August 14, 1954|
|Died: April 13, 2009
|Batted: Right||Threw: Right|
|April 20, 1976 for the Detroit Tigers|
|Last MLB appearance|
|October 1, 1980 for the Detroit Tigers|
|Earned run average||3.10|
|Career highlights and awards|
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.
1976 Rookie of the Year
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. 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.
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. He made his first start in the Tigers 24th game of the season, and only because the scheduled starting pitcher had the flu. Fidrych responded by throwing six no-hit innings, ending the game with a 2–1 complete game victory in which he gave up only two hits. In his first 13 major league starts, Fidrych threw 1201⁄3 innings, an average of more than 9 innings due to three 11-inning stints. By early July, he was 9–1 with a league-leading 1.85 ERA, and was picked to start the All-Star Game for the American League. The All-Star appearance was the 12th start of Fidrych's major league career.
He went on to win 19 games, leading the league in ERA (2.34) and complete games (24). Fidrych won the American League Rookie of the Year Award, getting 22 of 24 votes, and finished second in voting for the AL Cy Young Award.
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. Mark Fidrych also was known for shaking everyone's hands after a 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 a national celebrity.
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 not so in the 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, such as Sports Illustrated (twice, including once with Sesame Street character Big Bird), Rolling Stone (making Fidrych the first athlete ever to appear on the cover of that publication), 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.
Chronology of 1976 season
- May 15: Fidrych won his first major league start by pitching a complete game, allowing two hits in a 2-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians. The first hit he gave up was a single to Buddy Bell. Fidrych drew attention for talking to the ball during the game‚ and patting down the mound each inning. After the game, Rico Carty of the Indians said he thought Fidrych "was trying to hypnotize them." .
- May 25: In his second start, Fidrych held the Boston 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.".
- May 31: Fidrych pitched 11 innings for a complete game, 5–4 win over the Brewers. He gave up a run in the top of the 11th inning, but the Tigers rallied in the bottom of the inning.
- 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.
- June 11: "Bird"-mania began to take hold in Detroit. A crowd of 36,377 attended the Friday night game, as Fidrych faced Nolan Ryan. Fidrych gave up only one earned run, and the Tigers won 4–3.
- 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.
- June 20: The Tigers beat the Minnesota Twins, 7–3, in Minneapolis, as Fidrych extended his record to 6-1.
- June 24: Fidrych drew 26,293 fans to Fenway Park for a Thursday night game, as the Tigers won, 6–3. Fidrych pitched another complete game.
- June 28: The Tigers faced the Yankees on Monday Night Baseball, with 47,855 attending 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.
- July 3: Fidrych shut out the Baltimore 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 1–0.
- 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 with 45,905 in attendance at Tiger Stadium.
- July 20: A crowd of over 30,000 showed up on a Tuesday night in Minneapolis to watch Fidrych. It was Fidrych'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." Fidrych pitched another complete game and got his 11th win, 8–3.
- July 24: Fidrych drew another big crowd to Tiger Stadium (37,405), but lasted only 41⁄3 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 (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.". 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.
- 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.
- August 7: Fidrych got his 12th win against the Indians, a complete game six-hitter, by a score of 6–1.
- 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.
- August 17: The Tigers drew a season-high 51,822 fans on a Tuesday night and 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. 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 32⁄3 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: The Tigers beat the Indians, and Fidrych held the Indians to five hits for his 18th win. The game lasted only 1 hour and 48 minutes.
- October 2: In his last start of the 1976 season, Fidrych got his 19th win, beating the Brewers, 4–1, giving up 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 awards 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
- Tigers Rookie of the Year award from the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association
- 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 1977. 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. 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?" 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. 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. He would also frequent the local baseball field to help teach and play ball with the kids.
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. Authorities said Fidrych suffocated after his clothes had become entangled with a spinning power takeoff shaft on the truck he was working on. The state medical examiner's office ruled the death an accident, according to a release from the Worcester District Attorney's office. "He appeared to have been working on the truck when his clothes became tangled in the truck's power takeoff shaft," District Attorney Joseph Early, Jr. said in a statement.
Joseph Amorello, owner of a road construction company who had occasionally hired Fidrych to haul gravel or asphalt, 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."
Honors and tributes
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." Ironically, Nettles actually hit Fidrych very well in his career, with a .389 average [7-for-18] and two home runs.
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.
- Best pitching seasons by a Detroit Tiger
- List of Major League Baseball ERA champions
- 1976 Detroit Tigers season
- Fidrych, Mark; Tom Clark (1977). No Big Deal. Lippincott. ISBN 978-0-397-01233-6.
- Henning, Lynn (April 14, 2009). "Former Tigers pitcher Mark 'The Bird' Fidrych dies at 54". The Detroit News.
- Marquard, Bryan (April 14, 2009). "Mark 'The Bird' Fidrych, 54; pitcher enthralled fans". The Boston Globe.
- Fidrych 1977, p. 131
- Fidrych 1977, p. 146
- Fidrych 1977, p. 149
- Fidrych 1977, p. 174
- Fidrych 1977, p. 170
- Fidrych 1977, p. 172
- The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych - Doug Wilson - Google Books. Books.google.com. Retrieved April 9, 2014.
- "Mark Fidrych Baseball Stats, facts, biography, images and video.". The Baseball Page. Retrieved April 9, 2014.
- Bodley, Hal (August 10, 2006). "'Bird' Fidrych was workhorse in '76". usatoday.com. Retrieved April 9, 2014.
- "The Bird doesn't rule the roost in the television announcer's booth". The Miami News. Associated Press. September 6, 1977.
- Ulman, Howard (April 14, 2009). "Mark 'The Bird' Fidrych Dies". Archived from the original on April 16, 2009. Retrieved April 25, 2014.
- "Examiner: Fidrych suffocated to death". ESPN.com. Associated Press. April 16, 2009. Retrieved April 25, 2014.
- "Fidrych, 54, dies in apparent accident". ESPN.com. Associated Press. April 14, 2009. Retrieved April 25, 2014.
- "2002 Baseball Reliquary Induction Ceremony Information". The Baseball Reliquary. July 28, 2002. Retrieved April 25, 2014.
- "Mark Fidrych, Andy Banachowski, Bobby Czyz, Joe Verdeur to be inducted into The National Polish-American Sports Hall Of Fame". newspostonline.com. Archived from the original on June 27, 2009. Retrieved April 25, 2014.
- "Banachowski Inducted Into National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame". UCLA. June 19, 2009. Archived from the original on February 24, 2012. Retrieved April 25, 2014.
- "Mark Fidrych « National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame and Museum". Polishsportshof.com. Retrieved April 9, 2014.
- "Galarraga outduels Contreras as Polanco, Tigers spank White Sox". ESPN. Associated Press. April 15, 2009. Retrieved April 25, 2014.
- "Thames leads Tigers past Brewers in rain, 10–4". The San Diego Union-Tribune. Associated Press. June 19, 2009. Retrieved April 25, 2014.
- "The Baseball Project - 1976 Lyrics". songlyrics.com. Retrieved April 25, 2014.
- Career statistics and player information from MLB, or Baseball-Reference, or Fangraphs, or The Baseball Cube, or Baseball-Reference (Minors)
- Fox Sports Detroit interview with Mark Fidrych
- SI Photographer Joe McNally's Tribute to Mark Fidrych