Two-time All-Star Mark Fidrych, famously referred to as “The Bird,” was definitely a character as big and birdy as his namesake. His childlike exuberance was enough to build him a home in the hearts of fans everywhere, and his idiosyncrasies were what folks would talk about for years to come: “Do you remember how The Bird did this?” He became a legend of almost tall-tale capacity; but you would never get that impression from reading his short and mildly surprising string of statistics.
The Detroit Tigers’ righty pitcher was named the AL Rookie of the Year and Tiger of the Year in 1976. The Bird had a phenomenal rookie season, in fact. He was also voted to the All-Star team, and was fourth in wins for American League pitchers with nineteen wins. Fidrych even led the Bigs in ERA with his impressive 2.34 in ’76.
His major league career was only five seasons, from 1976-1980, but he spent all his time with the Detroit Tigers.
In 1977, an injury to Fidrych’s knee provoked a shoulder injury, and The Bird was never the same ace. In 1979, his ERA spiked at 10.43. After his rookie season with 19 wins, he only went on to win 10 more games in his four subsequent seasons.
After his one-hit wonder sort of success in baseball, The Bird retained his cheery persona. He spent time between fixing up his family’s farmhouse and helping out at his in-laws’ diner. Fidrych also worked as a contractor, and he transported gravel in his 10-wheeled truck. In 2009, the truck became his accidental grave, and baseball fans sighed deeply for this special species or sportsman: the rare bird that went extinct.
So what of the man behind these statistics and facts? Why is a five-season ace whose career started with a bang and went out with a fizzle deserving of such tribute? And how did The Bird soar to stardom? Let’s start at the very beginning of his career, a very good place to start.