It was incredible, and for a young kid of seven, it was one of the first hypes I remember as a baseball fan.
The antics: talking to the baseball, grooming the mound, and all-around clownish behavior made him an instant favorite of mine back then.
There was so much I was learning about baseball all at once, and one thing I thought I learned was that guys like this were always around. Little did I know that what I was seeing was something truly special.
Well, we all know the story: Fidrych came up later in the season, having only pitched one inning as of mid-May, until a lucky break had him spot start for the Tigers where he ended up pitching a complete game two-hitter. In his first 13 starts, Fidrych had a remarkable 120 1/3 innings pitched. That's MORE than nine-innings a start due to three 11-inning games. Amazing.
By early July, as the media took hold of the story, "The Bird" was 9-1 with a 1.85 E.R.A. and was picked, as a rookie, to start the All-Star game for the American League.
By now he was taking over the baseball world, and everyone loved the show, including me!
He ended his season as Rookie of the Year, with a league-leading 2.34 E.R.A and 24 complete games out of 29 starts with a 19-9 record.
When the new 1977 cards came out, I was anxious for my "Bird" card, and it didn't disappoint! I still look into that face and see the playfulness and fun this guy brought to the game, whether it was on the field or giving hilarious quotes during interviews!
That playful look says it all. One of my all-time favorite cards for everything it conveys just from his wide eyes and smile.
Sadly, after a dead arm the following season and repeated attempts at comebacks, Fidrych hung up the cleats by 1980 and ended up working as a contractor and fixing up his farmhouse back home in Northborough, Ma.
Turns out a torn rotator cuff went undiagnosed for years, and by the time this was discovered in 1985, all hopes of a repair and a comeback to baseball was long gone.
As it seems to happen with so many larger than life characters who come in and out our lives, Fidrych met an untimely death on April 13th, 2009 at the age of only 54 when the truck he was working under caught his clothing.
I'll always remember that season, just as I was religiously forming my baseball addiction, and this "crazy" bird-man was always on T.V., talking to the baseball and smiling his way into my psyche.
Here's to you Mark Fidrych. Glad we have this classic card to keep that time in our memories forever.
|"The Bird"- The photo says it all...|