Fifty years ago this month, I wrote a story for the Stanford Observer about “a man who never stops hustling.”
The man’s name was Mark Marquess. He was an All-America first baseman on the Stanford baseball team. Every inning, when Stanford took the field, Marquess would bolt out of the dugout and sprint to first base.
For the next half-century, Marquess never stopped hustling. He played four years in the minor leagues in the Chicago White Sox organization, then returned to his alma mater as assistant coach. In 1976 he was named head coach, a position he held for 41 seasons before retiring last year. His uniform number was 9, and most people throughout baseball referred to him simply as “9.”
“9” retired as the fourth-winningest coach in college baseball history with a record of 1,627 wins, 878 losses and 7 ties. Over 41 years, he won two-thirds of his games playing in the toughest league in the country.
Mark led Stanford to two College World Series Championships—in 1987 and ’88—and his teams finished second in 2000, ’01 and ‘03. In all, he reached the World Series 14 times and his teams won 12 conference championships. He was named national Coach of the Year three times.
Perhaps more than the championships and the awards, the thing Marquess is most proud of is that of the 60 players he coached who reached the major leagues, 52 earned their Stanford degrees. A few years ago, an MLB study revealed that of the 750 players on Opening Day rosters in the majors, only 27 had graduated from college. About half of them were from Stanford.
Mark understood that a very small percentage of college baseball players will make it to the majors, and that a Stanford degree would serve them well throughout life. So he insisted that his players take an extra course or two each year to get a little ahead academically, figuring that if they turned pro after three years just a few units shy of graduation, they’d be more likely to return and finish. He was right.
Perhaps his two greatest players were pitchers Mike Mussina, who won 270 games with the Orioles and Yankees, and Jack McDowell, a Cy Young Award winner with the White Sox. Other notables include third baseman Ed Sprague, the only player in baseball history to win the College World Series twice, the MLB World Series twice, and an Olympic gold medal, and catcher A.J. Hinch, now manager of the world champion Houston Astros.
His top recruit in 1980 was a fellow named Billy Beane, who spurned a Stanford scholarship to sign a major league contract after being a first round pick in the pro draft. Years later, the famous “Moneyball” general manager of the Oakland A’s said signing a pro contract and not attending Stanford was the biggest mistake of his life.
Mark says he’s enjoying retirement—spending time with his (appropriately) nine grandchildren, and playing some golf. “I can’t understand why it’s so hard when the darn ball doesn’t move,” he laughs.
But he misses baseball—the daily routine, the adrenaline rush of competition, and the camaraderie. He also worries about where the game is headed.
Marquess’ beloved sport has changed in recent years, with big money contracts increasing the interference from third parties. Most top players today commit to colleges in their sophomore year of high school and maintain an entourage including their own private hitting or pitching coach, club coach, agent or adviser.
So a college coach must deal with agents sitting in the stands registering pitch counts and advising their clients to throw more fastballs. Or hitting coaches who over-rule the college coach’s instructions. Or parents who want to know why their Johnny isn’t playing more.
“It’s a different world,” Marquess says. “It’s gotten harder to find players who will play for the team, and not for themselves.”
Fifty one years ago, a Stanford team went 36-6 and was ranked Number One in the country for most of the season. Their best player was a first baseman who wore uniform number 9, batted .404, and raced out of the dugout at the beginning of each inning.
That year Stanford finished third in the College World Series, losing a decisive 4-3 heartbreaker to Arizona State in 14 innings.
Both pitchers in that game, Stanford’s Rod Poteete and Arizona State’s Gary Gentry (later of New York Mets fame) pitched the entire 14 innings.
“That wouldn’t happen today,” number 9 says with a wry smile.
No, it wouldn’t.