This article was originally published in February 2022 as part of a project to celebrate the legacy and valuable contribution of Afro-Latino athletes for Black History Month. Today, we repost it following the same purpose.
The tip of a shoe pointing to the sky was only a prelude to the work of Juan Marichal, one of the most dominant pitchers of all time, and a Dominican who came to play the highest chords in the symphony of baseball during the sixties and seventies.
Marichal, a native of Montecristi, someone whom the word Don fits perfectly because if Don Juan Marichal has something, it is class and warm vibes toward everyone who approaches him.
Ramfis Trujillo, son of dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, is said to have discovered Marichal when he saw him throw against his team and took him to play for the Dominican Air Force.
At age 20, Juan Marichal started his career in the Dominican professional baseball league with the Leones del Escogido. In his debut in 1957, the noble Juancito, barely pitched three games, with no victories, a loss and 4.15 era… he was not yet the Marichal we’ve all come to know.
Just three years later Marichal made his major league baseball debut and in the 1960 season he left an impressive 6-2 record with a 2.66 ERA in his first season in the majors, making it clear that the future was bright for this special pitcher.
Sixteen years later he said goodbye to the majors with 243 wins and an extraordinary 2.89 ERA in more than 3,500 innings pitched. Numbers that catapulted him to the Hall of Fame in 1983 with 83.7% of the votes, as the culmination of a career in the field without blemish, as well as his attitude off the field and in his most recently as a sports commentator.
The 16-inning game
Juan Marichal and Warren Spahn, the starting pitchers on a typically stormy night at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, held a scoreless tie for 15 innings with the Atlanta Braves.
The Braves threatened to score in the fourth inning, but center fielder Willie Mays threw home to retire Norm Larker, who had come off second base on a single by Del Crandall. The Giants squandered Harvey Kuenn’s opening double in the 14th. Two innings later, Marichal worried out loud that Giant’s manager Alvin Dark would remove him.
“Don’t worry,” Mays said. “I’m going to win it for you.” Sure enough, Mays hit a home run with one out in the 16th for the only run of the game. Marichal allowed eight hits, walked four and struck out 10 in the game of his life.
Another unforgettable Marathon
In 1966 Don Juan won his first 10 starts, with victory number nine being another marathon. This time, his opponent on the mound was Philadelphia right-hander Jim Bunning, who blasted the Giants with five hits in 10 innings, but was no match for Marichal, who allowed only six hits and gave up one base on balls in 14 innings, when Jim Davenport connected on a triple with one out and scored on a Bob Barton sacrifice fly.
Juan Marichal, destroyer of the Dodgers
The Dodgers have always been Giants rivals and against LA Don Juan was especially effective, as he achieved a record of 37-18 and an ERA of 2.36 against them, with 10 shutouts in 63 starts. His only better winning percentage was against the Mets (.765), Cubs (.742) and Pirates (.692). Not to mention Marichal’s dominance over the Dodgers at Candlestick Park, compiling an impressive 21-4 record.
From foe to friendship…
Many have seen the video in which Marichal used his bat to hit Los Angeles catcher John Roseboro in the head. During a game between the Giants and Dodgers on August 22, 1965. However, very few know that Marichal and Roseboro later resolved their differences and forged a warm friendship.
After Marichal was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first two appearances on the ballot, Roseboro campaigned for his enshrinement. That helped Marichal get to Cooperstown on his third attempt. For his part, Don Juan served as an honorary coffin bearer at Roseboro’s funeral in August 2002.
Marichal was an excellent competitor in All-Star Games. He finished with a 0.50 ERA in eight games with a pair of wins. In 18 innings. against the American League’s top hitters, Marichal allowed only seven hits, gave up two bases on balls and struck out 12, taking the MVP of the 1965 All-Star Game.
“El Manico” as he is known in his native Dominican Republic, has had a statue in Oracle Park since 2005 and the Giants retired his number as part of the multiple tributes he has received. But Don Juan said in an interview that the greatest honor he had been given was having name the Quisqueya Stadium, re-named in his honor which is the home of his first team, Leones del Escogido.