For most of his adult life, Mark Fidrych of Northborough, MA was a trucker and a farmer. But for one year, 1976, he was the brightest star in baseball.
As a rookie pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, he went 19-9 with an ERA of 2.34. His most remarkable statistics: he started 29 games, and completed 24 of them. These days, entire pitching staffs don’t rack up 24 complete games.
The numbers belonged to Mark Fidrych, but the rest his story is about The Bird. The Bird talked to the ball, high-fived his teammates in the field, and hand-smoothed the dirt on the mound.
The Bird was only 22, a rock star before his time. How many baseball players made the cover of the Rolling Stone? (And that must have sent Dr. Hook off the deep end.)
The farmer’s accidental death Monday reminded me of what The Bird really brought to sports, and what’s missing now.
Every one of his performances in 1976 became a group expression of joy. He had a ball on the mound, and the fans had a ball watching him. It was a national love affair that lasted exactly one season, cut short by injury.
I enjoy watching Tiger Woods, Kevin Garnett, Tom Brady, and Josh Beckett. They are masters of their sports. I just wish they looked like they were having fun.
Like The Bird.