HOUSTON — Mike Marshall knows what it must look like to the public. He has heard the conflicting advice from the team's medical personnel, the whispers among his teammates and the frustration of his manager.
He is being paid $650,000 by the Dodgers this season to hit a baseball but says he is unable to swing a bat because of a back injury that no doctor has yet been able to explain. And for the rest of 1986, Marshall has decided it would be best to not even try to swing.
"It's cut and dried that physically I can't play," Marshall said Tuesday, "but I'm embarrassed by it.
"I feel terrible about it. I'm getting paid good money to go out there and perform."
Marshall, whose back began bothering him in late June, is batting .069 (4 for 58) since July 4. He has two home runs since mid-June after leading the league at one time with 17. He has driven in seven runs in the last two months and hasn't been at bat in 26 games since Aug. 25.
Back specialist Robert Watkins has diagnosed the injury as a "mechanical strain." Team trainers describe it as stiffness and at one time said that Marshall must learn to play with the condition.
Marshall believes otherwise. Recently he went to the trainers and asked them to tell Manager Tom Lasorda that he would not hit again this season, not even in batting practice.
"I think I've improved," he said, "but now it would take me just a week to 10 days to get back into shape to hit. Why take the chance? I'd rather get healthy.
"I've always had the thought in my mind that maybe this (the back condition) is the beginning of something happening, even though they haven't detected it. That's why I've decided to continue my therapy and rest from swinging the bat.
"I know that the situation is not the best. I know the reaction to what has happened isn't the best. Why do you think I've tried to come back two or three times already?
"Anybody who says I don't have a stake in coming back and playing is ridiculous. . . . This is costing me a couple of hundred thousand dollars; it's costing me a lot of money."
Marshall has 19 home runs and 53 RBIs in 330 at-bats, a pace that projects to at least a 30-home run, 100-RBI pace over a full season. That undoubtedly would have earned him a raise into the $1-million range for next season.
That won't happen now. And for now, the Dodgers have to be wondering what will happen in the future, even though Marshall is confident he will report to spring training in good health.
"I've got a ways to go or I'd be playing," he said. "If the Dodgers are really very concerned about my future, whether I might not be able to play, sometime during the winter--whether in instructional league or winter ball, whatever the case--I'd be willing to take some swings. They have an investment in me, and they have a right to know whether I can play or not."
The Dodgers, for the most part, have been supportive, Marshall said.
"I haven't heard from anybody in the organization, except for a couple of players, who have directly come up to me and accused me of not playing hurt. By no means has anybody in the organization bad-mouthed me directly."
But Marshall suspects that Lasorda is speaking of him when he expresses frustration about his injured players.
"There's only one or two guys who he could be talking about," Marshall said. "He hasn't used my name specifically, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out who he's talking about."
Lasorda said Tuesday he doesn't question Marshall's condition.
"He's the only one who knows how he feels, he has to make the decision," Lasorda said. "I feel certain that if Mike could hit and help the club he would certainly do it. Mike Marshall works as hard as anybody I've ever seen."