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Mark Fidrych

Mark Steven "The Bird" Fidrych (born August 14, 1954 in Worcester, Massachusetts) is a retired Major League Baseball player for the Detroit Tigers from 1976-1980.

1976 Rookie of the Year

The son of an assistant school principal, he played baseball at Algonquin Regional High School in Northborough, Massachusetts, and at Worcester Academy, an elite day and boarding school in Central Massachusetts. In the 1974 amateur draft, he was not selected until the 10th round, when the Detroit Tigers picked him. In the minor leagues one of his coaches dubbed the lanky right-handed pitcher "The Bird" because of his resemblance to "Big Bird" of the Sesame Street television program.

Fidrych made the Tigers as a non-roster invitee out of the spring training, not making his major-league debut until April 20, and not making his first start until mid-May. He only made that start because the scheduled starting pitcher had the flu. Fidrych responded by throwing seven no-hit innings, ending the game with a 2-1 victory in which he only gave up two hits. He went on to win a total of 19 games, led the league in ERA (2.34) and complete games (24), was the starting pitcher in that year's All-Star Game, won the American League Rookie of the Year Award, and finished second in voting for the Cy Young Award.

Personality

In the process Fidrych also captured the imagination of fans with his antics on the field. He would crouch down on the pitcher's mound and fix cleat marks, what became known as "manicuring 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. On June 28, 1976 he pitched against the New York Yankees in a nationally televised game on ABC; the Tigers won the game 5-1. After a game filled with "Bird" antics in which he and his team handily defeated the Yankees, Fidrych became an instant national celebrity.

Every time he pitched, Tiger Stadium was jam-packed with adoring fans. In his 18 appearances, attendance equalled almost half of the entire season's 81 home games. Teams started asking Detroit to change its pitching rotation so Fidrych could pitch in their ballparks, and he appeared on the cover of numerous magazines, such as Sports Illustrated (twice, including once with Sesame Street character Big Bird), The Sporting News, and became the first athlete to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone. In one week, Fidrych turned away five people who wanted to be his agent, saying, "Only I know my real value and can negotiate it."

Fidrych also drew attention for the simple, bachelor lifestyle he led in spite of his fame, driving a green subcompact car, living in a small Detroit apartment, wondering aloud if he could afford to answer all of his fan mail on his league-minimum $16,500 salary, and telling people that if he hadn't been a pitcher, he'd work pumping gas in Northborough. He fascinated everyone, most especially young girls, with his frizzy blond curls, blue jeans, and devil-may-care manner.

At the end of his rookie season, the Tigers gave him a $25,000 bonus and signed him to a three-year contract worth $255,000. Economists estimated that the extra attendance Fidrych generated around the league in 1976 was worth more than $1 million. Fidrych also did an Aqua Velva television commercial after the 1976 season.

Chronology of "The Bird"'s 1976 season

  • May 15: Fidrych won his first major league start. Fidrych pitched a complete game, allowing only two hits in a 2-1 victory over the Indians. Fidrych took a no-hitter through six innings, but gave up a single to Buddy Bell in the seventh. Aside from his fine pitching, Fidrych drew attention for talking to the ball during the game‚ and patting down the mound each inning. Tom Veryzer had the game-winning RBI for Detroit with a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning. After the game, Rico Carty of the Indians said he thought Fidrych was so up for the game that he thought Fidrych "was trying to hypnotize them." Mark Fidrych, "No Big Deal" (1977), p. 131.
  • May 25: Fidrych pitched well in his second start, holding the Red Sox to six hits and two runs, but the Tigers were shut out, 2-0, by Luis Tiant. Pitching in his home town, Fidrych gave up a home run to Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski. When asked how it felt to give up a home run to Yaz, Fidrych said: "It blew my mind. It blew my goddam mind. Just because ... hey the only reason it blew my mind was because, here I am, goin', I'm in front of my -- Fenway Park." Mark Fidrych, "No Big Deal" (1977), p. 146.
  • May 31: Manager Ralph Houk let rookie Fidrych go 11 innings for a complete game, 5-4 win over the Brewers. Fidrych gave up a run in the top of the 11th inning, but the Tigers rallied in the bottom of the 11th on singles by Chuck Scrivener, Jerry Manuel, and Tom Veryzer. Ron LeFlore had two triples in the game.
  • June 5: Fidrych pitched his second straight 11-inning complete game, beating Bert Blyleven and the Texas Rangers, 3-2. Ben Oglivie scored the winning run in the top of the 11th, and The Bird pitched a 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the 11th against the heart of the Rangers lineup (Mike Hargrove, Toby Harrah, and Jeff Burroughs).
  • June 11: "Bird"-mania began to take hold in Detroit. A crowd of 36,377 showed up in Detroit for a Friday night game, as Fidrych faced Nolan Ryan. Fidrych gave up only one earned run, and the Tigers came out on top, 4-3. The Tigers won on a walk-off single by Alex Johnson in the bottom of the ninth inning, with Ron LeFlore scoring the winning run.
  • June 16: The Tigers drew 21,659 on a Wednesday night to watch Fidrych win his fifth game. Fidrych held the Royals to five hits and two earned runs. The Tigers trailed 3-2 going into the bottom of the ninth inning, but the Tigers rallied for two runs off singles by Dan Meyer and Alex Johnson, and a walk by Aurelio Rodriguez. Mickey Stanley ended it with a walk-off single to right field, driving in Johnson.
  • June 20: The Tigers beat the Twins, 7-3, in Minneapolis, as Fidrych extended his record to 6-1. Jason Thompson hit a three-run home run in the 3rd inning for the Tigers.
  • June 24: Fidrych drew 26,293 fans to Fenway Park for a Thursday night game, as the Tigers won, 6-3. Jason Thompson homered and Fidrych pitched another complete game.
  • June 28: Fidrych was in the spotlight, as the Tigers faced the Yankees on Monday Night Baseball. In front of a crowd of 47,855 at Tiger Stadium and a national television audience, "The Bird" talked to the ball and groomed the mound, as the Tigers won, 5-1 in a game that lasted only 1 hour and 51 minutes. After the game, the crowd would not leave the park until Fidrych came out of the dugout to tip his cap. In his book "No Big Deal," Fidrcyh said: "Everyone picks out that game. Why? Why is that game -- just 'cause it's on national TV and I won? Say it was national TV and I lost. Right?" Mark Fidrych, "No Big Deal" (1977), p. 149.
  • July 3: As the country prepared to celebrate the Bicentennial, Mark Fidrych shut out the Orioles 4-0 in front of a sell out crowd of 51,032 at Tiger Stadium. Fidrych gave up only four hits and extended his record to 9-1.
  • July 9: Pitching in front of another sell-out crowd (51,041) at Tiger Stadium, Fidrych held the Royals to one run in nine innings, but Dennis Leonard shut out the Tigers. The final score was Royals - 1; Tigers - 0.
  • July 13: Fidrych gave up two runs and was tagged as the losing pitcher in the All Star Game. The National League won, 7-1.
  • July 16: Fidrych won his 10th game, a 1-0 victory over the A's. Another big crowd (45,905) showed up to watch "The Bird" do his thing on the mound at Tiger Stadium.
  • July 20: A crowd of over 30,000 showed up on a Tuesday night in Minneapolis to watch "The Bird." It was The Bird's 13th start, and the Twins released 13 homing pigeons on the mound before the game. According to Fidrych, "they tried to do that to blow my concentration." Mark Fidrych, "No Big Deal" (1977), p. 174. It didn't work. Fidrych pitched another complete game and got his 11th win, 8-3. Rusty Staub and Ron LeFlore homered for the Tigers.
  • July 24: Fidrych drew another big crowd to Tiger Stadium (37,405), but lasted only 4-1/3 innings. John Hiller got the win in relief, as Ben Oglivie hit a home run in the eighth inning to give the Tigers a 5-4 win over the Indians. After the game, Fidrych was interviewed on live television, and a small controversy arose when Fidrych said "bullshit" on the air. Fidrych recalled: "He said, it looked like you were gonna cry. I just said, No, I wasn't about to cry, I was just bullshit. ... And then I said, Excuse me. I said, I didn't mean to swear on the air but I just showed you my feelings." Mark Fidrych, "No Big Deal" (1977), p. 170. The next day, Fidrych was fined $250 by Bowie Kuhn. Fidrych, "No Big Deal," p. 172.
  • July 29: Fidrych took a loss despite pitching a six-hit complete game and not allowing an earned run. The Orioles shut out the Tigers, 1-0, as Lee May scored an unearned run in the fourth inning on an error by Detroit second baseman Pedro García. Rusty Staub tripled in the bottom of the fourth, but did not score as Willie Horton and Alex Johnson followed with ground balls to third base.
  • August 7: Fidrych got his 12th win against the Indians, a complete game six-hitter, by a score of 6-1. Ben Oglivie went 3-for-4 with two RBIs. Dan Meyer and Ron LeFlore scored two runs each.
  • August 11: The Tigers beat the Rangers, 4-3, as Fidrych notched his 13th win over Gaylord Perry. The Tigers drew 36,523 for a Wednesday game in Detroit. Rusty Staub and Willie Horton both hit home runs for Detroit.
  • August 17: Despite a losing record, the Tigers drew a season-high 51,822 fans on a Tuesday night, as Bird-mania reached a frenzy. The game featured Fidrych against Frank Tanana. Fidrych did not disappoint the fans, as the Tigers won 3-2. Fidrych went to 14-4.
  • August 25: The Tigers beat the White Sox, 3-1, in front of 40,000 fans on a Wednesday night in Detroit. Rookie Fidrych held the White Sox to five hits in a game that lasted only one hour and 48 minutes.
  • September 3: The Tigers lost to the Brewers, 11-2, as Fidrych had the worst outing of his young career, and Mike Hegan hit for the cycle for Milwaukee. Fidrych gave up nine runs (seven earned) in 3-2/3 innings.
  • September 12: The Tigers beat Dock Ellis, 3-0, in front of 52,707 fans at Yankee Stadium. Fidrych pitched a complete game shutout for his 16th win.
  • September 18: Fidrych and the Tigers beat the Indians, 4-0. Willie Horton had a double, a home run, and two RBIs, and Fidrych held the Indians to five hits for his 18th win. The Bird continued his pattern of fast-paced games, as the game lasted only 1 hour and 48 minutes.
  • September 22: Without The Bird pitching, the Tigers did not draw well. On this date, a season-low 3,616 fans showed up at Tiger Stadium to watch the Indians shut out the Tigers, 3-0.
  • October 2: In his last start of the 1976 season, Fidrych got his 19th win, beating the Brewers, 4-1. Fidrych held the Brewers to five hits in a game that lasted 1 hour and 46 minutes.
  • November 5: The Cy Young Award is announced, with Jim Palmer taking the award over Fidrych.

Fidrych's 1976 award and leaderboard appearances

For the 1976 season, Fidrych was nominated for several awards and ranked among baseball's leaders in multiple categories.

  • AL Rookie of the Year Award
  • Tiger of the Year award from the Detroit baseball writers
  • MLB leader in ERA (2.34)
  • MLB leader in Adjusted ERA+ (158)
  • AL leader in complete games (24)
  • Finished 2nd in AL Cy Young Award voting
  • Finished 11th in AL MVP Award voting
  • #3 in AL in walks plus hits per innings pitched (WHIP) (1.079)
  • #4 in AL in wins (19)
  • #4 in AL in win percentage (.679)
  • #5 in AL in bases on balls per 9 inning pitched (1.91)
  • #5 in AL in shutouts (4)

Publication of "No Big Deal"

During the offseason between the 1976 and 1977 seasons, Fidrych published an autobiography with Tom Clark titled "No Big Deal."

Injury and retirement

Fidrych tore the cartilage in his knee fooling around in the outfield during spring training in He picked up where he left off after his return from the injury, but about six weeks after his return, during a game against Baltimore, he felt his arm just, in his words, "go dead." It was a torn rotator cuff, but it would not be diagnosed until 1985.

Fidrych managed to finish the season 6-4 with a 2.89 ERA and was again invited to the All-Star Game, but he declined the invitation due to injury. He pitched only three games in , winning two. On August 12, 1980, 48,361 fans showed up at Tiger Stadium to see what would be his last attempt to make a comeback. Fidrych pitched his last MLB game on Oct. 1, 1980 in Toronto, going 5 innings and giving up 4 earned runs, while picking up the win in a 11-7 Tigers victory which was televised in Detroit. At the end of the season, Detroit gave Fidrych his outright release and he signed as a free agent with the Boston Red Sox, playing for one of their minor league teams. However, his torn rotator cuff, still undiagnosed and untreated, never healed. At age 29, he was forced to retire. After seeing everyone from chiropractors to hypnotists, Fidrych went to famed sports doctor James Andrews in 1985. Dr. Andrews discovered the torn rotator cuff, operated, and cleaned out the shoulder. But, the damage already done to the shoulder effectively ended Fidrych's chance of making a comeback.

Fidrych remained cheerful and upbeat. In a 1998 interview, when asked who he would invite to dinner if he could invite anyone in the world, Fidrych said, "My buddy and former Tigers teammate Mickey Stanley, because he's never been to my house."

Today, Fidrych lives with his wife Ann, whom he married in 1986, and their 13-year-old daughter Jessica on a 107-acre farm in Northboro. Aside from fixing up his farmhouse, he works as a contractor hauling gravel and asphalt in a ten-wheeler.

Honors and tributes

Fidrych was inducted into the Shrine of the Eternals of the Baseball Reliquary in 2002.

In one of Bill James' baseball books, he quoted the Yankees' Graig Nettles as telling about an at-bat against Fidrych, who, as usual, was talking to the ball before pitching to Nettles. Graig reportedly said to his bat, "Never mind what he says to the ball--hit it over the outfield fence!" Nettles struck out. "Damn," he said. "Portuguese bat. Doesn't understand a word of Russian."

Quotations

  • "When you're a winner you're always happy, but if you're happy as a loser you'll always be a loser."
  • "Sometimes I get lazy and let the dishes stack up, but they don't stack too high. I've only got four dishes."
  • "That ball has a hit in it, so I want to get back in the ball bag and goof around with the other balls in there. Maybe it'll learn some sense and come out as a pop-up next time."

See also

External links

  • MLB historical statistics

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