MIKE MARSHALL : If He Smiled More and Struck Out Less : . . . Well, Maybe Just Smiled More

Times Staff Writer

Start down the checklist of what it takes to be a Dodger Stadium idol, and Mike Marshall seems to have been dispatched from Studio A:

--Hits home runs, lots of them. Twenty-eight in 1985; major league total of 71 three months before his 26th birthday.

--Tall and handsome, in a rugged sort of way.

--Used to date a rock star.

But then, just when you’re wondering how many appearances Marshall has made on “Hollywood Squares,"--no, he’s not related to the game-show host, Peter Marshall, although that Marshall did have a baseball-playing son, Pete LaCock--the list becomes blotted and the picture blurred.


Marshall strikes out. Not just once in a while, mind you. Marshall strikes out more often than Tony Perkins in “Fear Strikes Out” on late-night TV. When they make this movie, they ought to give Joe Don Baker a bat instead of a club and call it “Whiffing Tall.”

OK, so Marshall bombs every so often. But he also stands accused of a crime far worse than an occasional flop.

The man never smiles while he’s playing. It would be easier to drag the infield with a guitar pick than to turn up the corners of Marshall’s mouth.

Funny thing is, he’s got nice teeth, too.

For the better part of three seasons, that has had Dodger fans stumped--and, in turn, more than just a little reluctant to treat him as if he were Topps. The fans in the outfield pavilions used to throw bubble gum to Dusty Baker and he loved them for it. Marshall? He probably wouldn’t even notice.

“Maybe they don’t understand,” he said. “I’m a different kind of player. Not a Hollywood type of player, just hard-nosed.

“I hear it all the time: ‘Why aren’t you smiling? Why aren’t you waving?’

“I appreciate the fans, and I think I have a pretty good personality, just not in the 2 1/2 hours I’m playing. I’m battling then. I’m at war with the opposition.”

Maybe that’s why Frank and Sandy Marshall, who have been watching Mike longer than anybody else, sat up late last Wednesday night in Buffalo Grove, Ill., and took notice of a most amazing sight.

They were watching the Dodger game on TV, thanks to the satellite dish Mike had sent them as thanks for all the time they had spent watching his many games. It took them practically all summer to figure out how to hook up the blasted thing, but there was nothing wrong with the reception at that moment.

In fact, the reception was just beautiful. On the night the Dodgers clinched the division title, their son had just hit a home run, his 27th of the season, and the fans were on their feet, celebrating the hit, celebrating the season, and imploring the man of the moment to come out of the Dodger dugout and take a bow.

As Frank and Sandy Marshall watched, their son appeared on the top step, for just a moment, really, but long enough for them to catch the smile on his face. Yep. And it was ear to ear.

“I think he finally had the game he needed for the fans to accept him,” Frank Marshall said a few days later, sitting in the second row of Section 105 in Dodger Stadium and apologizing for having arrived in the second inning, even though he and Sandy had come straight from the airport. “And they finally got him to come out,” Frank said. “He never liked to. He didn’t want to show a pitcher up. He must have really been caught up in the moment to do that.”

Back in Buffalo Grove, a bedroom suburb northwest of Chicago, they figure Marshall had this moment coming for a long time. Why, Marshall was only a sophomore in high school when he let folks know that he was figuring on something like this himself someday.

That revelation occurred during the last period of the school day at Buffalo Grove High when the varsity baseball team was taking batting practice but Marshall was stuck in English class. He often cajoled his teacher into letting him cut out of class early so he could take some cuts in the batting cage, but on this particular day, she would have no part of that.

“She must have been in a bad mood that day, but she laughed at me in front of the whole class,” Marshall said.

“She said to me, ‘What do you think you’re going to do, make a living from this baseball?’ ”

Marshall, serious as ever, had an answer ready for her. “I told her, ‘Yes, I am,’ ” he said.

He had never considered anything else, or at least anything other than sports. “This is something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said.

Marshall worked at games, all right, it was just a matter of which one he would choose after he had checked into the world on Jan. 12, 1960, weighing 9 pounds 1 ounce.

By the time he was 9, Marshall was qualifying for the national finals of the National Football League’s Punt, Pass and Kick competition. His folks got a trip to Florida out of that one.

How about a little bowling? When he was 8, his parents said, Marshall rolled a 258 game in a tournament.

Golf? When he was 13, he shot a 75 and qualified for a state tournament.

Basketball? As a high school sophomore, Marshall was sixth man on a team that went 27-2.

Marshall might have liked golf best of all. With golf, he didn’t need somebody else to pitch to him or catch his passes. All he had to do was grab his clubs, hop on his bike, and with his $125 junior membership, play all the golf he wanted, which he often did, from sunup to sundown.

And when he got home, Frank was always there, ready for the games he had never had the luxury of playing when he was a kid and his own father was trying to scratch out a living as a farmer near the small town of Dixon in northwestern Illinois.

Frank caddied for a while and also worked as a pin-setter in a bowling alley. He caught a pin in the back of the head one day, and bled something awful. “Couldn’t afford to get it stitched up,” he said. “Just let it heal.”

Eventually, he dropped out of high school and went into the service. When he got out, he showed up often at the local roller rink, which is where he met Sandy. She was 16 when they got married.

In Dixon, there’s a plaque outside the first house they lived in. Does it read “Home of Frank and Sandy Marshall, parents of Mike, the baseball player?”

That will have to wait. For now, the inscription alerts visitors to the fact that Ronald Reagan once occupied the same house, the upstairs apartment of which Frank and Sandy called home for a while.

A businessman for whom Frank had caddied set him up in the printing business, and a couple of years later, he landed a job in the Chicago area. About that same time, Sandy, who already had given birth to a daughter, Terri, presented Frank a playmate.

“I’ve always been real close with my dad,” Mike Marshall said. “He was so enthusiastic. The minute he got off from work, we would play ball.”

So the love of the game, the classic American hand-me-down, was passed from father to son. But that’s not the only way the old man rubbed off on the kid. Sandy Marshall still shudders at the memory of 8-year-old Mike, kicking the ball return at the bowling alley when he didn’t roll a strike.

“He was a brat,” Sandy said.

Added Frank: “He was a real poor sport, is what he was . . . too much like me. I remember talking to a neighbor, who had kids about the same age, and he said there were a lot of complaints, but he said he’d take Mike just the way he was and teach him to be a good sport later.

“He expected to do perfect every time.”

By the time he got to high school, Marshall had exorcised the McEnroe in him. The demands he places on himself, however, are as rigid now as they were then.

“Mike can be his own worst enemy,” said Fred Van Iten, Marshall’s former high school coach, who came to Los Angeles earlier this season on a plane ticket paid for by his star alumnus.

Dodger coach Monty Basgall answered in nearly the same vein when asked if Marshall would cross the threshold of stardom.

“He’s got possibilities. The tools are there,” Basgall said. “If he doesn’t, it will be because of himself. . . . He puts a lot of pressure on himself. He expects a lot of himself. He’s an unusual kid.”

Basgall quickly added, however, that Marshall has shown great progress in recovering from a bad game. “He gets down on himself real quick, but he’s bounced back a lot this season. Just when you think he’s through for the year, he comes back and hits a three-run homer.”

Marshall doesn’t analyze his inner fires. He merely acknowledges that they are there.

“It’s just my personality,” he said. “My girlfriend asked me why it is that when I have a good game, everything is fine, but I’m not really happy, but when I have a bad game, it really bothers me.

“I think it’s because when I have a good game, that’s what I expect to have. I just want to win, and I don’t like to lose. And when I don’t do well, I’m mad.”

When Marshall was in high school, he didn’t have the time to party with other kids because he was always getting his sleep for one tournament or another. It’s not much different now. He refuses to make personal appearances during the season, and doesn’t do commercials.

“I’m not knocking the guys who do, but baseball is the No. 1 thing to me,” Marshall said.

When Enos Cabell and Bill Madlock were traded to the Dodgers, Marshall said they kidded him about not having a tan.

“I told them to check with me after I come back from Hawaii a month after the season’s over, then they can take me out to dinner and check out my tan,” Marshall said.

“I just don’t think I should be out there lying in the sun, and having it sap my strength.”

When he gets home from games, Marshall said he often swings a bat in his living room or watches videotapes of when he’s playing well.

Does such single-mindedness make him a hard person to live with?

“Absolutely,” he said, laughing. “But I think I’m a terrific person to be around in the off-season.”

About those strikeouts . . .

“If Mike ever gets to know the strike zone as well as Mike Scioscia, there’s no telling what he’ll do,” said Ben Wade, the Dodgers’ scouting director.

“If he swings at strikes, he has the ability to hit .330 and hit 50 home runs. We may have to do to him in spring training what we did with Duke Snider, make him stand at the plate and be the umpire, call the pitches as they come.”

In Mike Marshall’s first game as a Dodger, on Sept. 7, 1981, he replaced Steve Garvey and doubled in his first at-bat. But although he never did get the chance to be Garvey’s successor--he was shunted to the outfield to make room for Greg Brock--he has eclipsed Brock in his standing in the organization.

Brock may yet again be challenged by Franklin Stubbs for his job next spring. Marshall has no such worries, since he posted career highs in batting average, .293; home runs, 28, and RBIs, 95.

He has been compared favorably to Atlanta’s Dale Murphy, twice voted the league’s most valuable player. Bill Madlock said that Marshall is the only other player in the league with Murphy-like power to the opposite field, and he is much improved in his outfield play.

“I enjoy playing defense now,” Marshall said. “I like diving around and bouncing off walls.”

But about those strikeouts . . .

Marshall struck out 137 times in 1985. He didn’t lead the league, but he was third, behind only Murphy and Juan Samuel. He struck out better than once every four at-bats. A couple of weeks ago, he struck out six straight times before Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda mercifully removed him from the game.

“It’s probably the biggest dilemma of my life right now,” he said, without having to add a sigh.

“It’s a tough way to make an out. That long walk to the dugout, 130, 140 times. It’s just another out, but in the fans’ eyes and media’s eyes it’s magnified.”

And in his eyes?

“I hate making that walk. At times, I accept it. At other times I’m fed up with it and think to myself, ‘This is ridiculous.’ Then I hit a home run and get a couple of hits and I say, ‘Well, it’s going to happen.’

“It’s just a dilemma. It really is. We could talk all day about it, go round and round.”

He’s done just that with Dodger Vice President Al Campanis. “Al got on me about being more selective,” Marshall said. “He also told me I’m one of the best bad-ball hitters he’s ever seen.”

Ben Hines, one of the Dodgers’ two batting instructors, is ambivalent about Marshall’s K’s.

“It’s amazing that he strikes out as much as he does and still hits for average,” Hines said. “Part of it is because he’s such an aggressive hitter. The great thing about him, for me, is he’s just so mentally aggressive. And that makes him swing at pitches he normally wouldn’t swing at. But when a pitcher makes a mistake, he’s usually ready for it.

“I wish more players had that kind of intestinal drive. I consider it a kind of inner inertia, and with Moose, it almost appears to have no bounds.

“It’s kind of a Catch-22 situation. You would like him to swing under more control, but on the other side, you don’t want him to curb that intensity. It’s a great natural gift he has.”

In the past, Marshall has said, if he struck out in his first couple of at-bats, the game was usually shot for him. Now, he said, he realizes that he can still have an impact with his last swing of the night.

Said Hines: “The day after he struck out the six times in a row, Mike came out to the cage and said, ‘Maybe I should try to swing and miss, that might help me.’ He laughed at himself. To me, that was a great sign of maturity.”

Marshall, who underwent an emergency appendectomy in June, said the operation might have mellowed him.

“Maybe I’m a little more thankful to be out there,” he said. “After being laid up in bed like that, you don’t take things for granted.”

The loneliness of the long-distance hitter:

“My mom still worries about me,” Mike Marshall said. “She thinks I’m too much of a loner.”

Sports left Marshall with little time for friends in high school. When his buddies sneaked off to catch a Cub game at Wrigley Field, he preferred to be playing something himself, he said. When it came to parties, he was mostly a no-show.

“Isn’t that sad?” his mother said after reading a quote by her son that he was lonely.

“I really felt that he was one of the most popular kids in school. He was the biggest, the best . . . I thought he was very popular.”

The day that Marshall left home for the Dodgers’ farm team in Lethbridge, Alberta, Frank Marshall took pictures in the front yard. “Off to the minors,” he recalled.

That very night, Mike was on the phone, begging his folks to come up for a visit, Frank said.

“It was very, very tough,” Marshall said. “Everything they say about that is true. You’re the local high school star, and then you’re nobody.”

Marshall has few friends on the Dodgers. He spends some time with Steve Sax, although that relationship appears to be high in its fun quotient, not so high on the depth chart.

All of which made Marshall one of the least likely candidates for having the most publicized romance of any Dodger in the ‘80s. His was with Belinda Carlisle, the lead singer of the Go-Go’s, a group that has since disbanded.

The media likened the pairing to that of another celebrated baseball loner, Joe DiMaggio, with Marilyn Monroe.

Said Sandy Marshall: “I remember asking Mike when we first met Belinda, ‘Do you like the way she dresses?’ ‘I love it,’ he said, and he said it sincerely.’

“She was a sweetheart. We thought a lot of Belinda.”

For a time, Mike and Belinda lived together, and Belinda spent a Christmas at home in Illinois with the Marshalls. She and Marshall eventually went their separate ways, though Marshall said they have remained friends and stay in touch.

“I think what happened there is that I just decided to go for it, take a shot at this,” Marshall said. “I found out it really wasn’t me.

“I didn’t go out with Belinda just because of that. It was a personal thing. I enjoyed her, I enjoyed her company. It worked out real well for a while.”

When the season ends, Marshall still prefers solitude. His idea of a vacation, he said, is to be isolated someplace where there’s no phone and no one knows where he is.

“That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like a girl, or friends who understand me,” said Marshall, who has a girlfriend now.

“Married? I don’t know when it’s going to hit me, but it hasn’t happened yet. I haven’t closed my mind to it, but I’m not going to force it. I only want to do it once, and make sure it’s right.”

That’s also the way Marshall would like it to be with the Dodgers, who figure to take a hard look at signing him to a long-term contract this winter. Marshall played under a one-year, $333,000 contract last season after having had his contract renewed by the team the year before.

“Jerry (Kapstein, his agent) and the Dodgers will take care of that--hopefully they will,” Marshall said. “I know that guys in similar situations have been taken care of all over the league. We’ll see what they want to do with me.

“If we have to go year to year, Jerry and I are ready to do that. If they want to sit down and secure me, we’re more than ready to listen.

“But I’ve played since I was 8 years old, and I’ve never had more than a one-year contract.”

No, just a one-way ticket to a ballgame that seemingly will never end.