Year Inducted: 1983 (BBWAA, ballot #3, 313/374)
There are some pitchers that, upon a look back people think “How did he not win a Cy Young Award/MVP?” Nolan Ryan never won a single Cy Young Award despite having one of the greatest resumes of all-time. Nor did Curt Schilling or some other great pitchers in their careers. Sometimes, like in the place of Schilling, it hurts their overall perception among Hall of Fame voters, while some like Ryan have enough credentials to overcome it. Some pitchers, like Juan Marichal, can be one of the greatest of their time and never win the Cy Young Award, and also not earn first ballot induction despite, once again, being one of the greatest pitchers ever.
Marichal, at the time, was the greatest Latin American pitcher ever (Pedro probably owns that title now). In 16 years he won 243 games, threw 3507 innings and maintained an ERA of 2.89. In his 3507 innings, Marichal struck out 2303 batters and walked a mere 709 men. Marichal was the third most dominant pitcher of the 1960’s, behind only Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax, two names that are no slouches either. Marichal had a WHIP of only 1.10 and batters mustered merely an average .234 against him. There’s no denying that Marichal was one of the top pitchers of all-time.
In Marichal’s career (1960-1975), he ranked second in wins, fourth in innings, 5th in ERA (even lower than Gibson), 5th in strikeouts, third in RA9-WAR and 5th in fWAR. All of these include a fairly long decline phase. Beginning in 1970, in less than 1000 innings, Marichal had an ERA of 3.74 (ERA- of 101), while striking out fewer than 5 batters per 9 innings. In the 10 prior seasons, his ERA was 2.57 in about 2500 innings while striking out over 6 per 9 innings. So, the question becomes, what happened? Was it age? Well, 1970 was his age-32 season, so that must have played some effect on him. Was it the mound lowering? Perhaps. The mound was lowered in 1969, a year that saw Marichal put up one of his best seasons (2.10 ERA, .994 WHIP, 21 wins) so it doesn’t seem to be. The real culprit was an illness. In spring training of that season, Marichal had an allergic attack due to a dose of penicillin, which resulted in him losing a lot of strength that season which he never really regained. While trying to pitch through it, he hurt his back and that injury never really went away.
While having a hurt back, along with chronic arthritis, Marichal’s brilliant fastball was pretty much gone. He had a solid campaign in 1971, but the next four seasons were unobjectively horrible which caused the decline in his numbers. Marichal’s peak, however, was one of the greatest 10-year stretches in history.
Marichal suffered in Hall of Fame voting two ways. The first is that, having never won a Cy Young Award from the same voters, the lack of 300 wins or 3000 strikeouts really hurt his chances. Along with that, Marichal never pitched in the World Series as Koufax and Gibson did, and they dominated on that stage. However, Marichal’s accomplishments shouldn’t be overlooked–one of the finest pitchers ever and one of the greatest representatives for his home country (the Dominican Republic) and his adopted one (USA).
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