No. 1 all-time Latino pitcher: Juan Marichal
In a salute to Hispanic Heritage Month, MLB.com posed the following question to some of the most respected authorities on baseball — men and women who have deep knowledge of Latinos in baseball: Who were the top Latino pitchers in the history of the game? Only retired players could be considered. Based on a compilation of experts’ rankings, here is a look at who finished No. 1.
The question was put to Indians manager Manny Acta: Would he be surprised if somebody called Juan Marichal one of the greatest Hispanic pitchers ever?
“Surprised?” said Acta, almost incredulous as he sat behind his desk inside Progressive Field.
“Juan Marichal,” he said, “he was on top of the list. He was the guy.”
Acta might be accused of bias. After all, he grew up in the Dominican Republic, Marichal’s homeland, and no Dominican kid of Acta’s generation didn’t know and revere Marichal, though his playing days in the big leagues were over by the time Acta was old enough to play the game.
But on dirt ballfields in the Dominican, the stories about Marichal will outlive Acta and anybody else who follows the game of baseball. And those stories should live on.
Through the entire decade of the 1960s, Marichal might have been the best pitcher of all, no mere trifle considering it was an era in which pitchers named Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale and Whitey Ford piled up wins and turned Louisville Sluggers into balsam wood.
None of those Hall of Famers won more games — 191 — in the ’60s than Marichal did. None pitched with the singular artistry that defined the Marichal persona.
He debuted his high-kick, eclectic style for the San Francisco Giants on July 19, 1960, with a one-hit, 2-0 win over the Philadelphia Phillies, Clay Dalrymple’s single to left field in the eighth inning being the only hit. The victory was the first of 243 games that Marichal won in the bigs — won with his assortment of pitches, although his calling card was his screwball.
“I have five pitches,” Marichal once said. “Fastball, change, curve, slider, screwball. I don’t know any hitters. Catcher, he tells me what to do. I can get any pitch I want over the plate.”
He won 25 or more games three times, leading the Major Leagues with 25 wins in 1963 and the National League with 26 in 1968. He was a six-time 20-game winner. He was inducted into to the Hall of Fame in 1983.
His ability to command the strike zone gave hitters fits. So did his ability to change speeds and use different arm slots. Marichal would come at them overhand, three-quarters and sidearm, and he threw in a fastball with enough giddy-up to strike out anybody.
As much as anything else, this helps to understand why he had so much success. No pitcher was like Marichal — then and now. He was an intense competitor. While he wasn’t the biggest pitcher around, he was intelligent and had razor-fine command, said Rob Ruck, a senior lecturer in history at the University of Pittsburgh and a respected baseball historian.
“The greatest right-hander of his era,” Ruck said, “at a time when there were great pitchers to be found.”
Taking a long view of baseball as historians tend to do, Ruck said the only pitcher who might rival Marichal as the greatest among Hispanics is Pedro Martinez.
Pedro or Marichal?
Ruck would take Marichal.
Acta wouldn’t argue to the contrary. He credited Marichal with putting the Dominican Republic on the baseball map. He starred in the face of adversity; he never let the overt racism that still stained aspects of baseball and too much of American society in the 1960s stop him from excelling.
For much of his career, Marichal carried the notoriety of an ugly incident with Dodgers catcher John Roseboro around as baggage. The incident happened on Aug. 22, 1965, when Marichal, batting against Koufax, turned and hit Roseboro in the head with a bat in response to Roseboro’s return throws passing close to him.
Marichal was suspended for nine days and fined.
Yes, but nothing about this incident lessened what Marichal was or accomplished as a pitcher. All he did was continue to pitch and win — pitch deep into ballgames, piling up innings as if they were pitch counts.
The Roseboro incident is little more than a mere footnote on the Marichal portfolio. The incident doesn’t define him or change people’s perceptions of him, and it surely hasn’t made him less revered.
Not to the majority of voters who had Marichal’s name No. 1 on their list or to Acta.
“I think he might have been the first hands-down, Hall of Fame Hispanic guy with those numbers he put up,” Acta said. “That’s how everybody in the Dominican saw him. No one has ever even gotten close to the stature of Juan back home.”