Marichal and Roseboro Revisited; The NCAA Playoff Scenario

marichal roseboro

What Baseball’s Most Famous Brawl Photo Didn’t Show You

David Davis
It’s been 49 years since Giants ace Juan Marichal clocked Dodgers catcher John Roseboro with his bat. The moment was captured in Neil Leifer’s iconic photograph, which in turn shaped the collective memory of the incident. Today, Marichal is remembered as the villain, Roseboro as the helpless innocent in the middle of what looks like a mob action. But it turns out that the photo, a compelling image of one of the most disturbing moments in baseball history, is also a bit of a lie.

That’s the Dodgers’ ace, Sandy Koufax. He and Marichal were facing off at Candlestick Park that afternoon—Aug. 22, 1965—in the finale of their four-game series, in the thick of a pennant race. The series had already been testy, even by the standards of a rivalry that had survived the cross-country exodus of 1957. In the second game, Roseboro objected to a pulled-back bunt attempt by Giants outfielder Matty Alou in which Alou seemed to flick Roseboro’s mitt. Marichal came to the defense of his friend and teammate, yelling at Roseboro from the dugout steps. According to John Rosengren’s The Fight of Their Lives: How Juan Marichal and John Roseboro turned Baseball’s Ugliest Brawl into a Story of Forgiveness and Redemption, Roseboro glared at the pitcher.

“You sonofabitch, if you have something to say, come out here and say it to my face!” Roseboro yelled. Then he said to Alou: “If he doesn’t shut his big mouth, he’ll get a ball right behind his ear.”

Two days later, with Koufax and Marichal on the mound, things were still tense. In the top of the second, Marichal threw at the Dodgers’ leadoff speedster, Maury Wills. Koufax responded in the bottom of the inning by sailing one over Willie Mays’s head. Marichal responded in the top of the third by coming in on right fielder Ron Fairly, sending him to the ground. The ump, Shag Crawford, warned both benches.

“Who do you want me to get?” Koufax asked Roseboro, according to Rosengren’s book.

“I’ll take care of it,” Roseboro replied.

That’s John Roseboro. A rock behind the plate, Roseboro, in the words of columnist Jim Murray, was a “no-nonsense, show-up-for-work guy … conscientious—and ballplayers who are, are in shorter supply than .400 hitters.” He also knew how to fight, having been trained in boxing and karate.

Roseboro had more than baseball on his mind that day. A week before the game, he’d seen the Watts Riots engulf Los Angeles. One night, according to The Fight of Their Lives, he scooped up the guns around his house in south-central L.A. and kept vigil by the front door. By the time he and the Dodgers left for San Francisco, the riots had caused $40 million in property damage, 34 deaths, and more than 1,000 injuries. “I’d wake up in the morning and say to myself, ‘Why are they playing games?'” Roseboro said, according to Rosengren.

But here he was anyway, playing games on Aug. 22. Marichal was leading off the bottom of the third. Everyone expected a brushback. Here’s how John Rosengren describes what happened:

Koufax curved a pitch across the plate. Crawford called it a strike. Juan exhaled. He prepared to swing at the next pitch. Roseboro called for a fastball. Low and inside. Sandy delivered. Juan held off.

John intentionally dropped the ball, moved behind Marichal to pick it up, and whizzed his throw past Juan’s face. Marichal later said the ball clipped his ear. He turned to face Roseboro. “Why you do that, coño?!”he demanded.

Roseboro, one of the strongest men in baseball, had decided that if Marichal challenged him, he was going to “annihilate” him. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Roseboro dropped his mitt and stepped toward Marichal. “Fuck you and your mother!”

“Game delayed, argument,” read the Western Union ticker.

Marichal clubbed Roseboro with his Louisville Slugger, catching him above his left eye and opening up a two-inch gash. They staggered toward the pitcher’s mound in a scrum, as players and coaches from both teams raced toward them. Crawford took down Marichal, who lay on his back, kicking. Willie Mays grabbed a bleeding Roseboro and helped restore peace, leading to another classic Leifer photo.

After the 14-minute brawl, Mays homered off Koufax, and the Giants went on to win, 4-3.

That’s Giants second baseman Tito Fuentes, bat seemingly at the ready. If you watch film of the incident, you’ll see that Fuentes plays no role in the fight. He never swings the bat, and in fact it gets plucked out of his hand as other players swarm the field. But he lends the photo a sinister air, as if he and Marichal are ganging up on the stricken Roseboro.

Fuentes, who would enjoy a long career as a bat-flipping showman, was 21 at the time. He’d debuted just a few days earlier, part of an influx of Latino players to which Sports Illustrated dedicated a remarkably ham-fisted story in its Aug. 9 issue. (The Giants had a number of Latino ballplayers: Marichal, Fuentes, Matty and Jesús Alou, and Orlando Cepeda.) “Caribbeans in general have the reputation for being temperamental, and the ballplayers are no exception,”Robert H. Boyle wrote, adding that because of his prideful bearing, “a Latin must be handled more tactfully than his American teammates. The Latin shows a tendency to take criticism, however well intentioned, as a personal affront.” He also wrote that “Latins sometimes play with a reckless individuality. Indeed it is the individuality in baseball that they like.”

The magazine would be echoed after the incident by columnists like Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who wrote,”These young Caribbean hot bloods absolutely must be taught restraint.”

Esteemed photographer Neil Leifer was not supposed to be at Candlestick that afternoon because he had already shot the first three games of the series. But he convinced his assignment editor at Sports Illustrated, George Bloodgood, to allow him to stay over so he could concentrate on shooting Koufax and Marichal using color film.

He set up behind home plate, between the backstop and the first row of seats, in a narrow walkway that was primarily used for television cameras. Thus, he was perfectly positioned to shoot Marichal’s Game of Thrones moment.

Leifer, it should be noted, has made a habit of being in the right place at the right time to capture indelible moments in sports history. He snapped Ali standing over Liston in 1965 as well as Alan Ameche’s touchdown in the gloaming in 1958.

The Marichal-Roseboro fight happened “so fast,” Leifer told me recently, that he had “no idea” if he’d gotten the shot. All he knew was, he was on the 36 th frame of a 36-picture roll of film.

Yes, film: Remember that? “The two things you worried about in those days were focus and exposure—two things nobody worries about today,” he said, referring to the advent of digital photography. “I wasn’t too worried about the exposure—it was pretty basic because it was a sunny day—but the focus is never a sure thing. I was using a 180-millimeter lens, and I was probably about 80 feet from home plate. The only thing I knew was, mine was the only picture taken at field level. There was no one else down there.”

Leifer hand-carried the film back to New York that night. When the magazine’s editors saw what he had, Leifer recalled, they changed the layout to make his photo the lead. His composition turned out to be excellent. The bodies and bats in the foreground and the stands in the background converge to frame Roseboro’s falling body. Your eye is drawn to him as, arms extended, he crumbles to the grass as in a sacrifice.

The photograph appeared in the Aug. 30, 1965, edition of SI, accompanied by the text: “‘Giants’ pitcher Juan Marichal, swinging his bat like a henchman’s ax, had opened a two-inch gash and raised a swelling the size of a cantaloupe on the left side of Roseboro’s head.'”

Like Roseboro, Marichal had things on his mind beyond baseball. He’d spent that whole summer worried sick about the safety of his family and his homeland as the Dominican Republic fractured into a violent civil war. A wealthy landowner with connections through his in-laws to the barbarous ruling Trujillo family, Marichal backed the conservative cause that would eventually regain the presidency in the form of Joaquín Balaguer. Earlier that year, President Lyndon Johnson, fearing a “second Cuba” was in the offing, had sent U.S. forces to the D.R. in an attempt to assert order in the country. “I really don’t think Juan should have been playing at all,” Willie Mays would later tell The New York Times. “He was pretty strung out, full of fear and anger, and holding it inside.”

Marichal received the balance of the blame for the fight. He was suspended for eight playing dates—two starts, essentially—and fined $1,750. Roseboro went so far as to sue Marichal, eventually settling out of court for $7,500. The Dodgers wound up winning the ’65 National League pennant by two games over the Giants.

It would be years before Roseboro admitted his own role in touching off the brawl. “It was intentional all right,” he said in his autobiography, Glory Days with the Dodgers, and Other Days with Others (written with Bill Libby) in 1978, referring to his ear-grazing throw. “I meant for him to feel it.” He’d been steeling himself for a fight, too. “I was so mad I’d made up my mind that if he protested, I was going after him. He protested, so I started out of my crouch. … I went to hit him with a punch, and he hit me with his bat.”

Which brings us back to Leifer’s photograph, a perfect shot that in a way was too perfect, too articulate, too neatly resonant with the major themes of the day. It showed, or seemed to show, the martyrdom of Johnny Roseboro at a time when Civil Rights advocates were being pummeled by firehoses, German shepherds, and, yes, baseball bats. It showed, or seemed to show, the embodiment of the prevailing stereotype of the “hot-tempered” Latino ballplayer, even though Marichal was anything but hot-tempered.

Great photos tell their own stories, occasionally at the expense of the events being depicted. You think of Leifer’s other famous photograph from that year, the one of Muhammad Ali exulting over the stricken Sonny Liston. Through the prism of Ali’s greatness, it’s seen as a portrait of dominance, such that it blots out the squalid and hinky circumstances of the fight and the knockout itself. Leifer captured Marichal’s disproportionate response in such a way that few people remember or even care about the provocation.

Roseboro and Marichal would eventually strike up a friendship. When Marichal’s Hall of Fame candidacy ran aground on sportswriters’ lingering memories of the fight, Roseboro began to stump for his old nemesis. Upon election in 1983, Marichal phoned up Roseboro to tell him the news.

“I’m going to Cooperstown,” he said, as recounted in The Fight of Their Lives. “Thank you. Thank you.”

Then the two men cried together.


fsu football

Matt Brown
More from Matt


Projecting the Playoff
Yes, it is really happening, the moment we thought might never come: A college football season with a playoff — a real, live playoff — is actually underway, at long last. It may be only four teams when many want six, eight or more, but at last we have something that is not as ambiguous as the rest of college football history. Four teams will play, and a legitimate national champion will be crowned. For once, college football has gotten more logical.

Through all the debate about the playoff, it is important to remember one thing: The College Football Playoff was not created to solve all arguments. There will be as much controversy as ever, because the only way to make everyone happy is to have a 128-team tournament; someone is going to get left out, because someone always gets left out. But the good news is that leaving out the fifth team is a much better option than leaving out the third team. By expanding the field to a playoff of four from the two of the BCS, there’s a significantly smaller chance that the actual, deserving national champion gets stuck playing a consolation game.

Now, all that’s left, after months upon months of speculation, is for the selection committee to actually get in a room and rank football teams to show us how things will really function, so we can all get mad at tangible situations instead of hypotheticals.

Unanswered Questions

All anyone can seem to talk about is the impact of strength of schedule now vs. the BCS era. Everything revolves around the assumption that the committee will weigh strength of schedule heavily, and thus we’ve seen all of the bickering between conferences about eight- vs. nine-game conference schedules, playing FCS opponents and playing Group of Five opponents, along with the continued scheduling of high-profile neutral site nonconference games early in the season.

But we still don’t really know, because we don’t know how much committee members will set new precedents in a new system versus acting like voters have always done. Going undefeated has always been the standard for national-championship success. Win all your games in the regular season, and unless you are Boise State or there are three undefeated teams, you’ll get a title shot. It’s hard to imagine that not continuing to be a standard, because there’s no possible way that a Power Five conference team goes undefeated and gets left out of the playoff. It’s just not going to happen, unless we have a rare year with five unbeatens, now that a third unbeaten team has little danger of getting left out like Auburn in 2004.

The fuzzy area becomes one-loss teams vs. two-loss teams fighting for that fourth (or even third) seed. Say Wisconsin loses to LSU, then runs the table against a weak Big Ten West and beats Michigan State in the league title game to finish 12-1. Say UCLA loses to Oregon and Washington in the regular season, then beats Oregon to win the Pac-12 title game and finish 11-2. Who gets in? In this scenario, Wisconsin would have a loss to a quality opponent (LSU) and wins over Michigan State, Iowa and Nebraska. UCLA would have wins over Texas, Arizona State, USC, Stanford and Oregon with losses to Oregon and Washington. How much does that one loss weigh? Wouldn’t Wisconsin have finished with at least two losses had it played UCLA’s schedule? These are the key questions the committee faces — and that’s not even getting into a situation in which the argument is, say, one-loss Wisconsin vs. a two-loss Auburn that finished second in its division but played one of the nation’s hardest schedules. What happens if a team that didn’t win its conference and has two losses gets in the playoff over a conference champion that has a better record? If the committee acts more like voters have for years than some expect, the answer is easy: The team with the better record will get in. If the committee is more aggressive, then things are going to become very, very messy. In a good way.

In an ideal world, the committee is taking much more into account. It’s not just strength of schedule, it’s how a team performs against the schedule it has — something that’s often determined by chance. This is where the noticeable lack of an analytics presence on the selection committee could become a big problem. Then again, we may be overstating just how different this system is going to be from the natural voting patterns we’ve seen throughout the BCS era. Again, it’s going to be messy, but this sport has always been messy. That doesn’t mean expanding to four isn’t a big step in the right direction.

Who Might Get Left Out?

No major conference will ever want to get left out of the playoff, but this season feels especially important. We’re going to finally get evidence of how the system works (and what doesn’t work), and at least one conference (possibly two) is going to be left unhappy. The committee is surely hoping that four conference champions finish undefeated and the fifth has two losses, but we all know that nothing is ever so easy.


It’s likely Florida State or bust for the ACC. Clemson’s defense will make it competitive all season, putting it in good position for the Orange Bowl. But while teams like North Carolina, Miami, Virginia Tech and Louisville, among others, could all be solid teams capable of pulling upsets, none are complete enough to make a run at the playoff. Any non-Florida State one-loss team would have trouble cracking a four-team playoff field. Despite a somewhat weak schedule, though, Florida State will probably be in a position in which it can afford one loss, because of the cachet it has built for itself and the talent everyone knows it has acquired.

Big 12

The Big 12 champion may need to go undefeated. At many points throughout history, an Oklahoma-Tennessee game might be a battle of two heavyweights, but that’s not the case this year. With nine-game conference schedules, Oklahoma plays Tennessee, Tulsa and Louisiana Tech. Baylor, meanwhile, plays just about nothing: SMU, Northwestern State and Buffalo. Throw in the lack of a conference championship game, and there aren’t many opportunities for high-profile wins in the Big 12 this year. Other than the two favorites, Kansas State plays Auburn, Texas plays UCLA and Oklahoma State plays Florida State, but it’s hard to imagine any being in a position to make the playoff. Also, remember that last season the BCS ranked 11-1 Big 12 champion Baylor sixth at the end of the regular season, one spot behind 11-2 Stanford.

Big Ten

The Big Ten did itself no favors with scheduling, as Michigan State-Nebraska is the only high-profile cross-division game until the league championship game. Michigan State is in the best position for many reasons, even if it does lose a game: It has few weakness, it gets Ohio State at home, it actually does have a decent opponent from the other division and it plays Oregon in nonconference play. Still, would one loss be good enough? Last year, Michigan State finished fourth in the BCS at 12-1, one spot ahead of 11-2 Stanford — which played a tougher schedule but lost to Utah and was ranked ahead of one-loss Big 12 champion Baylor. That, right there, is the important scenario the selection committee will have to solve (Michigan State, of course, went on to beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl). Beyond the Spartans, Ohio State still can’t be dismissed, depending on the play of new QB J.T. Barrett, although its West opponents are Minnesota and Purdue. And good records for Wisconsin and Iowa can’t be discounted, as few conference contenders have easier roads. A one-loss Michigan State with a decent resume is one thing; few things would create more debate than a 12-1 Iowa, with its schedule, wedging itself into the conversation.


The Pac-12 may end up having an argument with the SEC over who the best conference is, and thus it seems that it should have a great argument for getting into the playoff at the end of the season. The Pac-12 has great coaching talent, and in turn it has gotten better and better with fantastic depth. The problem? Everyone beating each other up. Everyone ended up with multiple losses last season, with Stanford finishing fifth in the final BCS standings despite playing a brutal schedule, and the same could happen this season, with Oregon, UCLA and Stanford standing out again, and USC and Washington (and possibly others like Arizona State) contending as well. Throw in a nine-game conference schedule and a conference title game, and making it through the season with one loss, let alone unscathed, is a tough ask unless someone emerges as a Florida State-like juggernaut. This is where the narrow playoff field really makes things interesting — and makes it seem that an expanded bracket is likely before too long.


The ACC’s ties to Florida State aside, the SEC is least likely conference to get left out because of the reputation it has built, and because of the quality of teams it has. Despite the ACC’s national title, the SEC is still king, and it’s still likely to have at least one — possibly more — team well positioned to make the make the playoff field. Like the Pac-12, it’s possible that no team will distance itself and that a bunch of good teams beat up on each other, but an SEC team hasn’t been left out of the top two since 2005, let alone the top four. Unless the SEC champion is the only one that doesn’t finish undefeated, it’s really hard to imagine the SEC on the outside looking in. But if Alabama is 11-2 and Michigan State is 12-1 with a win over Oregon? The regional arguing will be as loud as 2006, when an Ohio State-Michigan rematch almost happened instead of Ohio State-Florida. Leave out Michigan State in that situation, and suddenly Jim Delany will be an eight-team playoff supporter.

Group of Five

Well, not going to happen.

Playoff Predictions

Sugar Bowl (semifinal): Florida State vs. Auburn. Rematch No. 1 of the 2013 season, only in the opposite bowl game as Florida State gets “home-field advantage” by playing at the location closer to Tallahassee. While there appear to be no losses on the Florida State schedule, it’s still going to be difficult for the Seminoles to go undefeated again. That doesn’t mean they can’t do it; they so clearly have more talent than everyone else in the country. Fight off complacency, and there’s no reason this team can’t get back to the championship game as the No. 1 seed.

As for Auburn, it must navigate a brutal schedule that features a nonconference date with Kansas State and cross-division games against SEC East frontrunners Georgia and South Carolina. Still, don’t just think about the Tigers’ lucky finishes last year: You could say they essentially played both Florida State and Alabama to draws, and that in itself proves how quickly Gus Malzahn turned things around for the most explosive ground game in college football. If the Tigers somehow finish with one loss (Alabama?), they can slip in even without winning the SEC title, assuming the Pac-12 champion and the Big Ten champion have two losses.

Rose Bowl (semifinal): Oklahoma vs. Alabama. And we have another rematch, again in the opposite bowl game. Oklahoma understandably has its doubters, and it’s possible Trevor Knight won’t live up to the offseason hype, or he won’t get enough help at the skill positions. But Oklahoma has the potential for a great defense, and Knight has the potential to be a Heisman candidate. With a relatively thin schedule, the Sooners may have to go undefeated, but that’s certainly in the cards. Here it earns them the No. 2 seed.

The Crimson Tide are trying to rebound from that disastrous performance against the Sooners at the Sugar Bowl, and they’re doing it with Lane Kiffin as the new offensive coordinator and a still-undecided QB battle between Jacob Coker and Blake Sims. What could go wrong? Well, probably not much. It’s still Alabama. It still recruits better than everyone. It still has deep talent bases at the skill positions and in the defensive front. It’s still the best non-Florida State bet for a playoff spot. The prediction here is that Alabama slips up against LSU, then beats Auburn and Georgia to win the SEC, earning the third seed.

Major Bowls

The Power Five conferences and the top-ranked team in the Group of Five are all guaranteed a spot in either the playoff or the other major bowls. When not hosting a semifinal, the Orange (ACC vs. Big Ten/SEC/Notre Dame), Sugar (Big 12 vs. SEC) and Rose (Big Ten vs. Pac-12) have permanent tie-ins. The remaining teams will be selected by the committee, and matchups will take geography into account.

Orange: Clemson vs. Michigan State. The ACC Coastal champion could get this spot (North Carolina is the prediction), but Clemson still appears to be the second-best team in the ACC and just happens to be stuck behind the Seminoles in the Atlantic. Michigan State represents the Big Ten, coming up just short of a playoff bid but winning the conference championship.

Peach: Georgia vs. UCF. Georgia gets what’s essentially a home game against the top Group of Five team, a Knights group that edges out Marshall and Houston for the bid. The SEC East champion could provide an interesting test for the committee if it loses the conference title game and is competing with the No. 2 team in the West for a playoff spot.

Fiesta: USC vs. South Carolina. USC gets a spot close to home as the Pac-12 champion, while South Carolina slips in as the last at-large bid and gets sent west to face the Trojans in a surprisingly rare SEC vs. Pac-12 bowl matchup. The two haven’t met since 1983, so mostly this can help decide who actually gets to be called “USC.” (Note: This will always be Southern California, regardless of result. Sorry, Gamecocks.)

Cotton: Oregon vs. Baylor. Oregon loses a playoff opportunity by falling to USC in the Pac-12 title game, sending it to a Cotton Bowl consolation — ostensibly a road game against Big 12 runner-up Baylor. No casual viewers — except maybe Nick Saban and Bret Bielema — would be unhappy getting to watch these offenses occupy the same field.

National Championship: Florida State over Oklahoma

I don’t want to pick a repeat. I don’t want to do it. But if Florida State stays relatively healthy again, it’s hard to imagine anyone standing in its way. It has a Heisman winner at quarterback; an offensive line with five seniors; stars at wide receiver, running back and tight end; standout defensive ends; and an incredibly deep secondary. It even has the Groza Award winner at kicker. The Seminoles’ schedule is a bit tougher than last year, but there still aren’t many chances to slip up, for a team this talented across the board that will be favored by multiple touchdowns every week. This season could look a lot like last season for Florida State, only it will have to beat two top-four opponents instead of one to capture back-to-back titles.

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Contact Matt at and follow him on Twitter @MattBrownCFB.


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