One Year Ago We Lost Mark “The Bird” Fidrych

One year ago today Tiger fans lost one of the most popular players to have ever worn the old English D when Mark “The Bird” Fidrych was found dead on his farm in Massachusetts where he had been killed doing some repair work on his truck.

Mark "The Bird" Fidych comes out for one more curtain call after his April 7, 1978 five hit complete game victory over Toronto on Opening Day.

In his rookie year of 1976 Fidrych was the talk of not just the baseball world but the entire country as the bushy haired pitcher mowed down batters in the American League while filling up stadiums with fans eager to see “The Bird” groom the mound and talk to the baseball.

Fans at Tiger Stadium lucky enough to have seen him pitch will undoubtedly remember him jumping out of the dugout after every victory for a curtain call in response to the chant, “We Want the Bird! We Want the Bird! We Want the Bird!”

Fidrych was one of the fastest workers ever with pinpoint control, and often his games would be done in under two hours. The batters didn’t even have time to dig in the dirt, or adjust their cups or wristbands. The man meant business.

I will never forget walking north on Trumbull with my college buddies to see him pitch against the Yankees on June 28th only to watch fans coming towards us from the stadium and telling us there were no tickets left.

Fidrych would soon grace the cover of Sports Illustrated and Rolling Stone, start the All Star game in Philadelphia, win the AL Rookie of the Year Award after leading the league with a 2.34 ERA and 24 complete games and place second behind Jim Palmer for the Cy Young Award.

His salary that year was the league minimum $16, 500 but every team made thousands from the nights that he pitched.

But no baseball star ever fell faster.

While goofing off in the outfield during the 1977 spring training, he hurt his leg which later affected his motion and then his arm eventually went dead. He would make a few comeback attempts but it was not until 1985 that it was discovered that Fidrych had a torn rotator cuff.

One can only imagine what a healthy Fidrych might have accomplished. At the very least he certainly would have been in the 1984 World Championship rotation along with Jack Morris and Dan Petry.

At the end of the last game at Tiger Stadium on September 27, 1999, former Tiger players dressed in their home whites lined up behind the centerfield wall where they would run out as the fans cheered each player. For some unknown bizarre reason they were never introduced.

But the first guy out didn’t need an introduction.

Mark Fidrych came running in from centerfield to the pitching mound wearing his familiar number 20, and when he arrived he kneeled and began scooping dirt into a plastic bag as a personal souvenir. The crowd roared.

Fidrych was one of us, the real deal, genuinely enthusiastic and with a kind word for everyone. I guarantee that you will not find one person say a negative word about “The Bird.”

What a treasure. He will always be missed.