September 18, 2014

Some Stories About John Marzano

April 19, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

John Marzano died two years ago today at his home in Philadelphia. He’d spent his last three years as a player, 1996 through 1998, with the Seattle Mariners. To help remember him, here are some quotes and anecdotes from his time with the Mariners. With his fairly marginal status as a long-term backup catcher, Marzano was a little like his near-contemporaries Pat Borders and Jamie Quirk, but his personality made him stand out.

In 1998, when Marzano came in for an injured Dan Wilson for his last stretch of extended playing time in the majors, Lou Piniella said: “Put it this way. Marzie was well-rested.” More gently, he added: “He has done a nice job. He calls a good game, handles the pitching staff and is getting sharper each game he plays. What we get offensively is a bonus.”

At the time, Marzano said: “I know this isn’t going to last and we’re all looking forward to getting Danny back. I mean, he’s an All-Star catcher. I told him I’m just keeping the plate warm.”

Earlier, in May 1998, Marzano hit one of his two big-league triples and a double (he was thrown out trying for a second triple on that hit) against Roger Clemens in Toronto, driving in four runs to lead the Mariners to a win. Marzano, who was in the midst of his last and possibly greatest season, said of Clemens: “I caught him for six years and those are some of my favorite memories. But this—to have a big game against him, to help us beat him—is as good as it gets for me.”

Marzano was a realist, but not a pessimist. In early 1998 the Seattle Times ran a feature on the friendship of Marzano and Ken Griffey. Marzano said of meeting Griffey in 1996 upon arriving in Seattle: “He started getting on me in practice. I thought, ‘He doesn’t know what he’s getting into.’ A lot of people clam up in a situation like that—I didn’t clam up. Hey, I’m from South Philly.”

But Griffey was willing to take the jibes Marzano issued in return. Marzano: “When I got here, I expected him to be off limits, the superstar. That wasn’t the case.” Griffey: “You don’t take it serious when he’s talking about you, because he doesn’t take it serious when you’re talking about him. It’s just the way he is—you can’t teach that. He was blessed with a gift to make people laugh.”

Piniella said of Marzano: “The players like him, there’s no question. The chemistry factor is important, but it wasn’t the prime consideration. I like the way he handles our pitchers. And with expansion, it’s tough to find catchers now, it really is.”

Lee Pelekoudas, then the Mariners VP for baseball administration, said: “He’s the kind of player every team should have. A team needs a guy like him that keeps it loose, that everybody likes. And it seems like his defense is getting better each year.”

In late May, 2005, Marzano came down from South Philly, where he did postgame shows for the Phillies and hosted a weekly radio show, “View From Marz,” to help broadcast some Mariners’ games in Baltimore. He remembered a game on July 20, 1996: it was the last time Edgar Martinez played third base until his final game in 2004. Pat Borders, playing for the Angels, hit a pop-up and, as Marzano explained: “I looked up, then looked at Edgar and he was looking straight at me. I thought Edgar had been indicating I should take it. So I looked back up and then went after the ball, and bang.”

Marzano and Martinez both went for the ball and collided: Edgar suffered bruised ribs and was out for about three weeks, returning as a fixture at DH for close to a decade. Meanwhile, Marzano said, laughing: “I was lying there bleeding, I needed 40 stitches, and everyone ran to Edgar. Only one guy came to me. Junior. He leaned over me as I lay on the ground, my eyelid hanging off, and told me, ‘Edgar’s hurt. You’re screwed.’ “

Marzano concluded: “And you know what, those injuries, Edgar missing a month in his great years, it was all for nothing. They had called the infield-fly rule.”

Part II: An Old Story

Marzano was coached as a teenager in the late ’70s in South Philadelphia by Gabriel Di Feliciantonio, aka Spanky. Marzano’s dad, John Jr., died from a heart attack in 1990, and “Spanky” became Marzano’s father figure from that time onward. Spanky said of life in South Philly: “You can only be three kinds of things if you’re from South Philly: a baseball player, a singer or a gangster. Fortunately, he chose the right one.”

Recalling days gone by, Spanky said that a 14-year-old Marzano was hit in the eye by a ball while warming up before one championship game. Marzano went to the hospital for stitches but had returned to the ballfield when, with dusk looming and no lights available, the umpires said the game was in its final inning.

Marzano’s team was down 7-5 with two outs, having loaded the bases for one last shot at victory. The team’s weakest hitter was due up: Spanky looked around for a pinch hitter, but there wasn’t anyone on the bench. He heard a shout: it was Marzano, running in from the parking lot with the stitches on his forehead breaking and blood seeping out from the wound. He was ready to play, and Spanky ignored the blood and decided to put Marzano in there.

Marzano swung and missed once, then swung and missed again. The blood was running down into his eyes and he couldn’t see the ball to hit it. But on the third pitch, he swung, connected, and the ball sailed out beyond the right-centerfield fence. Marzano lifted his fists up over his head as he rounded the bases in glory.

Arne Christensen runs Misc. Baseball, a blog assembling eclectic items about baseball’s history, and 1995 Mariners.

Comments

One Response to “Some Stories About John Marzano”
  1. Steve Lenox says:

    Good stuff Arne. Thank you for sharing. I had a chance to interview John when I was with XM Radio. The day I introduced myself to him on the field at Citizen’s Bank Park prior to Phillies game, he couldn’t have been nicer. The next day we chatted again and John treated me as if we had been friends for years.

    He’s missed.

    Steve

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