The summer of 1976 introduced the city of Detroit and Detroit Tigers fans to a brand new sensation: Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. Just a rookie that season, “The Bird” captivated audiences everywhere, fans and players alike, with his quirky antics, gangly frame, and dominating arsenal.
“The Bird” made his Major League debut on April 20th of the 1976 season, giving up one hit and recording zero outs. However, within his next 11 appearances, he put together a string of eight wins in a row, including seven complete games (two of them going 11 innings), and one shutout. He was a workhorse.
Watch the MLB Network’s Tribute to Mark “The Bird” Fidrych:
Though Fidrych had an amazing start to his career — he was an All-Star his first two seasons and Rookie of the Year in 1976 — he never pitched more than 81 innings in the four seasons after 1976. The injury bug bit “the Bird” and bit him hard.
In the 1977 season, in a game against the Baltimore Orioles, Fidrych felt his arm go dead and his career plummeted. This from his SABR Biography:
His arm, and his pitching, would never be the same. He made two more starts, but did not finish the first inning of his final start of the season on July 12.
In 1978, Fidrych came back to start the season and pitched an Opening Day complete-game win. He followed that with another complete-game win. But by the time he appeared again on the April 24 cover of Sports Illustrated, he had made his third, and last, start of the season. Still he persisted, making four starts in 1979, but posting an ERA of 10.43. He was limited to nine starts in 1980. He did win his final major league start, the fifth-to-last game of the 1980 season.
Though his career only last five season, the impact he made on a city, an organization, and arguably the nation was massive. Tragically, Fidrych’s life was cut short on April 13, 2009 when he was involved in an accident while working under a truck. A life that mimicked his playing career, one that was cut short way too quickly.
Mark “The Bird” Fidrych: August 14, 1954 – April 13, 2009.