Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Bird

I was searching through some boxes today trying to find out which cards I should add to my online inventory next when I pulled out a stack of cards made by Topps in 2005 called ‘The Legendary Years’. It’s not the first time I’ve come across these cards but for some reason I took a closer look at them today and found this card of Mark Fidrych.

I’m a huge Tigers fan and it just so happened that I started to follow them back in 1976 when Mark Fidrych set the baseball world on fire with his performance and antics on the mound for the Detroit Tigers. If you were a fan of the game back then you couldn’t help but like ‘The Bird’. Many people might consider him a character, or a bit of a clown, but from everything I’ve read and seen he was one of the most down to earth guys the modern era of baseball has ever seen.

If you don’t know much about him, he got the nickname ‘The Bird’ because he was tall and gangly and resembled Big Bird from The Sesame Street. There are pictures of him kneeling down and manicuring the pitcher’s mound with his bare hands between innings. But he’s probably most famous for talking to the ball while on the mound, although I believe he said he was really talking to himself.

I guess he was truly a character of the game but if you saw the famous (in my mind) interview of him on the field after dominating the Yankees on Monday Night Baseball back in 1976 you got an insight of how down to earth this guy really was. I remember him grinning ear to ear and looking around as if saying to himself, ‘Enjoy this while it lasts because you’re lucky to be here.’

Sadly enough his career was cut short. He dominated the league in 1976 going 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA as a 22 year old rookie. (Imagine what a guy’s rookie cards would be going for with that kind of rookie record these days). In 1977, he hurt his knee in the spring but as the season progressed he seemed to be back on track. However, arm troubled developed and by the all-star game he was done. He never regained his form and bounced between the minors and majors over the next few years before retiring.

The Bird was the guy who turned me on to baseball and you can imagine the excitement I received when I pulled his rookie card from one of the few packs of cards I opened my first year of collecting back in 1977. I carried that card everywhere, I stuffed it in my pocket, stacked it with other cards in rubber bands, etc. However, even with all the dinged corners and creases it just might be the most valuable card in my collection.

You see, back when The Bird was struggling in the minors to make a comeback I got to see him play for the Evansville Triplets (the Tigers farm team back in 1980) when they visited the Wichita Aeros. So my brother took me to a game and I took that card with me. Late in the game I went down by the dugout and asked one of the players if they could tell Mark Fidrych I wanted an autograph. I was trembling when Mark started walking towards me, after all he was my hero! He came over and told me he would give me an autograph after the game because he would get fined if he gave me one during the game. So I stood there and waited, and waited, and waited….I guess felt sorry for me and was willing to pay the fine because he came over and said he would give me the autograph before the game ended. So I pulled out my favorite card of all time, my dinged up Mark Fidrych rookie card from 1977 and he signed it……

I don’t really know how to wrap up this ling post other than to say, this is what baseball and collecting is all about. I’d love to hear if anyone else has a story like this.