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He got Tigers fans to be Bird watchers

The legend of Mark Fidrych lies in the eccentricities -- how he took his nickname “The Bird” from his resemblance to the Sesame Street character Big Bird, how he knelt to rearrange the dirt on the mound, how he talked to the baseball.

Fidrych’s death reminded Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg of a conversation he had with Fidrych in 2006.

“He set me straight on talking to the ball,” Rosenberg wrote. “He said that wasn’t what he was doing. He was talking to himself, demanding he get his act in gear. But with the Bird, people saw what they wanted to see. It was too irresistible.”

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Trivia time

Who was the major league pitcher who took his nickname from Fidrych?

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Overdoing it

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Fidrych was the 1976 American League rookie of the year and Cy Young Award runner-up after pitching what today seems an other-worldly 24 complete games. In 1977, he was off to an even more impressive start, recording a 6-2 record and 1.83 earned-run average by the end of June.

“He was so dominant that Tigers manager Ralph Houk never wanted to take him out,” Rosenberg wrote. “So Houk never did. Fidrych had pitched six straight complete games, including two on three days’ rest. No manager today would even think of doing that. But in 1977, pitchers were expected to throw complete games.

“Cincinnati Manager Sparky Anderson was in the process of creating the modern bullpen, but most managers were skeptics. One of the great, sad what-ifs in Detroit sports history is: What if Sparky had managed the Bird?

“Surely Sparky would not have had Fidrych throw six straight complete games. Maybe then Fidrych’s arm would not have gone numb in his first start of July 1977. Maybe he wouldn’t have torn his rotator cuff. We’ll never know, of course.”

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Cautious realism

The Columbus Blue Jackets have finally qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs but drew Detroit in the first round, so no one associated with the franchise is getting overly excited about the prospect of a lengthy postseason run.

“There’s not a person with any degree of sanity who is going to pick us to win [the series],” Coach Ken Hitchcock said. “But it’s a great way for the Blue Jackets’ first playoff campaign to get started.”

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Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch wrote of the Red Wings, “They’re red and white and feared all over.”

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Trivia answer

Doug “the Fidrych” Bird, who pitched for five big league teams from 1973 to 1983.

(Question and answer provided by reader John Byrom of Bakersfield.)

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And finally

From Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle: “Mike [Sigmund] Singletary says the 49ers won’t consider Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford because at the NFL combine Stafford seemed reluctant to talk to the 49ers’ psychologist about his parents’ divorce some years prior. Here’s hoping that Beaver Cleaver is still on the board when the 49ers draft.”

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mike.penner@latimes.com


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