August 15th, 2012

‘The Bird’ is still the Word

My favorite baseball player of all time…Mark ‘The Bird’ Fidrych

Yesterday would have been the 58th birthday of former Detroit Tigers pitcher Mark ‘The Bird’ Fidrych. The age of 58 is considered fairly young, as ‘The Bird’ was taken from us early in a tragic accident in 2009. Also ending early, was Fidrych’s baseball career. For that one magic season, though, in 1976, he showed the world what baseball was really all about. He started the season as a non-roster invitee at spring training, and ended the season leading the American League in wins with a 19-9 record, a 2.34 ERA, and winning the Rookie of the Year award. He also finished second in the Cy Young voting to Jim Palmer. More than all of that, the captured the imagination of a certain child in mid-Michigan…making him a baseball fan for life. I admit, I was caught up in all that Fidrych did on the mound, and it was no wonder opposing GM’s would beg Detroit to alter its rotation to make sure he would pitch in their stadium. They knew it would be a sell out. Fans all over the country couldn’t get enough of antics of talking to the ball and manacuring the mound. He would even congratulate his teammates on a good play, or go give them a pat on the back if they made an error. For years I carried a Fidrych card in my back pocket that I had cut off of the bottom of a Hostess Twinkies box. It’s corners are jagged and it has a crease down the middle, but I still have that card to this day and it is one of my most prized possessions. I was lucky enough to meet him back in 1995 at a baseball card show and he was very thankful for his fans. When my kids were born, I mailed him a coupled of cards and he was nice enough to sign them for Lily and Trevor and send them back. He is actually Lily’s favorite player, as she grew up with stories of his craziness on the mound, but I feel bad she will never be able to meet him. He had made a few appearances at the Whitecaps ’70′s nights, too, and that would have been a fun experience. I do have a DVD of a Monday Night Baseball game during the ’76 season, where he pitched a great game en route to a victory over the New York Yankees. I’m still always in awe that the crowd would not leave until he made a certain call. I think a lot of us kids saw in him what we saw in ourselves, just a kid having fun playing a game, which is the way it should be. Mark ‘The Bird’ Fidrych was larger than life. He was a super hero and a rock star all rolled into one. After all, he was the first athlete ever to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone…

Photos courtesy of the Detroit Tigers

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