John Roseboro was a really good player. A key element on the great Los Angeles Dodger Teams of the 1960s. He was probably the best defensive catcher in the game at the time, and an adequate offensive player. Before the Marichal Incident in 1965 he was best known for his 3-run home run in Sandy Koufax’ 15- strikeout performance in Game 1 of the 1963 sweep of the New York Yankees.
By 1965 Juan Marichal was the second best pitcher in all of baseball. He was in the third year of a run of seven that saw him go 25-8, 21-8, 22-13, 25-6, 14-10, 26-9, and 21-11. He was born in the Dominican Republic and was known to have a temper. He hurled for the hated San Francisco Giants.
The incident occurred on Sunday August 22, 1965. The Dodgers, as usual were entangled in a heated pennant race with their bitter rival, the San Francisco Giants. The Dodgers were leading, but the Giants were closing. On the last game of a four game series at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park the incident occurred. The Dodgers had won two extra inning affairs bracketed around a Giant victory in Game 2. Marichal was going for the Giants in Game 4 against the best pitcher in baseball, Sandy Koufax.
Dodger Shortstop Maury Wills led off the top of the first with a bunt single, he then scored the first run on a bloop hit by Ron Fairly. Pitchers, for some reason, get more upset at little guys who bunt and steal then at sluggers who hit home runs. Marichal was no exception, so when Wills came up again in the third, Juan threw at his knees. He followed that up by knocking Fairly down with a high hard one.
Roseboro knew the Dodgers had to answer. John decided to wait for Willie Mays to come up to retaliate. His only problem was that Koufax was on the mound. Sandy was truly a nice man, he threw exceptionally hard and was always afraid of hurting somebody. He was incapable of throwing at someone. Sandy tried, but the pitch was so far over Willie’s head that it only increased the mocking coming out of the Giant dugout.
Roseboro decided to take care of the problem himself. When Marichal came to bat in the bottom of the third, Roseboro decided to deal with it. We’ll let Roseboro describe what happened next. “Koufax was constitutionally incapable of throwing at anyone’s head, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. When Juan came up, I went out to tell Sandy to pitch him low and inside and I’d buzz Marichal from behind the plate. The second pitch was low and inside. I dropped it, picked it up, and pegging it back to Sandy I threw it about two inches past Juan’s nose.” (Glory Days with the Dodgers pg6).
Marichal turned around and screamed at Roseboro, “Why you do that? You better not hit me with that ball.” Roseboro rose to confront him. Marichal claimed John removed his mask and threatened him with it. Roseboro denied taking off his mask. Marichal raised his bat and came down three times hard on Roseboro’s head then ran towards the mound with Roseboro in hot pursuit. Film footage clearly shows Marichal pulling off Johnny’s mask as Juan fled. Roseboro caught him and Juan raised the bat again, but this time Roseboro blocked it. Koufax and Giant lead-off man Tito Fuentees (with his bat raised) then entered the fray. The benches cleared and a near riot broke out on the field.
Thankfully Willie Mays was there, he grabbed Roseboro and yelled “John, stop it, stop fighting, your eye is out!” Roseboro then fell to the ground with Mays holding his head. Willie was crying.
As Marichal was being escorted into the Giant’s dugout he started waving his bat back towards the fallen Roseboro, asking him if he wanted some more. Dodger Coach Danny Ozark (later manager of the Phillies) then stopped being a peacemaker and went after Marichal. The entire melee erupted again. Ozark explained, “I went after Marichal because he was making fun of someone he’d hurt unfairly.”
When order was restored, Marichal and Roseboro were gone, the game resumed. Koufax was rattled. He walked the next two batters, then Mays delivered a 3-run home-run. The Dodgers’ 3-1 lead was now a 4-3 deficit. That would be the final, and the Giants had closed to ½ game of the Dodgers.
National League President Warren Giles suspended Marichal for nine days and fined him $1750. Juan missed only one start (it was a different time in baseball). The incident seemed to ignite the Giants, they seized the lead, then ran off 14 straight wins between September 3 and September 17 to lead the Dodgers by 4 1/2 games with 16 to play.
Behind Koufax and Drysdale the Dodgers then went on one of the greatest closing drives in baseball history. They would go on a 13-game win streak of their own, closing the season by winning 15 of their last 16 to capture the National League Flag. They finished the season with a 7-game triumph in the World Series over the Minnesota Twins.
As for the Marichal Incident on August 22, Dodger Manager Walter Alston would say “I thought the bat had knocked Roseboro’s left eye out. There was nothing but blood where his eye had been.” Dodger Outfielder Wally Moon added “I’d never seen one human being attacked by another with a club before.”
The injury to Roseboro would not be as severe as originally thought. He would quickly be back in the line up and help contribute to the Dodger Championship. Roseboro became very philosophical about the incident, he and Marichal would become friendly rivals. Marichal would eventually be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. To Roseboro it was all part of Baseball. As he said later, “The Marichal incident happened when Koufax was pitching. I think that if it happened on a day (Don) Drysdale was pitching, he would have taken care of Marichal and I never would have gotten my head hit in.” (Glory Days with the Dodgers).