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in and out of the garden he goes

May 12, 2022

This image is from an MLB documentary on Mark Fidrych. If you’re familiar with a particular musical terrain, you’ll recognize the band associated with the skull and roses design on his shirt, even if you can’t make out the lettering around the design. As you can see, Fidrych is smiling, if not beaming. You might guess that he’s describing a high point in one of the concerts of this favorite band of his. But in fact at this point in the documentary he’s in the middle of looking back at and describing the spring training injury in 1977 that proved to be the beginning of the end of his time at the very top of major league baseball and American pop culture and some kind of miraculous expression of joy. Those of us who love Mark Fidrych always want this part to have gone differently. We want him to have been able to keep pitching like he did in 1976, keep showing us the way to life as a game to be grateful for and to enjoy. He surely wanted it to go differently too. He was a fierce competitor, for one thing. Also, he knew right from the start the gift he was given, and he didn’t want to squander it. I’ve been trying to bring him back in hopes of extending his moment of pristine excellence, but it’s been more ambivalent than that so far, with glimpses of the untouchable Bird occluded by messy pummelings, and maybe that’s just as well, because it pushes me deeper into the mystery of Mark Fidrych. He was in the garden, pure, perfect, and then he wasn’t. But he kept trying to get back for years, even spending two seasons beyond his last major league game struggling at minor league Pawtucket. More than that, beyond that, he seems to have kept a hold on the gratitude and capacity for love and happiness that he expressed to the world during 1976. How did he continue to push on through? How did he get to the other side? He was in the garden, pure, perfect, and he goofily leapt for a lazy, fungo fly ball and landed somewhere else, outside that garden, somewhere much closer to where most of us spend our days. What’s your secret, Bird? How can you look back on what was lost and still smile?

***

As for the Bird’s imaginary team: I could use some help. In the Strat-O-Matic online league I’m in, you can dump a guy through game 42 and be able to apply 95% of their salary to picking up a free agent. Between game 43 and game 81, you get 90% of a cut player’s salary, and after game 81 you get 80%. The Worcester Birds are through 36 games, so if I’m going to make any moves, I’d be wise to make them now. The team is in first, barely, and they’ve been generally doing what they’ve been designed to do, on a team level: hit well and field well behind Mark Fidrych. Fidrych, for his part, has been up and down, great at home and lousy on the road (see game notes below), and anyway he’s certainly not going anywhere. But I am considering moves involving a couple of the underperforming hitters.

If you want to general manage along with me, the Worcester Birds stats are here.

In addition to the stats, I’m considering if the player has a message to add to this exercise in reading the dice rolls throughout a season to try to figure out my own life. I don’t know if you can help with that, but for example dropping a struggling Keith Hernandez for Ed Kranepool appeals to me not just because it would free up some salary for other trouble spots (such as possibly replacing doomed Dan Thomas in the lineup, possibly with offseason gravedigger and Massachusetts native Richie Hebner, and upgrading run-hemorrhagers Mike Marshall and Bob Stanley on the pitching staff) but also because I don’t have any strong personal associations with Keith Hernandez, while Ed Kranepool pulls me to 1977, Shea Stadium, sitting beside my brother and my father, the latter oblivious to the terrible baseball unfolding on the field below, instead reading the New York Times through the whole game and plugging his ears and grimacing every few minutes as a LaGuardia jet roars overhead.

***

Worcester Birds notes, games 31 through 36:

  • G31: L 12-2
    • Fidrych surrenders 7 hits and 3 runs in 4, earning the loss, and Mingori mops up with a filthy mop (11 hits and 9 runs in 4 innings).
  • G32: L 3-2
    • Lee leaves the game in the 8th with the score 1-1, but the runner he left on second is allowed in by the bullpen, and he gets his third hard-luck loss. He’s 0-3, the only pitcher on the team without a win, despite having the lowest ERA of any starter.
  • G33: L 6-3
    • Marshall gives up 5 runs in 5 innings. Burke with 3 hits in loss.  
  • G34: L 6-4
    •  Tiant extends his scoreless streak to 19 innings but then falters, hitting the showers in the 6th, and Tekulve serves up a gopher ball to Evans in the 8th to decide the game.
  • G35: W 6-4
    • The team stops a season-high 5-game losing streak by rallying furiously with 3 runs in the bottom of the 8th and a game-winning two-run homer by Bostock in the bottom of the 9th. McClure pitches 2 scoreless innings for the win.
  • G36: W 4-0
    • Fidrych and Campbell combine on a 4-hit shutout. Fidrych, now 4-3 on the season, is two different pitchers so far: great at home (2.55 ERA), lost on the road (5.74 ERA).

Standings:

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