Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, the former Detroit Tigers starter who electrified baseball in 1976 by talking to baseballs en route to winning 19 games in his rookie campaign, was killed Monday during an accident on his Northborough, MA farm. Fidrych’s spectacular, albeit brief tenure in Motown is recalled by the Free Press’ Michael Rosenberg :
When he walked past a phone booth, Fidrych would always check the coin slot to see if there was any loose change. He walked into the Tiger Stadium clubhouse looking like he’d hitchhiked all the way from Massachusetts. General manager Jim Campbell had to buy him a suit.
When Fidrych endorsed Aqua Velva, he had to push the lotion, not the aftershave, because he wasn’t really shaving yet. As Fidrych dominated the American League in 1976, he told reporters that what he really wanted to do was drive a dump truck.
in 1977, his second season, he pitched even better than he had as a rookie. At the end of June he was 6-2 with a 1.83 earned-run average.
He was so dominant that Tigers manager Ralph Houk never wanted to take him out. So Houk never did. Fidrych had pitched six straight complete games, including two on three days rest. No manager today would even think of doing that. But in 1977, pitchers were expected to throw complete games.
Cincinnati manager Sparky Anderson was in the process of creating the modern bullpen, but most managers were skeptics. One of the great, sad what-ifs in Detroit sports history is: What if Sparky had managed the Bird?
Surely Sparky would not have had Fidrych throw six straight complete games. Maybe then Fidrych™s arm would not have gone numb in his first start of July 1977. Maybe he wouldn’t have torn his rotator cuff. We’ll never know, of course.