By Mark Miller
The one thing nearly everybody remembers about the 1988 World Series was the pinch-hit home run by Kirk Gibson to end Game 1. Who doesn’t recall him limping around the bases pumping his fists in one of the most dramatic moments in baseball history?
Those same people likely don’t recall teammate Mike Marshall’s key homer, a three-run blast that helped the Los Angeles Dodgers win Game 2 and ultimately the championship over the Oakland A’s.
Turns out lots of folks have forgotten about Mike Marshall, especially those affiliated with Major League Baseball. Maybe it was because he retired from the game early. Perhaps it was the perception he wouldn’t play hurt. No matter why, he’s still enjoyed a rewarding second career at the independent level including this year as field manager of the Fort Worth Cats.
“I started doing the indie game and 15 years later I still am doing it,” Mike Marshall said recently in his LaGrave Field office. “It was convenient. I had a young family and it doesn’t take up the time that affiliated ball does.
“It’s been a nice alternative but I don’t recommend it for everybody. Indie ball can be a little crazy. But as far as still being able to be home and it’s only four or five months instead of 11 months is a big deal.”
Marshall played in 1,035 Major League games between 1981 and 1991 with a .270 batting average, 148 home runs and 530 runs batted in. He won World Series titles in 1981 and 1988 and made one All-Star appearance in 1984. But after playing the 1992 season in Japan, he retired at age 32.
“My mom was sick and I knew I had that issue to take care of but I had the itch to come back and play over here,” he said. “But the decisions you make when you are in your 20s and 30s, when you get to your 50s, you think ‘yeah maybe I shouldn’t have done that.’”
For the next six years, he played golf and spent time with his family, first in Southern California, then for several years in Austin.
“Then I got the itch and my kids started getting a little older and I wondered if I was going to play golf the rest of my life, not work and not have a purpose,” he said. “And so I got back to work and had a purpose whether on the field or in the front office you want to feel you want a challenge when you wake up in the morning.”
He hoped his past time as a player would help him land a Major League or minor league job. Instead, he started his journey in 1999 as playercoach in Schaumburg, Ill., about five miles from where he grew up in Libertyville.
“When the people start asking for your resume you probably are not going to get a job in affiliated ball,” the now 54-year-old said. “There’s definitely a lot of who you know, who you stay close to.
“Maybe I didn’t pursue it quite as hard as I could have but at the same time the calls I made and the resumes I did send I never got an opportunity in affiliated ball. For a long time I enjoyed the independent game because of the freedom it gave you.
“I think the thing I’ve tried to do and is for good or bad is go year on, year off going from the field to the front office,” he said. “I was president and general manager almost every other year. I get in a spot where they need help in the front office business. I feel I have enough know-how and enough smarts to put be able to put a staff together, run the operations, sales, marketing, all that kind of stuff.”
His tour has since taken him to places like Albany, N.Y.; El Paso, Texas; Yuma, Ariz.; Chico, Calif., and San Ramon, Calif. Last year he was commissioner of the Pacific League.
“I’ve tried to separate as much as possible to where when I’m on the field all I’m concerned about is giving players an opportunity to be seen so they can be signed by affiliated teams or go to a higher independent league,” he said.
“The knowledge I received from the great managers and coaches and players especially in the Dodger organization, I’ve tried to pass that wisdom on to the guys here. When I’m on the field I never worry about how many people are in the stands or how many hot dogs are being sold. As hard as it is to separate it, when I’m on the field it’s full-time baseball all the time.”
Maybe that’s why Marshall has so thoroughly enjoyed his short time with the Cats, especially a stretch in early July when the team started on a winning streak. It came shortly after turning over half the team and has resulted in one of his most satisfying years in the game.
“There are guys in my position who need the job. They want the security and they want to win,” he said. “Everyone is paid to win. So what I’ve seen in some leagues is you sacrifice by taking players the scouts have seen so many times and aren’t interested in seeing anymore. I try not to have those players.”
After more than 30 years in the game, Marshall thinks Fort Worth might be his final stop though if the Cats will have him longer, he’d consider staying.
“It’s a great stadium; it’s a great staff. We enjoy it here,” he said. “But I would say we’re thinking of getting out of the baseball business. It will be a decision his winter.”
When retirement does come, it likely will be back in California, home state of his wife Mary, who works in sales for the Cats. Son Michael, 25, a mortgage banker who was trading fx in El Paso, played at Stanford and a couple of years in the Philadelphia Phillies’ organization. Daughter Marcheta, 23, works for a venture capital group in San Francisco.
“If it is the last year I’ve certainly enjoyed it,” Marshall said. “I’m really glad to have gotten the opportunity to be with a great organization and great ball club, a good city and like I said with the team. It’s fun to come to the ball park each night.”