Mark Fidrych has been dead for nearly 8 years. That is surreal. Then again nothing about Mark Fidrych seemed remotely normal nor predictable. He was a meteor shower over the history of baseball: briefly lighting up the sky in a spectacular manner and just as quickly was gone.
He had a career that seemed like it was out of a movie, complete with an origin story, a personality that was too good to be true and a montage of magazine covers that illustrated his unlikely superstardom.
Fidrych had one great season, and that was it. And yet the effect of his brief career can be felt to this day.
He was a Massachusetts kid who had a thick accent like many of the kids I grew up with in New England. The Tigers picked him in the 10th round draft. He pitched well in the Appalachian League as a 19 year old relief pitcher. In 1975, he went from Single A to Triple A as a staring pitcher, earning him a spot on the big league team in 1976.
There is no way to do justice to his wild, improbable and dazzling 1976 season that captured the imagination of the American people in the summer of the Bicentennial.
May I recommend reading the brilliant book by Dan Epstein, Stars and Strikes, which is all about the 1976 season.
Fidrych was an All Star in 1976 and the first ever baseball player to grace the cover of Rolling Stone. He made the All Star team in 1977 but injuries derailed his season. He was never the same again and by the time this Topps card was printed in 1981, he was a shell of his former self and would fail to play in the majors after the 1980 season.
I hate to use the word tragedy, but it feels tragic that the injuries he sustained crushed his career would be easily fixed with today’s medicine and surgical procedures.
I am convinced that if he didn’t get injured (his rotator cuff injury was diagnosed until he was out of baseball) he would have been one of the biggest and most beloved stars in the history of baseball.
We need more FUN stars. We need more players on the field who are awesome and cool and that we can point to and say “if I had a decent pitch, that could be me.”
I am convinced that is why Fernando Valenzuela is still a God at Chavez Ravine. Every Mexican American who watched him pitch thought “Hey that looks like me!” or “that looks like my buddy!” and felt they were only a screwball away from being a World Series hero.
He left baseball to sell swimming pools and in 2009 was found dead on his farm in Massachusetts. Perhaps it is appropriate that his death was surreal and reflected his quirkiness.
I never saw him pitch but I knew about him and I wished I could have seen Fidrych mania.
We may never see another unlikely and insanely bizarre success story like The Bird ever again, but I truly hope we do.