‘The Bird’ is still the Word
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…
I’m just enough younger than you that I missed seeing the Bird play live, but his were some of my favorite stories in my Dad’s baseball books, which I used to pour over as a kid. Such a talented, free spirit. Wish he’d been able to play and certainly to live much longer.
Kristen-yeah, it’s was that time where memories are a little fuzzy, but I do barely remember my first trip to Tiger Stadium, too. Fidrych is about all I can recall from the late 70’s, other than Star Wars and Scooby-Doo!!!!
Great Article! Mark Fidrych really showed the love of baseball.
I noticed your widget “Baseball Parks Visited”. Have you thought about going to Target Field?
Paul-I would love to catch a game at Target Field. I’ve heard nothing but great things about it. I would also like to see the St. Paul Saints play, too, but unfortunately there aren’t any other Minor League teams in Minn. right now to build a trip around. I like the area, though, but haven’t been their since the college hockey championships in 1994 when my Lakers beat BU 9-1!
Watching the bird take down the Yankees in Detroit is about as good as it gets. I love the moments of sheer delight when a player can take the game up a notch.
Hello! I’ve been following your blog for some time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Kingwood Texas! Just wanted to say keep up the good job!