Bird was the word
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Bird arrived in win vs. Yankees
By Nick Acocella
Special to ESPN.com
June 28, 1976 - For the first three months of the season, Fidrych was pretty much a local phenomenon, even though he was 8-1 with eight complete games. But The Bird's performance against the Bronx Bombers changed all that.
For the first time, a national television audience got to see Fidrych fidget around the mound, chatter to himself, congratulate teammates after outstanding plays -- and pitch superbly. He took only an hour and 51 minutes in defeating the Yankees, 5-1, before 47,000 fans in Detroit. He allowed seven hits, with New York's lone run coming on Elrod Hendrick's home run. In stopping the Yankees' five-game winning streak, Fidrych struck out two and walked none in outdueling Ken Holtzman.
The festivities didn't end with the final out. The fans wouldn't leave. They kept clamoring for Fidrych, who insisted the rest of the team join him in a curtain call. His teammates went as far as the steps of the dugout with him, then pushed the righthander out onto the field -- in his stocking feet -- to thunderous applause.
The Bird had arrived.
Odds 'n' Ends
Fidrych so captured the imagination of Detroit fans in 1976 that at least one baby was named him.
One manifestation of the mania Fidrych created in the city was that female fans raided barber shops he frequented in an effort to obtain a souvenir lock of his curly hair.
Other girls asked their hairdressers to make their coifs look like his.
Even a model copied his hairdo, calling it her Fidrych Frizzies.
The Ford Motor Company gave Fidrych a Thunderbird, "a Bird for a Bird" as the press release called it. Fidrych later learned he had to pay
$2,000 in taxes on the car.
His low salary ($16,500) bothered fans, though. Many sent him money, which he returned. A Michigan state legislator submitted a resolution recommending that he be given a raise.
One thing Fidrych never got to do was appear on Sesame Street with Big Bird.
Fidrych threw a blazing fastball and a wicked slider and kept the ball low, but probably his greatest asset was his concentration. Centerfielder Mickey Stanley compared him favorably with Denny McLain, one of the game's most intense pitchers, in this area.
In Fidrych's only All-Star Game appearance, Pete Rose's single, Steve Garvey's triple, and George Foster's groundout produced two runs in the first inning, enough to make The Bird the loser in the National League's 7-1 victory in 1976.
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn fined Fidrych $250 for using an obscenity on television after being asked if he was about to cry in a losing performance.
To break his phenomenal run, the Minnesota Twins released 13 pigeons on the field on Fidrych's 13th start. It didn't deter him, as he won 8-3 to boost his record to 11-2.
Though he was behind the plate for only 61 games in 1976, Bruce Kimm, like Fidrych a rookie, caught all 29 of The Bird's starts that season.
Kimm hit one home run in his four-year major league career, and, of course, it won a game for The Bird, 3-2 over the Angels on Aug. 17, 1976.
Fidrych was only the second Tiger to be named Rookie of the Year (Harvey Kuenn was the first in 1953).
The second time Fidrych appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, before the 1977 season, he was joined by Sesame Street's Big Bird.
Minutes before he tore up his knee in spring training of 1977, teammate Rusty Staub told Fidrych to stop risking his safety by fooling around going after fly balls. On the next ball hit, Fidrych leaped and tore the cartilage when he landed.
During his attempt at a comeback with the PawSox, Fidrych faced Dave Righetti on July 1, 1982. The game set a record attendance of 9,389 at McCoy Field in Pawtucket.
It wasn't until 1985 - after he had seen chiropractors, psychologists, and hypnotists as well as numerous doctors - that Dr. James Andrews discovered that Fidrych had torn his rotator cuff. Andrews operated and cleaned out his shoulder but it was too late for another comeback.
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