Monday, August 15, 2011

Familiar Faces / Strange Places: Mark Fidrych / Red Sox

Yesterday would have been Mark Fidrych's 57th birthday. For those of you too young to remember "The Bird" -- he was one of the brightest and fastest burning stars in Major League history.

Invited to spring training in 1976 as a non-roster invitee, Mark made his debut on April 20th in Oakland. He faced one batter (Don Baylor) in the bottom of the ninth and gave up the game winning walk off single. Within a month Fidrych was the talk of baseball and led the major leagues with a 2.34 ERA, won the AL Rookie of the Year award, and finished with a 19-9 record. He was nicknamed "The Bird" as a minor leaguer because of his resemblance to the "Big Bird" character of the 1970s TV show Sesame Street.

He had a larger than life personality and his quirky antics on the field made him an immediate fan favorite. He would get down on his hands and knees to "manicure the mound", talk to himself, talk to the ball, aim the ball like a dart, strut around the mound after every out, and throw back balls that "had hits in them," insisting they be removed from the game. Mark Fidrych also was known for shaking everyone's hands after a game. Attendance at Tigers games soared when Fidrych pitched. In his 18 appearances, home attendance equaled almost half of the entire season's 81 home games. When they were on the road, teams started asking Detroit to change its pitching rotation so Fidrych could pitch in their ballparks.

He was the starting pitcher for the 1976 All Star game and finished second in the Cy Young voting (behind Jim Palmer). But his big league success was short lived. He injured his knee during spring training of 1977. After returning he felt his arm and shoulder shoulder "go dead". Nobody recognized it as a torn rotator cuff, and his big league career was a distant memory when it was finally properly diagnosed in 1985.

He continued to pitch through the injury and played well enough to be selected for the 1977 All Star game, but he declined to attend because of the injury. He made just three appearances in 1978, winning two games, but the magic was gone. He made nine starts in his final season (1980) before the Tigers released him in October in 1981.

He signed with the Boston Red Sox in February of 1982 and spent parts of two seasons pitching for their AAA team in Pawtucket, but he never got the call back the majors. His final season (1983) he finished with a 2-5 record with a 9.68 ERA.

Mark Fidrych died in April of 2009 while he was working on his 10-wheeled dump truck in his driveway. He was 54 at the time of his death. On June 19, 2009, his daughter Jessica honored her father at Comerica Park by throwing out the ceremonial first pitch after she "manicured the mound".


Cliff said...

What an awesome card! If only ...

You might enjoy this card tribute to The Bird:

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