Remembering “The Bird” …..

April 14, 2009 |

If you’re under 30 years old, there’s a good chance you have no recollection of Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. And, if this is the case, I’ll simply invite you to check him out on youtube or a similar site. He was probably the quirkiest, most animated baseball player of the modern era.

Mark Fidrych died in an apparent farm accident, yesterday. He was 54 years old. It seems like forever since I’ve seen Fidrych – and with good cause. His career essentially ended just as quickly as it began ….. and he hasn’t pitched in nearly 30 years.

I can still recall being amazed at “The Bird’s” antics on the pitchers mound. He strutted around the rubber and talked to himself – in a way that defied common logic. I was 8 years old when he broke into the big leagues, and every kid my age was amazed, if not purely entertained by Fidrych’s mannerisms.

Trust me, every kid mimicked Fidrych – we all had our personal imitation !!!! Somehow, I reasoned that this behavior resulted in masterful pitching. Remember, I was a kid. It was the “Summer of ’76” and aside from celebrating our nation’s bicentennial, eyes were glued to TV news programs on a night when Fidrych pitched.

Remember, we didn’t have ESPN, the MLB package or MASN – although, I’m pretty certain their on-air set EXISTED . And, Al Gore was nowhere close to blessing us with the invention of the internet. Our news on Mark Fydrich came from the News American, The Sun, Vince Bagli or Charlie Eckmann.

But, Mark Fidrych grabbed some national spotlights, as well. He garnered the highest ratings EVER for ABC’s “Monday Night Baseball.” Don’t be confused, if you’re not old enough to remember Fidrych, you’re in the same boat with MNB ….. but, it was a weekly ritual.

Indeed, this was a time when baseball fans would wait an entire week to watch a night game on television. And, while MNB never really rivaled “Monday Night Football,” Fidrych was the right recipe to garner BIG ratings for the first night of the week.

Mark Fidrych started the All Star Game, for the American League, as a ROOKIE !!!! How about that for some trivia? He also pitched a complete game in his first major league start; a 2-hit victory over the Cleveland Indians.

“The Bird” burst on the scene with a “Beatles-like” mania. Sadly, Fidrych’s star vanished nearly as quickly as it emerged. While he garnered Rookie Of The Year honors, with 19 wins, Fidrych battled injuries in subsequent seasons. He never really recovered and retired, in 1983.

Think about it ….. everyone who is old enough remembers Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. He hasn’t played in nearly 30 years. And, he only played one FULL SEASON – in 1976. He appeared in a total of 59 big league games.

Can any of us name another player who hasn’t played in nearly 3 decades – and who played in less than a total of 60 games? Can we recall their exact mannerisms and shtick? I can’t think of a single one.

If you’re a young baseball fan, google Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. Watch him on youtube. He will amuse you ….. and confuse you. He was one helluva character, and the game has never witnessed another. No, don’t mention Turk Wendell.

From all accounts, Mark Fidrych was a really nice guy. He didn’t live with contempt for the cruelness associated with losing a blossoming career to injury. He wasn’t jaded by an era that offered few marketing opportunities. Trust me ….. if “The Bird” pitched in 2006, instead of 1976, he’d have his own website and reality show. He was that funny and original …..

Yesterday, Jim Palmer labeled Mark Fidrych “a great guy.” And, by all accounts, it appears he’s right. I never met Fidrych or personally talked with anyone who has. I’ll have to ask Nestor – he’s met just about everyone.

Regardless, I know this ….. Mark Fidrych was one of a kind.

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