1976… The Year of the Bird

I didn’t start following baseball heavily until 1977. I do remember Detroit Tiger Mark Fidrych well though. Once in a while there will be a player that fans want to see no matter what team he plays for at the time. There are a few that come to mind. Fernando Valenzuela, Bo Jackson, and to a lesser extent Yasiel Puig in his rookie year. We want to see them because they have strong personalities and are usually good to great players.

Mark Fidrych was a joy to watch. He would look like he was talking to the ball, do ground maintenance on the mound, and would congratulate teammates for making routine plays. It was so much fun to see his obvious excitement playing Major League baseball. MLB estimated that in 1976 the 21 year old drew in over `1 million extra attendance across the league. Teams would ask the Tigers if they would change their rotation so Fidrych would pitch in their park to spike their attendance. Can you imagine that happening today?

His nickname “The Bird” came from his blonde thick curly hair and his big feet resembling to Sesame Street’s Big Bird. Fidrych was great in his rookie year. His record was 19-9 with an ERA of 2.34 and he pitched an incredible 250.1 innings with 24 complete games! He didn’t pitch his first game until May 15 that year. That makes it more impressive.

He injured his knee in Spring Training the next year in 1977. He recovered and was doing great until July 4 against the Orioles he felt his arm go dead. He ended up only pitching 81 innings in 1977 and was 6-4 with a 2.89 ERA. He tried pitching through what he could but missed a lot of time…he was out of baseball by 1980.

It was a rotator cuff injury that wasn’t properly diagnosed until 1985 when he was 31 because of medical advancement. There was too much damage already done to his shoulder that prevented him from coming back.

Some teams didn’t like his antics. The Yankees thought he was showing them up but teammate Rusty Staub said “It’s no act. There’s nothing contrived about him and that’s what makes him a beautiful person.” I think that is the reason people did like him so much…he seemed real and was having the time of his life playing baseball.

Fidrych went back home to Northboro, Massachusetts, where he became a licensed commercial truck driver and later purchased a farm. He married his wife, Ann, in 1986, and they had a daughter, Jessica. He made appearances for charity groups and nonprofit organizations over the years, making himself rather accessible to fans who fondly remembered the career of the Bird. Tragically, Fidrych died on April 13, 2009, at age 54, in an accident as he worked underneath a truck.

Baseball needs players like Fidrych…who are genuine and appreciate being a grownup playing a game.

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

19 thoughts on “1976… The Year of the Bird”

  1. I was born in ’78, and my love for baseball didn’t occur until 1993 when Colorado finally got an MLB team. Since then, I’ve dabbled in baseball history, and I really enjoyed this piece of history from you! Speaking of “bird,” I’m still surprised that no one really talks about the infamous 2001 Randy Johnson “bird pitch.” I apologize if you have, and I haven’t read it yet. It was such an odd story at the time, and I still can’t believe the timing. I guess I’ve been obsessed about timing since seeing the movie, 1917. You never know what’s going to happen in the next minute, I guess… Randy Johnson baffled me, and he obviously baffled that bird.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know…you are not too far behind me..11 years. I barely remember this guy was a lot fun…baseball need more characters like this.

      Oh I remember the Randy Johnson utter desctruction of the bird…No I don’t have many posts on this one yet but I plan to notch it up and minus one away from the other.

      Bailey just told me about how they filmed it…it seems really interesting… I love that…

      Oh…speaking of timing and one shot… do you like the movie “Touch of Evil” the opening shot in one take? I love that scene

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I love that you think 11 years is not “too far behind” you. I think that’s optimistic on both fronts. Sincerely. We’re both good. Life is too short, and we’re both good.

        Yes, this type of filmmaking is as personal to the audience as it gets. My good friend and Jesuit, Fr. Gary, introduced “Touch of Evil” to me when I was at Gonzaga University. It was the first time I saw a long cut, and I hung on to my chair with white knuckles, just waiting for that trunk bomb to go off! It was an incredible experience, and that was on a little television screen in a cafeteria.

        Wait until you see 1917 on the big screen…!

        If you ever research the aftermath of that bird and what the heck Randy Johnson thought, let me know.

        Last thought: The longest take that I’ve ever seen without cuts, stops, pauses, or CGI trickery was in the movie “The Russian Ark.” It’s not too long (obviously, because if they messed up, they had to start all over, which I think they did – twice), and I think you and Bailey will be impressed!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Hey when you are at 52…10 years is like a snap of a finger…I’m not kidding. It’s scary how fast it’s gone…but in my head I’m still 18. It’s funny…when someone mentions 2005 or so…it seems like yesterday.

        I’m really looking forward to seeing it.

        I’ll let you know…I might post something on that. That poor bird just exploded.

        We will check that out…I love scenes in a continuous take….check out the opening scene of a Touch of Evil…I always liked Orson Welles…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Saw 1917 last night- fantastic….. Bird was fun- the highlight of the 1976 season was the Monday Night Game in Detroit…. I also recall the first game he pitched it was on the Game Of The Week- he got called up. I looked in the paper to see the match-ups and saw a name I wasn’t familiar with. It was a mid- May Saturday game- he went 9 innings vs the Indians 1 ER.. I remember him talking to the ball. He was on his way. I liked the fact he was never bitter about how things turned out- the injuries- and he never made the big money. He was thankful for his moment. The day his passing came across the news was a sad one- it was like part of my childhood was gone… And he was the real deal- not like a lot of the ‘characters” who are calculated ‘characters”- he was what he was.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I just talked about that movie with a blogger. We are going to try to see it this week.

      I tried to think of someone to compare him to but really there wans’t anyone. None of the ones I mentioned had his personality. You hit on it perfect…he wasn’t bitter at all about what happened. What Rusty Staub said about him was great…that he was geniune when other teams were upset.

      It’s one of the first MLB baseball memories I have because he was in the national spotlight.

      I looked at those innings pitched…I shouldn’t have been shocked because of the time but wow.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. a big question we will never know- if he hadn’t had the injuries what would have happened- he didn’t have a very good strikeout to innings pitched ratio–and that isn’t a recipe for long term success…250 IP that year 97 K’s.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yea he wasn’t a strikeout pitcher… that would have hurt his chances of lasting. He pitched around 93 mph…you would think he would have had more. I guess he was more of a control pitcher. What got me is he didn’t start pitching until May of 76 with that game you watched… and still logged 250 innings with an incredible 24 complete games per Baseball Reference…

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Its mind blowing how pitchers were used back then… that is crazy.. Fernando comes to mind also of course- I was by no means a Dodgers fan but even from nearly 3000 miles away I caught Fernandomania.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Fernado was probably closest to him as far as popularity and drawing people to the park…he was worked like the town pump. I’m amazed he lasted as long as he did.

        Bo Jackson was a curiosity…Puig mostly just to Dodger fans.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I was only 10 or so but I remember him well. What a fun guy & a talent. Gotta think he’ d be Hall of Famer if he got proper surgery back then.
    A million added sales- that’ s big! No one in baseball can do that these days.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, it sure is. I rather doubt that Mike Trout singly adds 1 million to attendance these days, as good as he is. Harper might have had he had a real breakout year in Philly, but that didn’t happen. I also remember Clemens in toronto – I think I’ve discussed this before, but fans didn’t warm to him. I think that caught management off guard back then. I think their rationale in signing him was mostly “think how many more seats we’ll sell when he pitches” but there was no discernible bump from it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. A player like that doesn’t come everyday… Fidrych and Fernando would draw huge crowds around the country.
        Clemens…I understand why the people of Toronto didn’t warm up to Clemens. He is not the warmest human being…great pitcher regardless. That shows you it takes more than a great player…people want personalities also.


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