Baseball hit bottom in 1976, and Mark Fidrych hit the top.
For one season, and especially for one night, the 21-year-old rookie with the Detroit Tigers led the country’s fans back to baseball.
“The Bird,” nicknamed for his resemblance to Big Bird, would talk to the ball before pitching it. He’d get down on his knees to smooth the mound. He’d sprint around the field to congratulate teammates. He even shook hands with an umpire at the end of the game.
“It was electrifying,” says fellow Tiger Rusty Staub, playing in right field that night. “It was more electrifying than if it happened to me.” Staub racks his mind for comparisons. “I saw Koufax,” he says. “When Vida Blue came up, he was pretty exciting. But nothing like this guy. There was nobody like Fidrych. I can only tell you that when he did that, the fans went crazy. … In that one instant, he created something I never saw in baseball and have yet to see again.”
Fidrych went 19-9 in 24 complete games, four in extra innings. In all likelihood, that pace was what shredded his rotator cuff and ended his career.
But what a season.
Takeaway: Your followers will forgive your eccentricities as long as you play with enthusiasm, genuineness and love of the game.
— Adapted from The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych, Doug Wilson, Thomas Dunne Books.