Tuesday, April 14, 2009

This Bird Has Flown

People live. People die. And sometimes it takes someone dying to remind you how significant they were to your life. This recently happened with someone I personally knew, and while of all the celebrities to possibly die, one might not think Mark “The Bird” Fidrych would be all that significant, I was notably saddened by his passing yesterday in a tragic accident on his farm.

“The Bird”—to begin with, a nickname I will never forget—was one of my earliest baseball memories and could very well be the first “national phenomenon” that I recall (I’m don’t think I should count Evel Knievel’s Snake River Canyon jump though I do remember it; it only lasted a few moments).

I was 7 when Fidrych had his magical rookie season in 1976, including his ‘talking to the baseball,’ capturing huge crowds at home in Detroit & on the road, starting the All-Star Game and going 19-9. I know I’d already been to some Cubs games, and I recall the 1975 Reds-Red Sox World Series to some extent (though perhaps not Fisk’s “stay fair!” firsthand), and my recollection of Seaver/Palmer/Carlton probably date back that far, but I don’t think anything that early on sticks in my baseball memory like Fidrych. And I don’t even know that I saw (or can distinctly remember) any particular game, including the one frequently referred to in his obituaries, a Monday Night Baseball game against the Yankees on June 28.

But I clearly remember the phenomenon.

And feeling bad that he never again came anywhere near the heights of his 1976 season, due to injuries.

(In reading this excellent piece on SI.com, it’s easy to see why. Fidrych threw 24 complete games in 1976, and “from July 29th to August 29th, The Bird threw a nine-inning game, a seven-inning game, a nine-inning game, another nine-inning game, another nine-inning game, a 10-inning game, a nine-inning game and an 11 1/3 inning game -- each one on three-days rest. Imagine that: Fidrych threw 73 1/3 innings and seven complete games in a month.”)

If you were to ask me yesterday to name 1,000 famous people who are or were important to my life, I likely couldn’t, and still wouldn’t have named Fidrych. But somehow, and considerably different than Fernando-mania, Gooden’s 1984 season and other “baseball phenomenons,” the Bird meant something to me. And thus, so did his untimely death.