With the 40th Anniversary of the Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees game that highlighted Mark Fidrych, it was only appropriate to put in some time reading a biography of the legendary pitcher.
The bio I chose was The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych, mostly because it was on the shelf at my local library. And, that 70’s inspired cover was just too “groovy” to pass up.
Since I was all of five years old and completely unaware of baseball in 1976, I have no memory of the Detroit Tigers pitcher. But, as a lover of baseball history, his meteoric rise to the top has been on my radar. I had heard the stories and seen the YouTube videos, but this book by Doug Wilson cemented his greatness.
As with most baseball biographies, the writer does have an obvious bias toward the hero in the story. Wilson clearly has a sense of awe about the life and legacy of The Bird. He has every reason to be awed. Fidrych’s story is incredibly inspirational.
The biography begins with Fidrych’s story as a child living in the Northboro, Massachusetts – a small town about 50 miles away from Boston. He was the only son of Paul and Virginia and was born on August 14, 1954. Wilson shared the struggles that young Mark had in class; he apparently had a reading disability which was exacerbated by his need to constantly be on the move. Mark was a fun-loving child who loved to play, wiggle, and joke with his friends and their families.
The chapter about Fidrych’s youth and early days of baseball in Little League and prep ball ends with his surprising draft by the Tigers. At first, Fidrych thought he was actually drafted into the military! He was drafted in the 10th round by the Tigers who wanted him to play high-A ball.
After being drafted and signing for a laughable $3,000, he moved through quickly through the minor-league system. The author was able to interview many of the men who coached him or played with him during this time, including Jim Leyland. The interviews brought this section to life and thoroughly described the amazement that Fidrych caused as he moved up into the major leagues.
It was clear that the author really enjoyed writing about Fidrych’s time in both the major and minor leagues. He wrote about the way that people were confounded by Fidrych’s behaviors on the mound, but once people got to know him, they understood that he was just a real guy who really loved what he was doing. The author made it clear that Fidrych was a quality person who truly would have played ball for free – that’s how much he loved the game.
The most challenging part of the book was reading about the difficulties that Fidrych had when he no longer could pitch like he did in 1976. It was hard to imagine what this would have been like for a man who had so much passion and worked so hard to be good at his job to suffer so much. No one was able to diagnose his trouble until it was way too late. As a reader, I got chills when the author explained how much of a relief Fidrych had when he finally found out that it was a torn rotator cuff that ended his career.
Unfortunately, this book was written after Fidrych had died, so the author was never able to actually interview the man that he held in such high esteem. Because of this, the author did make some assumptions about the man and what happened to him after his career in baseball was over. He showed how much Fidrych enjoyed giving his time and money to charities, especially those helping children with disabilities. Throughout the entire book, Wilson painted a picture of what everyone wishes a professional athlete could be: kind, caring, athletic, humble, and real.
This book is an excellent read for anyone who wants to learn about Mark Fidrych, the baseball player and the man, from the people who knew him, loved him, and respected him.