What an unbelievably tragic five days it has been in baseball. Two weeks ago, we lost Hall Of Famer and broadcaster, George Kell. Then, Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver last week. Today, Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas died while preparing for a game, and then came news of the death of Former Tigers pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. He was only 54.
Fidrych was the most colorful player this town had ever seen. He talked to himself on the mound, he talked to the ball, and bounced around in between batters. During a rather dismal 1976 season for Detroit, Fidrych would pack fans into an otherwise anemic Tiger Stadium, each and every time he pitched.
We all loved to watch “The Bird!”
The 21 year old pitcher sported a 19-9 record, pitched 24 complete games, and had a 2.34 ERA. Subsequently, he was never able to match that season. It didn’t matter. He had already won us over, heart and spirit.
His personality off of the field was just as colorful. In 2002, he was inducted into the Baseball Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals. Unable to personally appear at the ceremonies, Thom Sharp accepted the award for him.
Fidrych was also a fascinating character, occasionally bringing to mind Yogi Berra in terms of his unique relationship to the English language.
“Bill Veeck once told Ernie Harwell that if someone had tried to stage Fidrych, it would have fallen flat; it would have been artificial and just too contrived.
During one of the Bird’s comeback tries, he made it back to the majors and was being interviewed by Harwell, who asked, ‘Hey, Bird, how’s the arm feeling?'”
“‘Hey, the arm’s feelin’ pretty good,’ Fidrych replied.
“‘Well, really, what does Dr. Livengood [the Tigers’ team physician] have to say about your arm?’ Harwell inquired.
“‘Well, he don’t know nothin’ about arms,’ Fidrych answered. ‘He’s a skin doctor. He’s one of them gynecologists.'”
“Mark Fidrych had one great, unbelievable, Cinderella year,” Sharp concluded. “And I don’t think we should feel too sorry for him that it only lasted a year. In my personal opinion, he had the best season anyone has ever had. He’s had a great life, a lot of great memories, a beautiful wife and daughter, and a strong business. And I’d just like to thank Mark Fidrych for giving me the best season I’ve ever had in baseball.”
It was magic when he pitched. He was truly special to watch.
Over the years, stars of varying magnitudes have passed through here, but for that one season in 1976, Fidrych’s star was the brightest of them all.
Thank-you for being yourself, and for not allowing anyone to change who you were.
Thank you for that season, Bird.
We all loved you, and we won’t soon forget you!