Thursday, February 12, 2009

1976 - The Year of the Bird

Writing the post on Rick Ankiel helped the Fan remember the one and only Mark Fidrych. If some of you are too young to remember or have seen that wonderful pitcher for the Tigers, find some video on YouTube or something. He was amazing and it was magic.

The Fan isn't going to reinvent the wheel as good old Wiki has an excellent bio of the man. Check it out some time. For those of you new to the story, yes, it was that strange and yet so darn fun to watch.

Every once in a while, the Fan goes to to check out the stats for that wacky and incredible year. Take a look some time. It was amazing. His manager for Detroit was Ralph Houk. Houk was as old school as old school could get. There were no pitch limits. There was no protecting young arms. He was the same manager as the 1964 Yankees that burned out a young Jim Bouton and Mel Stottlemyre.

In his first year in the big leagues, Mark Fidrych, then 22 years old, pitched 254 innings. He started 29 games and finished 24 of them! He pitched back to back eleven inning complete games! He went 19-9 and only gave up 273 base runners in those 254 innings. He led the league in ERA. He won Rookie of the Year and finished second in the Cy Young Award voting and eleventh in Most Valuable Player voting.

All the while he talked to himself and got on his hands and knees and fixed the pitcher's mound. You had to be there to understand how much fun it was.

Most people think the story ended there. But he pitched in a few games for the next four years. After six starts in his second year, he blew out his shoulder. This was before the medical breakthroughs that players have now. His injury wasn't diagnosed until eight years later! But he did pitch the next year and despite a blown out shoulder went 6-4 with a 2.89 ERA. In typical fashion, he finished seven of the eleven games he started.

He tried it again in 1978. Remember, his rotator cuff was torn in two places. And yet, he started three games, finished two of them, went 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA. The man could flat out pitch. He tried for two more years and just couldn't get past the injury. But despite the pain, he pitched seven years in the minors trying to get back to the big leagues.

He finally got the diagnosis he needed in 1985, after he was out of baseball and got his shoulder fixed. He was 31, but the game had already passed him by and he had started a business in Massachusetts.

It's too bad. He was a bright star and he filled stadiums. He was on the cover of the Rolling Stone. He was a hit. But all too soon, he was gone and there has never been anyone like him since.

It was magical. Magical.


goooooood girl said...

your blog is so good......

Josh Borenstein said...

I think she just propositioned you...

Anyways, speaking of Tigers pitchers I was looking at Denny McLain the other day. Unbelievably sick. And he grew up in Chicago! 1968 might have been the most dominant year for pitchers ever. McLain, Gibson, Tiant... doesn't get much better than that.

William said...

Yup, so good they had to move the pitcher's mounds down five inches to give the hitters a chance.

"your blog is so good....." she said with a poker face and dollar signs in her eyes... :)