming and you’re going to hit right here and the ball keeps going up, there’s no way you can hit it, and same way with a curve, his breaking ball. It used to make a sound. If you’re at home plate when the ball starts breaking, you can hear that thing breaking down.
I remember pitching against Sandy one day. I was hitting, and he threw me a curve. I started to swing about head high. And the ball started going down. I went down the same way and I broke the bat on home plate. True story.
Earlier in my career I faced Sandy three times, and one day, Alvin Dark said, I don’t want to throw my best pitcher against their best. So, Sandy was number one for the Dodgers. Drysdale was number two. And he never, after those three games, he never put me against Sandy Koufax, never. So that’s why I faced Koufax seven times and Drysdale twenty-nine times.
When Drysdale was on the mound, he meant business. He was a guy that didn’t fool around. And if you hit a ball, you’d better start running right away. Don’t stay there watching that ball leave the park, because the next pitch might go to your ear. Oh, yes. Those days, you know, he was able to throw it high, he was able to knock a guy down.
But Dark, he tried to stop that. In the National League the pitcher hit. So Dark came up with a rule, it’s like, we’re not going to get the best hitter from the other team, we’re going to get the pitcher when he comes to the plate. And we stopped those beanballs because of that. They knew that if they got somebody from us, we were going to wait for the pitcher to come to the plate.
Bob Gibson was tough, tough. I always say that if Gibson in those days had to face his mother, he didn’t care. He’d knock her down. Oh yeah, he was another one that, don’t try to dig in, because you might have to hit out of that hole that you’re making there. He didn’t like hitters to come and dig. Well, baseball was different in those days. Today, I think a good pitcher is one that pitches in and out, and has good command of his pitches.
And he has to know the strike zone. Sometime you might hang it and somebody hits it. But, when you see a catcher put that mitt right there [outside], if you don’t hit it, you might miss two inches this way [outside], and that’s okay. Same way, if you want to pitch inside. If you miss, miss that way [inside]—but most of the catchers put a glove there, and the pitchers put it right over the plate.
And, those guys today, the hitters, they’re too strong, that’s why they hit so many home runs and have so many high averages, because their pitchers don’t have enough command of their pitches.
Batters know what type of pitch I want to throw to get them out. But you have to outthink them. One day, you get them out with a fastball, and next time, they’ll get something else.
Ferguson Jenkins was a competitor. And he wanted that ball. He was the type of guy that wanted to be there any day, any time, a real competitor. And, well, he’s a Hall of Famer. And you see how many games he won, how many complete games. He was a great, great pitcher, and it was beautiful to watch him.
Warren Spahn, that old man. I used to love that guy. You know, we started a game in San Francisco and, zero, zero, zero, zero, all the way up to the ninth inning, zero, zero. The manager wanted to take me out. I begged him to let me stay in the game. I said to him, the weather is nice. You know, it’s cool. I’m strong. I feel good. Let me stay a few more innings. So he did. He let me stay a few more innings. Now, the game is in the fourteenth inning. Now he really wants to take me out. So I come up to him and say, Mr. Dark, you see that man pitching over there? He said, yes, what about him? I said, that man is sixty-two years old. I’m only twenty-two. And nobody gonna take me out of here while that man stays on that mound.
That was a no-no. Alvin got so mad, but he let me stay. Now when I went out and pitched the fifteenth, I came up to the bench and I told him, that’s it, I don’t want to go any further. So he called the bullpen and told the bullpen coach to get the next guy ready, that I was coming out. That game was like, I go out to the mound. I got one, two, three, Warren Spahn goes out, one, two, three, and that was back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. So, in that fifteenth inning, I got the three men out. When I told Alvin that I wasn’t gonna pitch anymore, he called the bullpen. But Warren Spahn went out and got the three men right away.
So when I saw those guys getting off the field, now we’re supposed to take the field. I looked at my hat and my glove. I looked at the bullpen, now the relief pitcher started to come in. I grabbed my glove and my hat and I took off for the mound. For a minute, I thought it was gonna be two pitchers in there. So, lucky enough, I got the three men out. When my team was getting off the field, I waited for Willie Mays. You know, he came from center field, so I waited for him around first base, and I threw my arm over his shoulder and I told him, you know, I called everybody Chico. And I said, Chico, Alvin Dark is mad at me and I don’t think I’m gonna be pitching any longer. So, he touched my back and said, don’t worry. I’m gonna win this game for you. And he was the leadoff batter that inning. First pitch, boom, home run. Oh, my God. What a night, you know? I remember that ball leaving the park, you know?
And in 1999, when they played the All-Star game in Boston, they had this voting for the All-Century players. So they got me to tell my story about that game. So I told everybody, in the press conference. I didn’t know that Warren told his manager the same thing, that he said that his manager wanted to take him out. And he said, oh, as long as that little kid is still pitching in there, nobody’s gonna take me out of there.
Seventeen days before that, I had pitched a no-hitter against the Colt .45s. And what I remembered about that game, for the first seven innings, I had nothing on the ball. I was pitching with finesse, good control, but not good speed. And I was lucky enough to be pitching a no-hitter. And when I came off the bench in the eighth inning, for some reason, I looked at the scoreboard and I saw those zeroes. I don’t know from where this fastball came. In the first seven innings, I struck out four batters. And in the last two innings, I strike out four. I ended up with eight strikeouts, but the fastball that I got in those last two innings was unbelievable. I don’t know where that fastball came from because the first seven innings was, you know, pinpoint control, but that was it.
I remember pitching against the Red Machine. I told my pitching coach I was gonna pitch against the Red Machine. And I told Larry Jansen in the bullpen, he should come and watch this stuff. How do you feel? He used to ask me, how do you feel? What do you do? And I said, Larry, I’m gonna pitch behind every hitter. And he placed his hand over his head and he said, oh, you’re gonna get murdered. Don’t do that. They’d kill you. I say, well, they might kill me if I throw the pitch that they might be waiting for. But I don’t think they’re gonna see that pitch.
So he said, please don’t do that. I said, this is how I’m gonna pitch. I wasn’t trying to throw the ball. I wasn’t trying to be perfect. If I missed, okay, I missed. Nothing to it. I could see those guys waiting for that fastball. You can tell, the way they move and the way they squeeze the bat. And I ended up pitching a one-hitter.
Tommy Helms hit a ball, hit my foot, the ball rolled to third base. Jim Ray Hart picked it up, threw it to first, that was the only hit. I was behind in the count on purpose. But they never got that fastball. They might get a changeup, they might get a slider or a breaking ball, whatever. They never got the fastball that they were waiting for.
Jose Rijo was pitching for Cincinnati; he used to call me when he went to face any team. And I remember talking to him about the Mets hitters, and one of the guys was Darryl Strawberry. I said, don’t pitch to him low. Don’t pitch to him outside because he’s going to get you. If you want, if you walk him with a ball inside, do that, but don’t pitch to him. And let me tell you, I never saw a guy like Darryl Strawberry hit a ball low like he used to. Willie McCovey, same way.
Yogi Berra was a good high-ball hitter. And many times, I tried to get Joe Morgan inside and he kept hitting me. And after I retired, I used to come to the clubhouse when Joe went to the Giants. I saw Joe taking a shower and I said to myself, no wonder he hit me so well inside. His arms are so short. That’s why he was so quick in hitting, because of the short arms. But most of the hitters, they can’t hit the ball in there. They can’t. So there’s a spot where you have to try but you can’t go one way. You have to be thinking about it when you come in, then you try to get them out.
When Orlando Cepeda got traded to St. Louis—Orlando and I, we’re brothers. We’re good buddies. We got there, we went to St. Louis, and he invited me to his home for dinner. I was supposed to pitch that night. I went to the dinner, had a good time, good dinner, everything. When Orlando came to the plate, first pitch, he went down.
When I released the ball, I hollered, watch out. Oh, he never forgot that. He’d tell everybody.
What happened between Johnny Roseboro and me is a long story. And I hate to talk about that now because Johnny passed away.
It happened in a Friday-night game we played in San Francisco. Maury Wills went to the plate and he faked a bunt, and he went back with his bat and touched Tom Haller’s, the catcher’s, mitt. And the umpire said it was interference by Haller, so he sent Maury Wills to first base.
Herman Franks got upset because of the call. So he told Matty Alou, when he came to bat, Matty, I want you to do the same thing that Maury did. And, you know, Matty was an expert with the bunt. So he went to the plate and did exactly what Maury did. And the bat touched Johnny’s mitt, and Johnny got mad.
Gaylord and I, we were on the bench, standing there, just watching the strike zone. The park was packed. You couldn’t hear anything. Johnny started hollering from the plate to the bench. We didn’t know what he said. I started hollering to him. He didn’t know what I said. And what I said was that that happened to Tom, and he didn’t get mad. That’s what I said to him. All of a sudden, when Orlando went to the plate and hit, he sent me a message through Orlando. When Matty went to replace him, another message with Matty. And there was a coach named Cookie Lavagetto that used to be with us. He sent me another message. All three messages were the same.
And he told them to tell me to shut my mouth if I didn’t want to get one behind my ear. And you know, the next day, Saturday, we both came out from the tunnel in right field, and we sat in that dugout. And we, I forgot the whole thing. I forgot the whole thing. And we were talking to each other there. So, by the fifth inning, Herman told me, it’s too windy, you’re pitching tomorrow, so go home. So I left. And the next day, the game started, and that game was the last game I pitched against Sandy. The first hitter was Maury. Came to the plate, bunted, safe.
He stole second, stole third, fly ball to right field, he scored, one–nothing. When he came back to the plate the second time, I said to myself, if he bunts, he’s gonna get hit because I’m gonna throw one inside. You know how they stop moving forward? So, oh, exactly the way I thought. He was bunting and I threw one inside. He had to go down on his back. Ron Fairly came up to the plate and I threw a pitch, almost a strike, and he went down, trying to tell everybody that I was knocking hitters down. They started hollering from the bench. I concentrated. I wanted to concentrate on my game. I didn’t put too much attention to that.
When I came to bat, I said to myself, maybe they’re going to throw one at me. But I knew that Sandy doesn’t. I was 100 percent sure that he wasn’t gonna do it. So I said to myself, take one pitch, and he threw straight pitch, a ball. Well, you can take one more, I thought. Second pitch was a strike, right in the middle of the plate. For some reason, I don’t know why, I looked back and I saw Johnny. When the ball hit his glove, he dropped the ball and it rolled back. I just looked at that point, then I went back and looked at Sandy. And I stayed there with my bat on my shoulder. And Johnny shot that ball from behind that hit my ear.
I looked back and I said, what did you do that for? Let me tell you, he called my mother so many names that I couldn’t take it. When he first said that, I said, what? And he said, you heard me, you so and so and so, and then he started charging. A lot of people said that I hit him in the head with a bat, sure. But with a swing that I didn’t think could hurt anybody, because I just moved the bat forward trying to stop him from coming at me with all the gear and everything. Oh, my God, what a fight. That was ugly. And the next day after the game, the Dodgers went to New York and we went to Pittsburgh. And, you know, the press in New York, they talked about that incident and I was the bad guy, and I regret what I did. I always say so in public, you know?
The only incident that I ever had in baseball was that one. And I feel so bad because of what happened. But when they were leaving the hotel that Sunday to play us, they had a meeting on the bus and they talked to each other, saying, who do they want to get, and Johnny said, leave Juan for me. Leave Juan for me. So you know that that was well prepared. But five years after I got inducted to the Hall of Fame, I was sitting on a bench outside the hotel by myself, and Sandy came and he sat with me and he asked me, Juan, were you and Johnny friends?
I said, yes. We became friends. When I went to the Dodgers, he talked to the Dodger fans, and he told them to give me a warm welcome and forget what happened on that day. That was part of the game, this and that, and we became good friends. And after that, I invited him to my country to play in the Juan Marichal Golf Classic. He came and his wife, Barbara, and his daughter, and we’re friends.
Sandy said, oh, my God, you don’t know what a relief it is to hear you say that. I pretended that I didn’t know what was going on.
I said, why? Why do you say that?
He said, well, you know what happened that day.
I said, yes, they told you to knock me down, and you said, no. I know that.
He said, how do you know?
I said, because I know you.
And he said, yes, they told me to knock you down. And Johnny said, don’t do it, let me do it. And that was the whole story. But by using the bat, I was the bad guy.
I was the first Dominican player to be elected to the Hall of Fame, the only one. That was one of the greatest days of my life. I never got so nervous on the field as I did on that stage in Cooperstown. I think that was something. And I feel so proud, not for Juan Marichal, for the whole Latin country, because I know what that meant to the Latin country and to my family and my country, my hometown. That was something that I will never, never, never forget, that day.
My mother knows that I have seen my dream come true, and my promise, because I promised her that when she heard my name on the radio, she was gonna be so proud and she was gonna tell her friends and other people. Most of the people in my hometown, they called me Manico. And I used to say to her, when you hear my name on the radio, you’re going to say to them, that’s Manico, that’s my Manico, Manico el mío.
It was an aunt that gave me that nickname. Why? I don’t know. But she’s the one that gave me that nickname. And when I used to come and pitch in New York and I heard somebody from the stands say, Manico, I knew that was somebody from my hometown, and I turned back right away.
Two years ago, two or three, they erected a statue in San Francisco of myself. That Hall of Fame induction, and that day in San Francisco, with Mr. Peter Magowan and the board of the San Francisco Giants deciding and agreeing and voting in favor of putting a statue in front of the stadium, I think that was one of the greatest things that happened in my life. I love this game. I gave everything I could for that wonderful, wonderful sport, to play with dignity. And when somebody like Peter Magowan decides to do a statue of myself in the Pac Bell Park, I don’t know how I could repay him for what he did for Juan Marichal and my family and my countrymen.
On that day, I had my whole family, I had the president of the Dominican Republic and the First Lady there, and about forty congressmen that came for that occasion. Those two occasions, I think I should put them together at the same level. They were the biggest days of my life.
© 2010 The Baseball Oral History Project Foundation