“WHO REMEMBERS”……..MARK “THE BIRD” FIDRYCH


This is Chapter Six  in a developing series titled “Who Remembers…..” that aims to highlight the careers of colorful and intriguing ball players, who while not having Hall of Fame stats nevertheless made their mark on the game.

WHO WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE PROFILED NEXT…………..

He appeared like the hummingbird who comes in to your peripheral view, hovers around a flower imageflapping its wings at 80 beats per second while you watch in stunned silence, as just as suddenly as he arrived, he disappears in the blink of an eye never to be seen from again. This was the story of Mark “The Bird” Fidrych who burst upon the national stage in 1976 with the Detroit Tigers compiling a remarkable 19-9 record in his rookie season ………and a mere four years later was gone from baseball after managing just ten more wins over that span.

But for those following baseball at the time, his story was about far more than stats. In fact, no one seemed to even notice, care, or remember his stats. Because his  story is more about one of those larger than life characters who simply captured our attention, and even beyond that……..our imagination, reminding us of a time when baseball was indeed…..a “boys game”.

Here’s the rest of the story…….

Ernie Harwell, the Hall Of Fame broadcaster for the Detroit Tigers said of Fidrych “He was a little naïve, just a sweet kid, really,” 

Drafted in the tenth round, he spent two unremarkable years in the minors. Well not quite, because from the day imagein June 1974 when he showed up at the training camp of the Tigers’ low Class A Bristol (Va.) Tigers, gawky, noisy and energetic with a huge mop of curly yellow hair, he caught people’s attention. “I looked and there were arms and legs going everywhere,” a team staff member told his biographer Doug Wilson. “The curly hair was shooting out from under his hat, he was running like crazy, flapping his arms, squawking, and I looked at him and said, ‘He looks like Big Bird.’ Then I said, ‘He’s The Bird.’ And he was called The Bird from that moment on.

Jumpstartimage to two years later, when the summer of ’76 was long before nightly “SportsCenter” highlights, TMZ, the Internet, sports radio and our pervasive 24/7 sports culture. It was still the era of newspapers and four-minute sports reports on the local news.

Thus, most of us didn’t really see him until the “Monday Night Baseball” game between the Tigers and Yankees in late June. The Tigers drew nearly 48,000 that night, millions more watched on TV and Bird beat the Yankees to raise his record to 8-1 with a 2.05 ERA. And 1976 officially became the Summer of Fidrych.

Steve Rushin wrote in Sports Illustrated that at one point Fidrych was so popular he had to sign autographs from inside a cage in Anaheim to prevent a fan riot.

Fidrych was more than just a colorful pitcher, though. He was also damn good. He pitched a complete imagegame in 12 of his first 13 career starts. He threw consecutive 11-inning complete games in his third and fourth starts. He lost another game in the bottom of the 12th. He started 13 games on three days’ rest. He threw 24 complete games his rookie year, which is one fewer than Andy Pettitte threw in his entire career.

And there in might lie the reason why, for all practical purposes, “The Bird” would hardly ever fly much less soar again. Fidrych imagewould go on to win the Rookie Of The Year award in 1976 and finish second to Jim Palmer in the Cy Young voting. But knee and shoulder injuries would stall and finally put an abrupt end to his career ten wins and four years later.

For his efforts in that glorious season, he earned the minimum salary of $35,000. He would then sign a three year deal for $250,000. Following his “retirement”,  Fidrych would use most of that money to buy himself a dump truck and a farm returning to his roots in Nothboro Massachusetts, bought a farm, married and had a daughter. At the age of 54, in what was ruled an accident, he died when he was crushed by the weight imageof his truck while making a repair.

But we’ll always remember the 21-year-old rookie during the magical summer of 1976 who bopped around, talked to the baseball, got down on his hands and knees to smooth out the mound and shook infielders’ hands after good plays? Now, that was out there. In Roger Angell’s essay on the 1976 season, Fidrych explains why he threw a baseball to the umpire after a hit: “That ball had a hit in it, so I want to get it back in the ball bag and goof around with the other balls there. Maybe it’ll learn some sense and come out as a popup next time.”

Sure makes sense to me…………….

WATCH “THE BIRD” IN ACTION:

Fidrych Beats The Yankees    A Life In Baseball. (Recommended)      A Tribute To Mark Fydrich

SOURCES AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 

Doug Wilson Biography Of Mark Fidrych  Washington Post

Statistics And History   Baseball Reference   Baseball’s Beloved Mark Fidrych NY Times

On The Death Of Mark Fidrych.   Jim Caple

One response to ““WHO REMEMBERS”……..MARK “THE BIRD” FIDRYCH

  1. Pingback: THE ENTIRE “WHO REMEMBERS” SERIES | REFLECTIONS ON BASEBALL

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