|Bye bye Birdie
Mark Fidrych's untimely passing is being noted all over the web this morning. Josh Wilker has a particulary profound take at Cardboard Gods. Jason at the sneaky-fast blog It is about the Money, Stupid has a lyrical take. Joe Posnanski, as he almost always seems to do at times like these, has a reaction so pitch-perfect and immediate that one wonders how he gets them to press so quickly.
For my part, I was a three year-old boy living in Michigan in 1976, just becoming aware of baseball. I have no concrete memories of watching Fidrych pitch that year, but I do remember my parents -- casual Tigers fans -- talking about this sensation that was The Bird. He was no doubt the first player of whose specific identity I was aware. As I got a bit older and began to watch and attend Tigers games and collect baseball cards, Fidrych represented excited anticipation. "He was so good a couple of years ago," people would say, "as soon as he's healthy again, look out!" They said that through at least 1980 in my neck of the woods, and obviously, it never came to pass.
Why it didn't is all too apparent now. In his magical season, The Bird pitched 24 complete games, which is totally nuts by even the crazy workloads of the 1970s. Only three pitchers since 1976 have completed that many games, and two of them -- Rick Langford and Mike Norris -- were part of Billy Martin's meat grinder with the 1980 A's. Bert Blyleven did it in 1985 as well, so let's add superhuman durability to his criminally neglected Hall of Fame case while we're at it.
I don't know if we know enough about innings and pitch counts on young arms to know for sure if Ralph Houk destroyed Fidrych's arm. Maybe he would have broken down anyway. But as a kid who thought of The Bird in the same terms in which he thought of Santa Claus and Batman and other stupendous mythological figures, I really wish we had the chance to find out.