Apr 14, 2009

"This Bird Has Flown"- Remembering Mark Fidrych (1954-2009)

In 1976 as a kid who lived, slept & ate baseball you had to love Mark Fidrych. He burst onto the scene with his long curly hair, talking to himself & the baseball, crouching down on the mound to rake the dirt with his hands, aiming the ball like dart before he threw it, and throwing other balls back to the umpire to have them removed because he felt they had hits in them. He was only 19 years old and was nicknamed “The Bird” because he looked like Sesame Street’s Big Bird character. Besides the antics he was the best pitcher in the American League that year as well. He went 19-9 leading the league with a 2.34 ERA and 24 complete games, in 250 innings pitched with 4 shut outs. He won the AL Rookie of the Year Award and started the 1976 Bicentennial All Star game in Philadelphia.

Fidrych was a non roster invitee to Spring Training in 1976, and got called up to fill a spot on the staff in May. He won his 1st outing 2-1, pitching 7 no hit innings against Cleveland, then went on to win seven of his first eight starts. By June he became a celebrity by pitching on a Monday Night Baseball game and shutting down New York. In the days before MLB Extra Innings & ESPN it was the first time he was viewed the country outside of Detroit. The ratings soared to their highest ever for a Monday Night baseball game. Soon he became the 1st athlete to ever appear on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, would make the cover of Sports Illustrated twice, and star in an Aqua Velva commercial. The chicks loved him; he drove a compact green car, lived in a Detroit apartment and only made the league minimum salary. Tiger Stadium would sell out when “The Bird” pitched; in his 18 starts he almost equaled the whole season’s attendance.

In Spring Training 1977 he tore a cartilage in his knee and went on the DL. He would only pitch in 11 games that season going 6-4 with a 2.89 ERA. Unfortunately he felt what he said was “his arm go dead” that summer and never could recover. He made a couple of comeback attempts, including one with the Red Sox that never worked out. In wasn’t until 1985 that he was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff.

He lived outside of Boston in Northborough Mass, got married in 1986 and had a daughter. He worked as a contractor hauling gravel & asphalt in a 10 wheel dump truck and helped out his in laws at their diner. Sadly he was found dead under his truck Monday Night April 13th at the age of 54.

I was shocked to find out about his death just before the National Anthem at the first game ever at Citifield. Hats off to you “Bird” you were a great part of my baseball youth, even if was only 1 summer. I can still remember the excitement of getting a 1977 Mark Fidrych AL All star baseball card the next year. I kept it with all my other ‘good cars” that year.

from centerfield: In a Mets tie in; On May 31, 1976 Fidrych got the win at Tiger Stadium pitching 11 innings striking out 8 Milwaukee Brewers. In the bottom of the 11th inning future Mets manager Jerry Manuel got a pinch hit single, stole second base and would score the winning run on a Tom Veryzer single.

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