On Aug. 22, 1965, amid simmering tensions during a pennant race between two of baseball’s oldest rivals, Giants pitcher Juan Marichal struck Dodgers catcher John Roseboro on the side of the head. With a bat.
The incident created national headlines, turned the effusive Marichal into a pariah, and posed a question still worthy of debate almost 50 years later: Was Juan Marichal guilty of assault with a deadly weapon?
Members of the Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Association got together in the Summit Club at Cheney Stadium on Friday to consider Marichal’s culpability. The “trial” highlighted the bar association’s Continuing Legal Education annual summer program, which for the past four years has explored law topics pertaining to baseball.
Pierce County prosecuting attorney Mark Lindquist made the case against Marichal, while attorney Michael Schwartz represented the defense. Judge Thomas P. Larkin presided over the trial, which was decided by an unofficial count of raised hands in the audience.
“I remembered Marichal-Roseboro incident after watching Carlos Quentin charge the mound to fight Zack Greinke a few months ago,” said CLE moderator Jim Lopez, referring to the April 11 brawl between the Padres and the Dodgers. “The Marichal case is still interesting on so many levels. Besides, he has a history here.”
Before Marichal became known for a high-kicking windup that preceded a high-octane fastball in San Francisco, he
won 11 games for the 1960 Tacoma Giants. Marichal was 22 years old, a young man from the Dominican Republic blessed with talent, charm and a smile engaging enough to transcend cultures.
All that changed on a Sunday afternoon in 1965, when the Dodgers were convinced retaliation was in order for Marichal pitches that plunked Maury Wills and Ron Fairly. Retaliation was problematic: Dodgers’ ace Sandy Koufax could throw any kind of pitch, in any situation, except a pitch pinpointed at the ribs of an opposing player.
So Roseboro, the catcher, took it upon himself to exact revenge. He intentionally dropped Koufax’s second pitch to Marichal in the third inning, then returned the throw back to the pitcher by whistling it past Marichal’s ear, perhaps even grazing it.
When Marichal turned around and asked “Why did you that?” Roseboro removed his mask and held it in his right hand. Key point, that. Very key.
As Roseboro approached, Marichal, bat in hands, pummeled him at least twice, opening a two-inch gash. Marichal’s explanation, the following day, was steeped in simplicity: He feared Roseboro was about to attack him with his mask.
Lindquist noted that while self-defense is legal, a person can use no more than is reasonably necessary. Had Marichal put down the bat and, say, thrown a punch, there’s no case. But he’d struck Roseboro with an implement akin to a knife – more than was reasonably necessary. He was guilty of assault with a deadly weapon.
Schwartz based his defense of Marichal on Roseboro’s aggressiveness (the return throw past the ear) and the fact the catcher didn’t drop his mask.
“He’d already used the baseball as one weapon,” Schwartz told the audience, “and he was about to use the mask as (a) second weapon.”
Larkin then put the verdict up for a vote.
Guilty garnered about 20 hands. Not guilty garnered a few more.
“Whoa,” said Judge Larkin, sounding surprised. “It looks like the defense carries.”
Lindquist accepted the verdict with the poise of a savvy veteran: You can’t win ’em all.
“I don’t follow baseball as avidly as I did when I was a kid because I just don’t have the time,” he said after the bar association adjourned for a barbecue on the party deck behind third base. “But this sounded like fun, and it was.”
While searching the Internet for information about Marichal and Roseboro, Lindquist learned how the former combatants came to foster a close friendship after the 1970 resolution of a civil suit. (Roseboro sued Marichal for $110,000 in damages, and received $7,500.)
They appeared together at golf tournaments and on the baseball memorabilia circuit. Roseboro’s family visited Marichal’s family in the Dominican Republic.
When Marichal’s Hall of Fame candidacy appeared to stall in the early 1980s, Roseboro pleaded for voters to appreciate the entirety of Marichal’s career – he was a 10-time All-Star – and not dwell on a split-second lapse of judgment during a heated pennant race.
Among the first calls Marichal made upon learning of his 1983 induction into the Hall of Fame was to Roseboro, whose name was prominent during Marichal’s typically gracious acceptance speech at Cooperstown.
“The Marichal-Roseboro fight showed us the ugly side of sports, followed by the redemptive, graceful side of sports,” said Lindquist. “Wouldn’t it be cool if every story in the real world turned out like that?
“Life is too short for grudges.”firstname.lastname@example.org