August 23, 2009
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image0033by Brad Eastland


      We middle-agers had a big sports anniversary over the weekend.

      But unless you are at least 52 or 53 you don’t remember it.   Many of you weren’t even born yet.   (Which of course makes you lucky in more ways than one.)

      But I remember.   Like it was yesterday….

      On August 22nd, 1965, 44 years ago last Saturday, Juan Marichal hit John Roseboro on the head with a baseball bat.

      That was a day, sports fans.   For a nine-year-old sports nut like me, it was a day you remember the way you remember where you were and what you were feeling when JFK was shot, or nine-eleven exploded, or at the exact moment your only child was born.   Because Marichal trying to split Roseboro’s skull with a hunk of wood came to symbolize forever the rivalry between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers.   And taught a nine-year-old boy in Altadena, California that hey—adults really do take sports seriously.

image0012      Here’s the set-up:  It’s San Francisco’s fabled and inhospitable Candlestick Park, late August, smack in the middle of a typically savage Dodger/Giant pennant race, Dodgers up by only a game and a half in the standings, hot day, emotions running high.   It’s the bottom of the third inning.   Marichal, the Giants’ ace pitcher, is at bat, the great Sandy Koufax is on the mound for L.A., throwing to all-star catcher Roseboro who is seething and smoldering in his squat behind the plate.  

      First of all, one needs to understand the larger context of the event.   Marichal was troubled by a civil war then raging in his native Dominican Republic, and he was having a hard time even contacting his family, every day of his life fraught with worry.   The equally troubled Roseboro, a resident of Watts, lived only a couple blocks from the flashpoint of the famous riot that bears that neighborhood’s name, a riot of raw anger, death, and destruction that had occurred only a week before.   (Speaking of destruction, the top tune on the charts at the time was titled, appropriately, “Eve of Destruction”, by Barry McGuire.    Listen up, it’s cool.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8SfiCnwF28 )

      There was also ample fuel for violence in place between the Dodgers and Giants themselves.   Two days earlier, the Dodgers’ great shortstop Maury Wills had intentionally struck Giants catcher Tom Haller in the facemask with his swing, and was, amazingly, actually awarded first base for his treachery.   Later in that game the Giants’ Matty Alou attempted to do the same thing to Roseboro, ticking his glove with his swing, but was not awarded first base.   Roseboro was angry.

      Now it’s two days later, the game in question.   In the top of the 3rd Marichal sent Wills sprawling with a pitch near his head.   Game on.   So now, in the bottom half of the 3rd, with Marichal at bat, the stage was set.

      Koufax’s 2nd pitch to Marichal was harmless, low and inside, but the return throw from Roseboro either grazed Marichal’s ear or was at least close enough for Juan to feel the breeze.   Marichal had expected Koufax to throw at him, but he should have known better.   The lordly Koufax was the consummate gentleman-sportsman, not at all predisposed to such vitriol.   But Roseboro was another matter.   He was a taciturn, grumpy guy on a good day, prone to threatening enemy batsmen with retaliation for perceived misdeeds, and of course Watts was fresh in his head.   His teammate Wills had just been flattened a half inning earlier.   He was boiling.   Anyway, he buzzed Marichal’s ear with his return throw.

      Marichal turned to Roseboro and queried in broken English, “why do you do that?”   Roseboro rose from his crouch, threw off his mask, clenched his fists, moved forward.   Marichal raised the bat, and brought it down on Roseboro’s head.   Twice.

      Pandemonium.   As 42,807 aghast spectators watched in horror, both benches emptied and a 14-minute brawl ensued.   I myself, your faithful correspondent and future Sports Philosopher, sat google-eyed and cross-legged less than three feet from the TV on the floor of our den in Altadena and started yelling, though I don’t exactly know why.   Willie Mays, the Giants’ superstar center-fielder and my hero, had his finest hour that day, first separating Roseboro from Marichal, then leading Roseboro—his opponent, remember—to safety with tears in his eyes, then calming down players on both teams, and then, dare I say heroically, later that very inning, hitting the game-winning three-run homer off a shaken Koufax and circling the bases with Roseboro’s blood still staining his shirt.

      Marichal was suspended for nine days for his crime, the Giants never recovered (hell, I never recovered), and the Dodgers won the pennant by two games and then won the World Series.   As a Giants fan, for a long time, I held the losing of that pennant against Roseboro.   That’s baseball….

      Was Marichal a bad guy?   Hardly.   Nicest guy in the world, ‘never did anything vicious or aggressive in baseball before of since.   Was Roseboro?   No.   Nicest guy in the world off the field, it was only between the foul lines when his temper would sometimes get the better of him.


The Sports Philosopher

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, and sports nut, in no particular order.   Brad’s other recent columns for LaVerneOnline can be found in Sports under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.    Brad has also written four novels and over 20 short-stories.    Samples of Brad’s fiction work can be discovered within the links below :






John and Juan got along ... can't we?

John and Juan got along ... can't we?

I wonder sometimes if we’ve learned anything as a society since the Marichal/Roseboro thing.   There were riots after the Rodney King verdict was read, near-riots after the O.J. verdict was read.   Those wages of anger were race-related.   Was the Marichal/Roseboro thing race-motivated.   Some historians have argued yes, but I don’t think so.   It’s baseball.   Marichal would have clubbed any white, brown, or black catcher advancing towards him that day in his confused state, Roseboro would have buzzed that return throw right by the ear of any black, white, or brown pitcher, as long as he was wearing a Giants uniform.   But though it might not have been a race-related anger, it certainly was an anger illogical and disproportionate to the situation.   While there was no excuse for Marichal’s behavior, Roseboro was so angry at the “Dominican Dandy” that he sued him for over $100,000 dollars, settling in the end for about seven grand.


      The ironic and wonderful conclusion to this story is that Marichal and Roseboro became great friends in later years.   They played in celebrity golf tournaments together, and showed up at Dodger “Old Timers” games together wearing the same uniform (see above photo).   And when Marichal—one of the greatest pitchers ever to toe the rubber—was denied entrance to the Hall of Fame in his first two years of eligibility because of the assault, it was Roseboro himself who made a heartfelt plea to the Baseball Writers Association of America to lighten up, to forgive and forget the way he had.   Result?   Marichal was elected to the Hall by those writers the very next year.   Marichal thanked Roseboro in his induction speech.  


  1. Handyman Greg McClellan
    August 24th, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    G0 Dodgers

  2. Even I remember some of those things………………….

  3. I remember it well. I was 14 years old, a huge Dodger fan and Giant hater. It was great to see the two of them become friends later in life. I remember hearing that Roseboro visted Marichal when he was very ill in the hospital a cou[le of years ago. Thanks for a great article.


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