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Mark Fidrych

April 29, 2022

Fidrych

I am building a team around Mark Fidrych. You can do this. You can do everything now. You can bring the Bird back to life. That’s what I’m hoping anyway.

I’m doing this through a portal that I’ve been relying on since 1981 to avoid limitations and endings. That’s the year after the limitations of Mark Fidrych’s often-injured body led to the end of his major league career. Really it ended for him just about as quickly as it began. In 1976, as a rookie, he was the best pitcher in the world (and, as I said on the first-ever post on this ancient blog, the all-time single-season leader in joy), and the following year, 1977, injuries limited him to just 11 starts, and he managed fewer than that in the following three seasons, pitching his last innings on a major league mound in 1980. The next year, when I was 13, I got my first set of Strat-O-Matic cards.

I occasionally, very occasionally, played Strat-O-Matic with others, but almost from the beginning it was a solitary pursuit. I used the game to simulate baseball games and seasons and to dissolve myself out of the world I was living in and into another one. I liked rolling the dice and tracking the action on my handwritten scorecards and adding up the stats and not feeling anything except the buzzing pull of strikeouts and home runs and stolen bases and diving catches and wins. It released some numbing chemical in my brain, I’m sure, except when it didn’t, which it didn’t when the dice didn’t conform to whatever I was hoping to see unfold in the cards and in my mind, or when I simply had been playing too much and it all seemed lifeless and empty. I did this for years, all through my adolescence, and only really let it go when I took on other, stronger methods for numbing myself. Marijuana for a while until it got in the way of my writing, beer for longer. A few years ago I stopped with the beer.

But I have kept on with the Strat-O-Matic, which I started up with again in the early 2000s when the game moved online. The online game doesn’t have the roll of the dice and the handwritten scorecards, but this makes it fit better into the smaller spaces I have available for it now than I did as a teen when I had whole wide aching afternoons to numb. It doesn’t have the dice and the handwritten scorecards, but it’s got enough. I can dissolve into the cards, into compulsive looping thoughts on lineups and platoons and starting rotations and trades and players to waive and other players to add.

I have thought at various times of giving it up. It’s one of those “on your deathbed” things. On your deathbed, are you going to look back on all the hours simulating baseball games as a good use of the preposterous gift of life? Asshole? But then there’s also, life is fucking hard. Take your pleasures where you can. Or actually there’s just: I don’t really want to feel anything right now, so I’m going to check on my Strat-O-Matic team.

For almost exactly as long as I’ve been playing Strat-O-Matic, using Strat-O-Matic, I’ve been writing, filling up journals at first, then writing all kinds of shit, poems, stories, blog posts, books, and always filling up more journals. All of it is a way, imperfectly and haltingly, to try to push back on my compulsion to numb myself. I write to try to feel something, to try to know what it is, and, ultimately, to connect to someone else. To connect with you, whoever you are. Maybe even to find in that connection some joy.

The greatest baseball player I ever saw in terms of making a joyous connection with others was Mark Fidrych. I want to bring him back to life. Recently the Strat-O-Matic online game brought out a 1977 game. They have a 1970s game that I play a lot, but it includes only the players that logged relatively steady playing time for a few seasons, and so the Bird does not exist within it. In the 1977 version, he does exist. And during that season, his performance on an inning by inning basis was not that far off from his legendary 1976 campaign. His limited playing time is reflected in the online Strat-O-Matic game by his being limited to start every fifth day, rather than every fourth day, and he may suffer an injury, but he also may get luckier in that regard than he did in real life.

I ranked him very high in my pre-draft rankings, after only Joe Morgan, and I got him. Immediately after the automated draft, another player in the league offered me a trade for Fidrych, and I explained in my declining of the trade that I was here for the Bird. He said he was too and was hoping to build his team around Fidrych. We got into a conversation where he shared that he had been 9 years old in Detroit in 1976, and I shared that I wrote a book in which the Bird was the brightest-shining hero. The reason I’m telling you this is that in the 18 years I’ve been numbing myself with online Strat-O-Matic, it was the first time I’d ever made a connection with any of the strangers I play against. For once it wasn’t only a solitary numbing. The Bird made this happen.

Like the other Strat-O-Matic online player who wanted him on his team, I built my team around Fidrych. I backed him with excellent fielding, put him in a pitcher-friendly park, and created a lineup that can score him some runs in that park. I don’t care as much what happens in the games he doesn’t start. I care a little though, because the Bird has opened something up for me. Maybe I can write about this lifelong compulsion, this thing that has always felt adjacent to writing but going in an opposite direction, away from actual life rather than toward it. Maybe not just Bird but the other players on my team from 1977 can help me see the world as it was then and the world as it is now.

The best part of a Strat-O-Matic online season is before it begins, when you can dissolve into endless imagining about different shapes your roster could take. I was mostly guided in my own roster creation by my goal of trying to get Mark Fidrych 20 wins, but after a certain point I started making choices of who to drop and who to keep by wondering what it would be like to follow them through the imaginary season and write about them. Thus, El Tiante and Spaceman are among those making up the threadbare pitching staff around Fidrych. Thus, Sundown Danny Thomas and Glenn Burke will see some action.

Thus, Lyman Bostock.

And in the middle of all the stories and all the endings and all the possibilities, there’s Mark Fidrych.

He’s back. And I’ll write about it.

8 comments

  1. Love it……everything that is good and pure about baseball is embodied in Fidrich. I spend way to much time thinking about what ifs. He is top of my list in what if scenarios.
    Grew up on strat………many years later i have moved to OOTPB. Although i think strat is fine…it is way to expensive with little innovation last i looked.

    When i don’t have to work, to apparently pay half to the govt to funnel elsewhere, I plan trying to sim a league starting in 1975, keeping the tigers and see if can build a better team…..just think how good he could have been with decent defense….i mean pedro garcia and veryzer?? yikes….
    What if Eddie Brinkman could have played longer with his gold glove long enough for tramel and whitaker to take hold…..what if trammel moved to majors sooner…..
    what if willie horton lost a few pounds and became all star DH……

    So many fun scenarios to play out……..i refuse to watch any pro current sports, but still long for the halcyon days of my youth seeing excited Fidrich play.


  2. Nice to see a post again after a long while. I just happened to glance at your book on the shelf the other day and thought, “I wonder….”


  3. Great stuff. My brother and I were more into APBA than Strat-O-Matic, but I believe the experience is the same. And how can anyone not love The Bird? Thank you for bringing him back to life.

    Please know that you ARE making positive connections with your readers, even if we don’t always comment on the stories. Thanks Andy


  4. I’ve been burning a candle in the hope that you would begin posting again. You’ve really outdone yourself Josh! Strat-O-Matic and The Bird…it couldn’t get better. I have enjoyed your book immensely. I also began collecting baseball cards in 1975…and I also began playing Strat-O-Matic at age 13. I look forward to your reporting on the Worcester Birds!


  5. Great to read your posts again Josh. There’s nothing quite like the way you integrate your insights about life into baseball talk. I hope you write another book. I started playing strat-o in the early 80’s like you. There were four of us. One of us dice rollers, by far the smartest when it came to baseball, taught me the importance of the walk and he devised a system to count points on a player card. He also dropped out of high school and moved into an apartment on Milwaukee’s east side. The girlfriend of one of his roommates used to call us the “paper baseball people.”


  6. A. Sounds like Strat-O-Matic to you is like baseball cards to me in the “on your deathbed” sense. I’ve thought about that a lot over the years.

    B. Can’t wait to see more of these Worcester Birds posts. Love your roster! Fidrych, Lee, Bahnsen, Tekulve, Bowa, Bostock, and Burke. Your team is filled with exciting guys.


  7. Love this post so much. Like you, I’ve lost myself many times in SOM. Have been playing since I was, gosh, maybe 10 or 11 with my uncle and his friends, then later with my friends, til now, as an almost 45 year old replaying entire seasons by myself with cards and dice.

    Also, really like that you grabbed Bostock!


  8. Great to see you writing on here again! I use to play Statis Pro Baseball, but I think it is all the same idea. I wrote computer programs to keep standing and stats for our league back in the early 80’s before spreadsheets. One year we selected teams, another year we created teams by have a full player draft. Love your selections including Lowenstein and Geronimo! Even Ron Jackson playing first.



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