Fidrych’s Antics Fit the Era

Baseball lost two legends yesterday in Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas, 73,  and former Detroit Tigers pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, 54.  Kalas was one of the most popular and original announcers in the business.  He loved singing the song “High Hopes.”  That enthusiam carried him through each broadcast and made him a fixture in the lives of baseball fans, regardless of whether you were a Phillies fan or not. How fitting that he was given the opportunity to be part of the Phillies world championship before moving on to the big ballpark in the sky.

Fidrych on the other hand was a beloved character who, although his career was short and his success fleeting, became an indelible part of the game’s history.  His 1976 AL Rookie of the Year season in which he won 19 games and was the starting pitcher in the All Star Game will forever be remembered for the excitement he generated in ballparks all over the league, as fans came out in droves to see this eccentric righthander talk to the baseball and pat the dirt on the mound with his hands.

Fidrych’s rise to fame came quickly and was spread by the media of the day.  He appeared in Sports Illustrated and the Sporting News, and baseball columnists began chronicling his antics.  Fans that saw him pitch against their hometown team on television, anxiously awaited the Tigers visit to their local cities in order to see him in person.  What Fidrych became was an old fashioned gate attraction.

The enthusiasm generated for this unique character would probably not have been as powerful if it happened today.  In our modern era of 24-hour highlights, satellite television and the internet, baseball fans would have had numerous opportunities to see Fidrych pitch, and our modern attention spans would have most likely caused us to grow tired of the routine in fast order.

However, 1976 was the pre-ESPN Sportscenter era.   Local sports casts across the country were usually limited to highlights of the hometown teams.  Despite this, Fidrych’s routine on the mound became the talk of the sports world.  It also helped that he was dominating American League teams.

On June 28 in Detroit , the entire nation finally go to see him in action when he pitched against and defeated the New York Yankees on ABC Television’s Monday Night Baseball.  The national stage was his.  It led to his start for the American League in the All Star Game and caused even greater crowds to come out across American League ballparks the rest of the season.

Unfortunately, arm injuries curtailed his career and he never duplicated the magic of 1976.  What he did attain is baseball immortality.  It was the right era for “The Bird”  to come into the public’s consciousness. Let’s hope we continue to appreciate such characters when they come on the scene today.

Tom Cosentino

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One Response to “Fidrych’s Antics Fit the Era”

  1. What a sad day yesterday, but as baseball fans, our lives were richer thanks to Fidrych and Harry Kalas. I grew up a huge Phililes fan and practically never missed a game. Yesterday took me back to my youth for many reasons and while Kalas’ calls will always stay with me, I do remember Fidrych and his great style.

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