Mark Fidrych

August 14, 2011

Today would be Mark Fidrych’s 57th birthday. At left is the autograph of the 1976 Rookie of the Year, a great gift sent along to me recently by Carl A., a fan of my book. Carl’s father got him the autograph one early spring at a motor inn in Lansing, Michigan, along with a few other Tigers autographs. In all but one of the other Tigers autographs, the players mentioned the father’s son by name and included a brief message:

To Carl
My Best Regards
Ron LeFlore

To Carl
BEST Wishes!

Benjamin Oglivie

To Carl,
Best Always
Gates Brown

In addition to those signatures, all written on Hospitality Motor Inn stationery, Carl’s dad also got Al Kaline’s autograph (no message) on a smaller slip. But the scrawl of a Tiger all-time great could not have had more impact than the sideways scribble of Mark Fidrych. I imagine he and Kaline were unable to include personal wishes because their tables were besieged by fans, and if they were to personalize every message they would have been there all night. The presence among the signers of Ben Oglivie suggests that the signing occurred in 1977, Oglivie’s last with the Tigers, and a spring 1977 sighting of Fidrych, the reigning Rookie of the Year, must have caused quite a stir. He wouldn’t have had time to write the name of every father’s son on a slip of paper or to wish them the best, but he didn’t have to. Every father’s son from those days knew that the Bird was pitching for us and sending us his best. He was our way into the center of the action because he was exactly like us, a boy in love with the game.

This morning I roamed the Internet a bit in search of stories about meeting Mark Fidrych. There were glimpses of him long after his playing days were over, giving himself over to charity work, and glimpses of him crossing over into the world of comic books, and glimpses of him gazing backward with some hurt and confusion but also humility and gratitude.

The best glimpse of him that I found on this day, his birthday, was one taken by a photographer, Joe McNally, who—like most who ever seemed to spend even a little time with Fidrych—came to think of the big-hearted pitcher as his friend. Check out McNally’s touching tribute if you’ve got a second, and raise a glass today to the Bird.


  1. Raising glass to The Bird in 3-2-1…

    Great entry!

  2. one of a kind, and one of the best ever. we were lucky to see him.

  3. I was moved by the deceptive simplicity of that photo, two icons of my youth meeting in a bucolic rest stop on their roads to immortality, old friends exchanging notes. Moving slower, perhaps, but not slowly. Birds of a feather, their shoulders are squared to meet the challenges of the journey. I found the photos of Fidrych’s widow and young daughter throwing out the first pitch at a Tigers game shortly after his death to be awfully heartwrenching, too. Their husband and father was a man who made an impression with people — clearly, as here we are, some time after his demise, saluting him for what he meant to us, for what we needed him to mean to us.

    My like-aged friends sent a memo around in 2009, acknowledging no longer the deaths of loved ones and known characters from our lives (I believe Chuck Daly was the last straw, but Fidrych greatly contributed to the critical mass), as we weren’t just going to many more funerals than weddings in our middle years but the obituary headlines conspired against our well-being, as well. Naturally, it is our memo that had no authority; only through death does life make any sense at all, and sense continues to be imposed upon us, upon all of us, and all memos to the contrary be damned. With Fidrych, I always got the sense that beyond his high athletic ability it was his personality for which we all grieved when it was gone. He seemed not to have many of the interpersonal barriers most of us need to survive this relentless existence. Fidrych was a genuine human being, full of flaws and quirks but ashamed of none of them. Maybe, in another timeline, he’s healthy, keeps playing ball, makes a ton of money, and becomes an insufferable shitheel. Even in his limited exposure to professional sports, our Fidrych would have been well within bounds to do so, but instead we get, well, this. Him. The Birdness of Bird. Which timeline was luckier?

    Ballplayers are hyper-managed nearly from the cradle now, eccentricities beaten out of them like all the other costly tendencies at a very early age. We have the most talented generation of baseball players that’s ever lived, no question, but they are as a composite perfectly interchangeable products of the assembly line, inorganic as the burgers, sports drinks, and video games they shill for — and thereby the ideal representatives of a corporate culture with no tolerance for deviation. Maybe that’s why I’ve liked the Albert Belles and the Barry Bondses and the many “hot-headed” Latino players (Zambrano comes immediately to mind, of course) more than I should. They damned their memos also, and so their humanity makes them much more compelling. More like them, please, if only to be contrary. Well, OK, especially for that reason.

    I’m well beyond any fantasy of playing baseball now, have been for decades, though if I had to choose a ballplayer as a neighbor or acquaintance, especially if we were never going to talk about baseball, come on, it’s got to be Fidrych. Who else…?

    Seriously. Not to hijack this, but who would readers of Cardboard Gods want to live next to and/or share a beverage with?

  4. “With Fidrych, I always got the sense that beyond his high athletic ability it was his personality for which we all grieved when it was gone. He seemed not to have many of the interpersonal barriers most of us need to survive this relentless existence.”

    Nicely put.

    I’ll put some thought into the “live next to” question, but at the moment I’d go with Fidrych.

  5. Speaking of autographs: I held back from getting one yesterday from the Cardboard God I was sitting in front of at the A’s – Rangers game in Oakland yesterday.

    I noticed the man behind me early on. He had a radar gun was clearly logging more than just what my scorecard would contain. I took a glance and saw he was wearing a badge that said “ML Scout” in big letters, and in tiny print below “Jim Beattie, Toronto Blue Jays”.

    I wrote that down because I thought: “wasn’t there a pitcher way back named ‘Beattie’? but I didn’t put it together until I looked him up with my phone. Then it all came back. The 1978 World Series, the Yankees, no less. A line in the SSI Computer Baseball roster for the 1978 Yankees “BEATTIE, J”. I’d be surprised if those of us who collected cards in this era didn’t have one of his.

    It was the first game I took my children to. We narrowly missed getting a foul ball (it was caught by someone in our row, but about four seats over). My daughter, not yet five, did not understand why she couldn’t have a ball, why we couldn’t just get one. So when we came home, I quickly produced the two major league balls I own. One was simply a foul ball, with fading, bold capital letters saying “OFFICIAL BALL NATIONAL LEAGUE” and “signed” by Charles Finley. The other, the same, except on one side signed “To Brent, Good Luck, Steve Yeager” and the other, “To Brent, Best wishes, Tommy John”. I vaguely remember meeting Tommy John in my father’s office but cannot reconstruct why he was there. It still strikes me as sort of amazing that I have a battery on two sides of an old ball signed personally to me…

  6. Nice article about the Bird in our local newspaper: http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/features/x738804693/Algonquin-High-pays-tribute-to-Fid?zc_p=0

  7. Thanks for sharing that, jbbarth!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: