Detroit Tigers pitcher Mark Fidrych was not a flake. On the pitcher's mound, he talked to himself, not the ball, trying to stay focused as he prepared to pitch to the batter. The reason he seemed hyperactive on the field was that he actually was hyperactive. While he would have liked to have slowed down as often advised by coaches and teammates, but he just could not. That was the way he was, according to Doug Wilson in his new book The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych.
The story of Fidrych's 1976 rookie season is wonderful. He caught other players and baseball fans off guard, and they were charmed. Usually rookies who could win scarce jobs were not warmly treated by established players, but Fidrych was so joyous that even old veterans embraced him. His flamboyant goofiness and blue collar origins really struck a cord with Detroit fans. They filled the stands every time he pitched. He always performed well, finishing 24 of 29 starts, including three 11-inning games and one 12-inning game. He was elected American League Rookie of the Year and fans looked forward to many great years from him.
Fidrych was injured the next spring, however, and after several years of trying to regain his form, he had to retire.
The rest of the story could have been sad, but it was not, as Fidrych returned to his hometown in Massachusetts and proved that all that he had told reporters in his rookie season was true. He really did not care much about money. He really did want to be a farmer and own a truck. He felt so fortunate to have been a major league player and wanted to spread his luck by helping others.
As I read the latter part of The Bird, I was reminded of the books by Michael Perry with compassionate descriptions of small town life in Wisconsin. Wilson's story about Fidrych only hints at everything Perry describes fully, but you know Fidrych lived in that kind of world. The Bird also serves as another entry in the parade of books about Detroit. This book deserves to be in more public libraries along side them.
Wilson, Doug. The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych. Thomas Dunne Books, 2013. 306p. ISBN 9781250004925.