I was in Detroit in 1976 (actually living in Ann Arbor) until June when I came by Trailways to Texas. My last game that season was on a Friday night in June against the California Angels, part of a crowd in excess of 44,000 (cap. 56,000 in the old Tiger Stadium) - there to see this young phenomenon - Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, who died last Monday at the tender age of 54 on his farm - the result of an accident.
All of us was thoroughly entertained, dazzled and inspired by the young man from Massachusetts. On that night, and ANY night he pitched at home, the city was a collection of ONLY Tiger fans - watching as "The Bird" gestured to the plate, talked to the ball, pranced and jumped and did what can only be called a precursor to the fist pump for his own enjoyment.
Detroit won 6-4; Fidrych came out of the dugout from a crowd-demanded curtain call as if he were totally shocked that he would sought for public adulation. He just couldn't believe it.
Neither could we and Tiger fans just LOVED it.
He then started the All-Star game, won 19 games that year and was the toast of a city that only nine years before was engulfed in the flames of racial division. But the next season, he hurt his arm (years later discovered to have been a torn rotater cuff when there was no surgical remedy), and just as quick as he ascended, he was gone.
In later years, Fidrych expressed absolutely NO regret about his professional career. He just wanted to play baseball and got the chance. He never sought fame - then and in later years. Humble from the start, he seems like some sort of freak compared to the press-happy, me-first players too often populating the game.
And NO player in the years since 1976 has captivated the American public he did. I doubt anyone will in the future.
Some Tigers when they die will be missed; Mark "The Bird" Fidrych - a Tiger for less than three seasons - will be mourned.
God rest his wonderful soul.