Juan Marichal clubbed John Roseboro 50 years ago in ugly, iconic incident

August 21, 2015, 3:23 PM

— -- On Aug. 22, 1965, a season-high crowd of 42,807 packed Candlestick Park for a key National League matchup between baseball's biggest rivals. With two future Hall of Famers on the mound, it promised to be a memorable afternoon.

It certainly was, but not because the San Francisco Giants beat the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers 4-3 or because of the pitching performances by Sandy Koufax and Juan Marichal. And not because the game featured four future Hall of Famers (the two aces along with the Giants' Willie Mays and Willie McCovey) and four members of the that year's NL All-Star team (Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills, Koufax, Mays and Marichal).

The contest is still remembered for arguably the ugliest moment in MLB history. In the bottom of the third inning, Marichal infamously clubbed Dodgers catcher John Roseboro over the head with a bat, an action never seen before or again on a major league field.

On the 50th anniversary of that incident, here are 10 things you should know about a game that left a permanent scar on the face of baseball:

1. It was an important matchup in the pennant race

The Dodgers, Giants and Milwaukee Braves were in a heated battle for the NL lead at the time. San Francisco's win that day pulled them even with the Braves for second place, half a game behind the Dodgers. The Braves collapsed down the stretch and finished in fifth place, 11 games out. The Dodgers wound up edging the Giants by two games for the pennant and went on to beat the Minnesota Twins in the World Series.

2. Trouble was brewing early

Dodgers-Giants games were always intense, and emotions were high during the previous three games of the four-game series. Wills led off the series finale with a bunt single, and when he came to the plate again in the second inning, Marichal knocked him down with a high-and-tight fastball. Koufax sent a return message in the bottom of the second, firing a fastball over Mays' head to the backstop. Marichal responded in the top of third with an inside fastball that sent Ron Fairly sprawling. That prompted home plate umpire Shag Crawford to issue a warning that the next close pitch would result in an ejection.

3. Roseboro buzzed Marichal's head with a ball

Roseboro didn't want Koufax to get ejected -- and Koufax didn't like throwing at hitters -- but the catcher didn't want Marichal to get away with dusting his teammates. When Marichal led off the bottom of the third, he took the first pitch for a strike. Koufax's second pitch was a ball inside that Roseboro dropped. He moved behind Marichal to pick it up and whizzed the ball back to Koufax close to the batter's face (Roseboro admitted in his autobiography that it was no accident).

Marichal, who said the throw actually clipped his ear, turned to confront Roseboro. Expletives were exchanged and Roseboro stepped toward Marichal, who raised his bat and brought it down on Roseboro's head.

"I was afraid he was going to hit me with his mask, so I hit him with my bat," Marichal said in an apology issued the next day.

Benches emptied, and chaos ensued. As in most baseball fights, some of those involved played peacekeeper and others threw punches.

4. Mays kept things from getting worse

An enraged Roseboro, who had boxing and martial arts training, went hard after Marichal. Roseboro was briefly knocked to the ground in the ensuing melee, while Marichal, who had continued swinging his bat, was tackled from behind by Crawford, the umpire. Roseboro continued after Marichal until getting stopped by Mays, a good friend despite their teams' rivalry. Mays helped get the bleeding Roseboro under control and escorted him away from the fighting, even tending to his friend's wound.

"They can thank Mays that there wasn't a real riot out there," Dodgers outfielder Lou Johnson told the Los Angeles Times. "If it wasn't for Willie Mays it could have been a lot worse. Willie did a hell of a job stopping the battle."

The Times' game story said the incident delayed the game for 14 minutes.

5. Marichal's penalty seems paltry by today's standards

Marichal was ejected and Roseboro left the game injured (he would need 14 stitches to close the gash on his head). Roseboro would miss the next two games before returning to action. Marichal was suspended for eight game days (10 games because of doubleheaders) and fined a then-record $1,750 (which translates to about $15,000 today). Roseboro would sue Marichal for $110,000 in damages, and the case was eventually settled with Roseboro receiving $7,500.

6. There was some collateral damage

Roseboro wasn't the only one to sustain an injury in the melee. After being tackled by Crawford and disarmed, Marichal defended himself from the ground with kicks. He spiked Dodgers reliever Howie Reed in the thigh and Johnson in the ankle. Crawford's hand was cut when somebody stepped on it.

7. Both pitchers were was shaky after the incident

Koufax entered the day with a 21-4 record. Later during the inning in which the fight occurred, he walked two batters before allowing a three-run homer to Mays that gave the Giants a 4-2 lead they wouldn't relinquish. Koufax also lost his next two starts. It was the only losing streak he sustained that year, when he finished 26-8 and won the second of his three career Cy Young Awards.

After missing two starts because of his suspension, Marichal went 3-4 over his final nine appearances of the season to finish at 22-13. His ERA was 1.78 before the fight and 3.55 after it.

8. The rest of the game: Bullpen bailed out Giants

Rookie infielder Bob Schroder completed the at-bat for Marichal and struck out after inheriting a 1-1 count. Ron Herbel relieved Marichal and pitched 5? innings to get the victory, and Masanori Murakami got the final two outs for the save. A year earlier, Murakami had become the first Japanese-born player to appear in a major league game. Roseboro was replaced in the Dodgers' lineup by Jeff Torborg, who would go on to manage five major league teams and win the AL Manager of the Year Award with the Chicago White Sox in 1990.

9. Marichal and Roseboro had other things on their minds

Real-world events had been a distraction for both players. Marichal was concerned about the civil war that raged in his native Dominican Republic for much of the 1965 major league season. Roseboro, meanwhile, was an African-American man who had just witnessed the Watts riots not far from his home in South Central Los Angeles. A week earlier, smoke from fires set during the riots was visible from Dodger Stadium during games.

10. Roseboro and Marichal became friends

Both men put the incident behind them even though they were often reminded of it. Marichal played for the Dodgers in 1975, his final major league season, and he was reunited with Roseboro in 1982 at an old-timers' game. At the time, Marichal hadn't yet been elected into the Hall of Fame through two years of eligibility, in part because of what he'd done to Roseboro. The men became friends, and Roseboro made it known that he held no grudge against Marichal, who is now 77.

"There were no hard feelings on my part, and I thought if that was made public, people would believe that this was really over with," Roseboro told the L.A. Times in 1990. "So I saw him at a Dodger old-timers' game and we posed for pictures together and I actually visited him in the Dominican. The next year, he was in the Hall of Fame.

When Roseboro died at age 69 in 2002, Marichal was an honorary pallbearer and a speaker at the funeral.