Mark Fidrych

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Mark Fidrych
Mark Fidrych.JPG
Pitcher
Born:(1954-08-14)August 14, 1954
Worcester, Massachusetts
Died: April 13, 2009(2009-04-13) (aged 54)
Northborough, Massachusetts
Batted: RightThrew: Right
MLB debut
April 20, 1976, for the Detroit Tigers
Last MLB appearance
October 1, 1980, for the Detroit Tigers
MLB statistics
Win–loss record 29–19
Earned run average 3.10
Strikeouts 170
Teams
Career highlights and awards

Mark Steven Fidrych ( /ˈfɪdrɪ/ ; August 14, 1954 – April 13, 2009), nicknamed "The Bird", was a Major League Baseball pitcher. He pitched his entire career for the Detroit Tigers (1976–1980).

Major League Baseball Professional baseball league

Major League Baseball (MLB) is a professional baseball organization, and the oldest of the four major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada. A total of 30 teams play in the National League (NL) and American League (AL), with 15 teams in each league. The NL and AL were formed as separate legal entities in 1876 and 1901 respectively. After cooperating but remaining legally separate entities beginning in 1903, the leagues merged into a single organization led by the Commissioner of Baseball in 2000. The organization also oversees Minor League Baseball, which comprises 256 teams affiliated with the Major League clubs. With the World Baseball Softball Confederation, MLB manages the international World Baseball Classic tournament.

Pitcher the player responsible for throwing ("pitching") the ball to the batters in a game of baseball or softball

In baseball, the pitcher is the player who throws the baseball from the pitcher's mound toward the catcher to begin each play, with the goal of retiring a batter, who attempts to either make contact with the pitched ball or draw a walk. In the numbering system used to record defensive plays, the pitcher is assigned the number 1. The pitcher is often considered the most important player on the defensive side of the game, and as such is situated at the right end of the defensive spectrum. There are many different types of pitchers, such as the starting pitcher, relief pitcher, middle reliever, lefty specialist, setup man, and the closer.

Detroit Tigers Baseball team and Major League Baseball franchise in Detroit, Michigan, United States of America

The Detroit Tigers are an American professional baseball team based in Detroit, Michigan. The Tigers compete in Major League Baseball (MLB) as a member of the American League (AL) Central division. One of the AL's eight charter franchises, the club was founded in Detroit as a member of the minor league Western League in 1894 and is the only Western League team still in its original city. They are the oldest continuous one name, one city franchise in the AL. The Tigers have won four World Series championships, 11 AL pennants, and four AL Central division championships. The Tigers also won division titles in 1972, 1984, and 1987 as a member of the AL East. The team currently plays its home games at Comerica Park in Downtown Detroit.

Contents

In 1976, Fidrych led the major leagues with a 2.34 ERA, won the AL Rookie of the Year award, and finished with a 19–9 record. Shortly after, injuries piled up and his major league career ended after just five seasons.

Early life

The son of an assistant school principal, Fidrych played baseball at Algonquin Regional High School in Northborough, Massachusetts, and at Worcester Academy, a day and boarding school in central Massachusetts. [1] In the 1974 amateur draft he was selected in the 10th round by the Detroit Tigers and later joked that when he got a call saying he had been drafted he thought he was drafted into the military, not thinking there were any teams looking at him. In the minor leagues one of his coaches with the Lakeland Tigers dubbed the lanky 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher "The Bird" because of his resemblance to the "Big Bird" character of the Sesame Street television program. [2]

Algonquin Regional High School

Algonquin Regional High School is a public high school located in Northborough, Massachusetts. The school serves the students of the Northborough-Southborough Regional School District (NSRSD) comprising both Northborough and neighboring Southborough. The school's mascot is the tomahawk, but known by many as the "T-Hawk." The school's colors are maroon and gold. Algonquin Regional's Superintendent is Christine M. Johnson.

Worcester Academy private high school in Worcester, Massachusetts, United States

Worcester Academy is a private school in Worcester, Massachusetts. It is one of the country's oldest day-boarding schools, with alumni including H. Jon Benjamin, Edward Davis Jones, Cole Porter, and Olympian Bill Toomey. A coeducational preparatory school, it belongs to the National Association of Independent Schools. Situated on 73 acres, the academy is divided into a middle school, serving approximately 150 students in grades six to eight, and an upper school, serving approximately 500 students in grades nine to twelve, including some postgraduates. Approximately one-third of students in the upper school participate in the school's five- and seven-day boarding programs. Currently, there are approximately 80 international students enrolled from 28 different nations. The academy is mildly selective, accepting approximately 65% of all applicants.

Big Bird Sesame Street character

Big Bird is a character on the children's television show Sesame Street. Officially performed by Caroll Spinney from 1969 to 2018, he is an eight-foot two-inch (249 cm) tall bright yellow anthropomorphic canary. He can roller skate, ice skate, dance, swim, sing, write poetry, draw, and even ride a unicycle. Despite this wide array of talents, he is prone to frequent misunderstandings, on one occasion even singing the alphabet as one big long word, pondering what it could mean. He lives in a large nest behind the 123 Sesame Street brownstone and right next to Oscar the Grouch's trash can and he has a teddy bear named Radar. In Season 46, Big Bird's large nest is now sitting within a small, furnished maple tree, and is no longer hidden by used construction doors. He wears a red neckerchief and straw hat on his birthday and a red and blue necktie on special occasions every year and in early television specials.

1976 season

Fidrych made the Tigers as a non-roster invitee out of the 1976 spring training, not making his Major League debut until April 20, and only pitching one inning through mid-May.

The 1976 Detroit Tigers season was a season in American baseball. The team finished in fifth place in the American League East with a record of 74–87, 24 games behind the New York Yankees. They were outscored by their opponents 709 to 609. The Tigers drew 1,467,020 fans to Tiger Stadium in 1976, ranking 4th of the 14 teams in the American League.

On May 15, Fidrych appeared in his first game as a starting pitcher for the Tigers. He held the Cleveland Indians hitless through six innings and ended up with a 2–1 complete game victory in which he gave up only two hits. In addition to his pitching, Fidrych attracted attention in his debut for talking to the ball while on the pitcher's mound, strutting in a circle around the mound after every out, patting down the mound, and refusing to allow groundskeepers to fix the mound in the sixth inning. After the game, sports writer Jim Hawkins wrote in the Detroit Free Press: "He really is something to behold." [3] Rico Carty of the Indians said he thought Fidrych "was trying to hypnotize them." [4]

Starting pitcher baseball or softball pitcher who throws the first pitch for their team in a game

In baseball, a starting pitcher or starter is the first pitcher in the game for each team. A pitcher is credited with a game started if they throw the first pitch to the opponent's first batter of a game. Starting pitchers are expected to pitch for a significant portion of the game, although their ability to do this depends on many factors, including effectiveness, stamina, health, and strategy.

Cleveland Indians Baseball team and Major League Baseball franchise in Cleveland, Ohio, United States

The Cleveland Indians are an American professional baseball team based in Cleveland, Ohio. The Indians compete in Major League Baseball (MLB) as a member club of the American League (AL) Central division. Since 1994, they have played at Progressive Field. The team's spring training facility is at Goodyear Ballpark in Goodyear, Arizona. Since their establishment as a major league franchise in 1901, the Indians have won two World Series championships: in 1920 and 1948, along with 10 Central Division titles and six American League pennants. The Indians' current World Series championship drought is the longest active drought.

Complete game

In baseball, a complete game is the act of a pitcher pitching an entire game without the benefit of a relief pitcher. A pitcher who meets this criterion will be credited with a complete game regardless of the number of innings played - pitchers who throw an entire official game that is shortened by rain will still be credited with a complete game, while starting pitchers who are relieved in extra innings after throwing nine or more innings will not be credited with a complete game. A starting pitcher who is replaced by a pinch hitter in the final half inning of a game will still be credited with a complete game.

On May 25, Fidrych started his second game at Fenway Park, playing in front of two busloads of fans who traveled from Fidrych's home town of Northboro. Fidrych pitched well, allowing two earned runs (a two-run home run by Carl Yastrzemski) in eight innings, but Luis Tiant shut out the Tigers, and Fidrych received his first major league loss. [5]

Fenway Park Baseball stadium in Boston, Massachusetts

Fenway Park is a baseball park located in Boston, Massachusetts near Kenmore Square. Since 1912, it has been the home for the Boston Red Sox, the city's American League baseball team, and since 1953, its only Major League Baseball (MLB) franchise. It is the oldest ballpark in MLB. Because of its age and constrained location in Boston's dense Fenway–Kenmore neighborhood, the park has been renovated or expanded many times, resulting in quirky heterogeneous features including "The Triangle" (below), Pesky's Pole, and the Green Monster in left field. It is the fourth-smallest among MLB ballparks by seating capacity, second-smallest by total capacity, and one of eight that cannot accommodate at least 40,000 spectators.

Carl Yastrzemski American baseball player

Carl Michael Yastrzemski is an American former Major League Baseball player. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989. Yastrzemski played his entire 23-year Major League career with the Boston Red Sox (1961–1983). He was primarily a left fielder, but also played 33 games as a third baseman and mostly was a first baseman and designated hitter later in his career. Yastrzemski is an 18-time All-Star, the possessor of seven Gold Gloves, a member of the 3,000 hit club, and the first American League player in that club to also accumulate over 400 home runs. He is second on the all-time list for games played, and third for total at-bats. He is the Red Sox' all-time leader in career RBIs, runs, hits, singles, doubles, total bases, and games played, and is third on the team's list for home runs behind Ted Williams and David Ortiz.

Luis Tiant baseball player

Luis Clemente Tiant Vega is a former Major League Baseball (MLB) right-handed starting pitcher. He pitched in MLB for 19 years, primarily for the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox.

On May 31, Fidrych pitched an 11-inning, complete game victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. [6] On June 5, he pitched another 11-inning, complete game victory over the Texas Rangers in Arlington. [7] Fidrych continued to pitch well heading into the All-Star break:

The 1976 Milwaukee Brewers season involved the Brewers' finishing sixth in the American League East with 66 wins. It was the seventh consecutive losing season in Milwaukee and the eighth overall for the franchise since its inception.

The 1976 Texas Rangers season involved the Rangers finishing 4th in the American League West with a record of 76 wins and 86 losses.

Arlington, Texas City in Texas, United States

Arlington is a city in the U.S. state of Texas, located in Tarrant County. It is part of the Mid-Cities region of the Dallas–Fort Worth–Arlington metropolitan area, approximately 12 miles (19 km) east of downtown Fort Worth and 20 miles (32 km) west of downtown Dallas.

Fidrych was named to the 1976 AL All-Star team. He started and earned the loss in the game, giving up two runs. Fidrych won his 10th game, a 1–0 victory over the A's, on July 16. Four days later in Minneapolis, before Fidrych's 13th start, the Twins released 13 homing pigeons on the mound before the game. According to Fidrych, "they tried to do that to blow my concentration." [17] Fidrych pitched another complete game and got his 11th win, 8–3. On July 24, Fidrych lasted only 413 innings but John Hiller got the win in relief.

After the July 24 game, Fidrych was interviewed on live television, and a small controversy arose when Fidrych said "bullshit" on the air. Fidrych recalled: "He (NBC commentator Tony Kubek) 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." [18] The next day, Fidrych received a telegram informing he had been fined $250 by baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, but it was a prank sent by his own teammates. [19] [20]

On July 29 and August 7, Fidrych threw consecutive six-hit complete games. He won one of the games and lost the other. The Tigers beat the Rangers, 4–3, on August 11 as Fidrych notched his 13th win over Gaylord Perry. Six days later, the Tigers drew a season-high 51,822 fans as Fidrych went to 14–4, beating opposing pitcher Frank Tanana 3–2. On August 25, the Tigers beat the White Sox, 3–1, in front of 40,000 fans on a Wednesday night in Detroit. Fidrych held the White Sox to five hits in a game that lasted only one hour and 48 minutes. Between August 29 and September 17, Fidrych lost three consecutive decisions, bringing his record to 16–9. [21]

Fidrych beat the Indians two starts in a row on September 21 and 28. In his last start of the 1976 season, Fidrych got his 19th win, beating the Brewers, 4–1, giving up five hits. [21] A month later, Fidrych was announced as the runner-up for the Cy Young Award, with Jim Palmer taking the award.

Fidrych won the AL Rookie of the Year Award and was named Tiger of the Year by the Detroit baseball writers. He led all of MLB in ERA (2.34) and Adjusted ERA+ (158), while leading the AL in complete games (24). He finished in the top five in several other statistical categories, including wins, win percentage, shutouts, walks plus hits per innings pitched (WHIP), and bases on balls per nine innings pitched. He got the 11th-highest vote total in the year's AL MVP voting.

In Fidrych's 18 home starts in 1976, he compiled a 12–6 record while the Tigers averaged 33,649 fans; the team drew an average of only 13,843 in his non-starts. [22]

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 1977. [23] He picked up where he left off after his return from the injury, but about six weeks after his return, during a July 4 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. [24] 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. Still on the disabled list toward the end of the season, Fidrych worked as a guest color analyst on a Monday Night Baseball telecast for ABC; he was subsequently criticized for his lack of preparation, as when play-by-play partner Al Michaels tried talking with him about Philadelphia Phillies player Richie Hebner and Fidrych responded, "Who's Richie Hebner?" [25] As an American League player, Fidrych had never had to face Hebner, who played in the National League.

He pitched only three games in 1978, winning two, including an opening day win. On August 12, 1980, 48,361 fans showed up at Tiger Stadium to see what turned out to be his last attempt at a comeback. Fidrych pitched his last MLB game on October 1, 1980 in Toronto, going five innings and giving up four earned runs, while picking up the win in an 11–7 Tigers victory which was televised in Detroit.

At the end of the 1981 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 and operated; still, the damage already done to the shoulder effectively ended Fidrych's chance of coming back to a professional baseball career.

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."

Fidrych lived with his wife Ann, whom he married in 1986, on a 107-acre (0.43 km2) farm in Northborough. They had a daughter, Jessica. Aside from fixing up his farmhouse, he worked as a contractor hauling gravel and asphalt in a ten-wheeler. On weekends, he helped out in his mother-in-law's business, Chet's Diner, on Route 20 in Northborough, currently operated by his daughter. Through working at Chet’s Diner, Mark made relationships with people of all ages that lasted a lifetime. At his funeral there were people that had some type of funny story dealing with Mark because that is the person he was. Several of those people who had stories were from the diner where Mark had served them for several years. [26] He would also frequent the local baseball field to help teach and play ball with the kids.

Pitching style

Fidrych was not an overpowering pitcher, posting strikeout rates below the league average throughout his career. He was, however, praised for having exceptional control (compiling a walk rate of 1.77 per 9 IP over his first two seasons), and for having good late movement on his pitches while keeping the ball down and inducing many ground balls. He allowed only 23 home runs in 412 13 major league innings (0.5/9 rate). [27]

Personality

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. Mark Fidrych also was known for shaking everyone's hands after a game.

Every time he pitched, Tiger Stadium was jam-packed with fans who became known as "Bird Watchers". Fidrych's fan appeal was also enhanced by the fact that he had his own "personal catcher". Because Tigers coaching and managerial staff were somewhat superstitious about "jinxing" Fidrych's success, Bruce Kimm, a rookie catcher, caught each of Fidrych's outings.

It became common to hear the crowd chant "We want the Bird, we want the Bird" at the end of each of his home victories. The chants would continue until he emerged from the dugout to tip his cap to the crowd. While these "curtain calls" have become more common in modern sports, they were less so in mid-1970s baseball. In his 18 appearances at Tiger Stadium, attendance equaled 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, including Sports Illustrated (twice, including once with Sesame Street character Big Bird), Rolling Stone (as of 2015, the only baseball player ever to make the cover of the rock and roll magazine), and The Sporting News . 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 women, 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.

Death

According to the Worcester District Attorney's office, a family friend found Fidrych dead beneath his ten-wheel dump truck at his Northborough home around 2:30 p.m, April 13, 2009. He appeared to have been working on the truck at the time of the accident. [28] Authorities said Fidrych suffocated after his clothes had become entangled with a spinning power takeoff shaft on the truck. The state medical examiner's office ruled the death an accident, according to a release from the Worcester District Attorney's office. [29]

Joseph Amorello, owner of a road construction company who had occasionally hired Fidrych to haul gravel or asphalt, had stopped by the farm to chat with him when he found the body underneath the dump truck. "We were just, in general, getting started for the [road-building] season this week and it seems as though his truck was going to be needed. It looked like he was doing some maintenance on it", Amorello said in a telephone interview. "I found him under the truck. There's not much more I can say. I dialed 911 and that's all I could do." [30] A funeral was held in Fidrych's honor and thousands of people came to pay their respects. [31]

A 2012 wrongful death suit filed by Fidrych's widow was dismissed by a Massachusetts appeals court in November 2017. [32] In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that the companies in question did provide warnings and that their equipment was free of design defects. Further, the court decreed that the companies had no legal compunction to provide any such warnings because Fidrych modified the truck.

Honors and tributes

Fidrych was inducted into the Shrine of the Eternals of the Baseball Reliquary in 2002. [33]

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. Immediately Graig jumped out of the batter's box and started talking to his bat. He reportedly said, "Never mind what he says to the ball. You just hit it over the outfield fence!" Nettles struck out. "Damn", he said. "Japanese bat. Doesn't understand a word of English." Nettles actually hit Fidrych very well in his career, though, with a .389 average [7-for-18] and two home runs.

On April 15, 2009, the Tigers paid tribute to Fidrych at Comerica Park with a moment of silence and a video before their game against the Chicago White Sox. [34]

At the time of his death he was about to be inducted into the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame. [35] He was inducted posthumously on June 18, 2009. [36] [37]

On June 19, 2009, Jessica Fidrych honored her father at Comerica Park by throwing out the ceremonial first pitch to manager Jim Leyland for the Tigers game against the Milwaukee Brewers. Prior to throwing the first pitch, Jessica "manicured the mound" just like her father. Ann Fidrych, widow of Mark Fidrych, was also present on the field for the ceremony. [38]

The Baseball Project honored Fidrych in their song "1976". [39]

See also

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References

General

Henning, Lynn (April 14, 2009). "Former Tigers pitcher Mark 'The Bird' Fidrych dies at 54". The Detroit News.

Specific
  1. Wilson, Doug. The Bird: the Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych. Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martins Press, 2014.
  2. Marquard, Bryan (April 14, 2009). "Mark 'The Bird' Fidrych, 54; pitcher enthralled fans". The Boston Globe.
  3. Jim Hawkins (May 16, 1976). "The Bird 2-Hits Cleveland, 2-1". Detroit Free Press. p. 1E via Newspapers.com.
  4. Fidrych 1977 , p. 131
  5. "Tiant Tames the Tigers, 2-0". Detroit Free Press. May 26, 1976. p. 1D via Newspapers.com.
  6. "Tigers Win for 'Bird' in 11th, 5–4". Detroit Free Press. June 1, 1976. p. 1D via Newspapers.com.
  7. "Tigers rally, defeat Rangers, Blyleven". The Austin American-Statesman. June 6, 1976. p. C4 via Newspapers.com.
  8. Jim Hawkins (June 12, 1976). "Fidrych's Magic Works Again, 4–3". Detroit Free Press. p. 1B via Newspapers.com.
  9. Jim Hawkins (June 17, 1976). "Fidrych Cools Off Royals, 4–3". Detroit Free Press. p. 1F.
  10. Jim Hawkins (June 25, 1976). "Bird Rules Again . . . Tigers Win, 6-3". Detroit Free Press. p. 1D.
  11. Jim Hawkins (June 29, 1976). "Go, Bird, Go! Fidrych Kills NY, 5-1: 47,855 Hail 8th Win". Detroit Free Press. p. 1D via Newspapers.com.
  12. Dow, Bill (June 28, 2016). "40 years ago, Mark (The Bird) Fidrych was 'some kind of unbelievable'". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved January 24, 2017.
  13. June 28, 1976: The Bird captivates the nation, SABR (Society for American Baseball Research), Scott Ferkovich, article originally appeared in "Tigers by the Tale: Great Games at Michigan & Trumbull" (SABR, 2015), edited by Scott Ferkovich.
  14. Jim Hawkins (July 4, 1976). "Fidrych Fills the Old Ball Park With Bird-Lovers". Detroit Free Press. p. 1D via Newspapers.com.
  15. Jim Hawkins (July 4, 1976). "Bird Swoops Down on O's, 4-0 . . . And 51,032 Tiger Fans Go Wild". Detroit Free Press. p. 1D via Newspapers.com.
  16. Jim Hawkins (July 10, 1976). "The Bird Falls Back to Earth, 1-0". Detroit Free Press. p. 1B via Newspapers.com.
  17. Fidrych 1977 , p. 174
  18. Fidrych 1977 , p. 170
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